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March 23 – December 31, 2023
Location: Special Exhibits Gallery, Birthplace of Country Music Museum
“Congratulations to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for honoring the women of old-time music with their own exhibit. These women were from the hills and hollers of the rural south, who helped plant musical seeds for all of us. My momma could have been in that exhibit, since she taught us kids old ballads and immigrant songs, gave us a love for music, and access to banjos, fiddles, and a wash-tub bass. It’s great to see the seeds growing, from Mother Maybelle Carter all the way to my fellow-Tennessean Amythyst Kiah.” ~ Dolly Parton
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Historic Downtown Bristol honors the hidden heroines, activists, and commercial success stories of women who have impacted the roots and branches of old-time music in a new special exhibit, “I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music,” on display March 23 – December 31, 2023. Created by a women-led content team, this will be the first exhibition curated by the museum that will eventually travel to other institutions.
A commercial career in music may never have occurred to many women tending large families and domestic responsibilities. Women were frequently tied to the home. Others were discouraged or even forbidden by their husbands to keep their music going at home or to play in public. Some women were influenced by their church leaders to stay away from dancing and the music that surrounded it. In many cases women had fewer opportunities than men to make a viable career from their music. Nonetheless, several found ways to work within these challenges – and move beyond them – in order to pass on old-time music, and the related genres of country and bluegrass, as performing musicians or in other roles in music.
“I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music” spotlights commercial success stories and iconic musicians like Mother Maybelle and Sara Carter, Ola Belle Reed, Elizabeth Cotten, Lily May Ledford, Hazel Dickens, Etta Baker, and Alice Gerrard. It also includes women who have impacted the genre in other ways, such as Audrey Hash Ham, Florence Reece, Helen White, Anne Romaine, and Bernice Johnson Reagon. By showcasing today’s torchbearers and innovators, the exhibit also illuminates the ways that women are carrying the old-time genre forward and the work still to be done to open it up to other underrepresented communities. Women like Rhiannon Giddens, Martha Spencer, Carla Gover, Suzy Thompson, and Amythyst Kiah are but a few examples of students of old-time who are blazing new trails. The content development team interviewed dozens of contemporary female old-time musicians and industry professionals as part of the exhibit.
This exhibit has been funded in part by grants from Virginia Humanities, the Massengill-DeFriece Foundation, and the IBMA Foundation, along with local women-led business sponsorship from Friends of Southwest Virginia, The Crooked Road, Artemis Consulting Services, LLC, Bristol Ballet, Suzi Griffin (Studio 6), Kim Sproles (KS Promotions), and Kayla Stevenson (Matte Nail Bar). East Tennessee Foundation Arts Fund provided grant funding for related public programming, and the Virginia Tourism Corporation provided grant funding for the exhibit’s website.