I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music

“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
Photo Courtesy of Henry Horenstein

“I’m very humbled to be part of this special exhibit at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, the community that adopted me and helped support my dreams of becoming a musician from the beginning. My discovery of traditional old-time and early country music played a pivotal role in my development as an artist, and I stand on the shoulders of groundbreaking women like Mother Maybelle Carter and Elizabeth Cotten. I’m especially grateful to see my friend Rhiannon Giddens included in the exhibit as she continues to reclaim the history of Black women through music. These are stories of inspiring women that need to be told.”

~ Amythyst Kiah
Photo Courtesy of Emma Delevante

“When I was 13 years old I heard a Hazel Dickens song and it changed my life. I would not be doing what I do without her, Elizabeth Cotten, Ola Belle Reed, Alice Gerrard, and so many other incredible women featured in this exhibit.

~ Molly Tuttle
© Birthplace of Country Music; photographer: Ashli Linkous

“The first songs I learned on the guitar were those Carter Family songs, taught to me by Helen Carter. Musical matriarchs like her have played such a pivotal role in the development of early country music, and so many of their stories aren’t well known or often told. It’s thrilling to see their contributions to our shared music history honored in this exhibit, so that we can more clearly see the path they have forged for those of us who have followed after.”

~ Rosanne Cash
Photo Courtesy of Rosanne Cash

New Special Exhibit

I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music

March 23 – December 31, 2023
Old-time music is described and experienced in different ways and for different purposes, but at its heart, old-time is mountain folk music with strong ties to Appalachia and the diverse peoples who have called it home. While old-time music has primarily been related to “hillbilly music” and its roots and branches can be found in the development of country and bluegrass, it is one of the melting pots of American culture, connecting to multiple genres, influences, and instruments.

Women have always been central to old-time music – in the home and on the stage, and as instrumentalists and singers, preservationists, activists, promoters, and cultural memory keepers. I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music highlights the many women who have been integral to this music, exploring the challenges they’ve faced making a career in the field, the ways they have impacted the genre, and their vision for the future of old-time. Join us to see, hear, and experience their stories!

Visit the Exhibit

Now at the Birthplace Of Country Music Museum

Entry included in full museum admission.
Visitors may also purchase special exhibit-only tickets for $5.25 at the museum’s front desk.

Special Thanks

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.

Close-Up on Women in Old-Time Music

Over 50 women are featured or highlighted in I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music. However, limited space on the panels of an exhibit means we weren’t able to include all the information about each of these women, and there are so many more women we could have included. Explore Close-Up on Women in Old-Time Music to learn more – from well-represented musicians like Ola Belle Reed and Elizabeth Cotten to hidden heroines like Jenny Bowman and Matokie Slaughter.
Sally Ann Forrester

Sally Ann Forrester

Sally Ann Forrester - born as Wilene Russell and also known as “Goldie Sue” and “Billie” - was a multi-instrumentalist and the first woman employed by Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys performing publicity on accordion and vocals in the group from 1943 to 1946. She’s...

Jenny Lou Carson

Jenny Lou Carson

Jenny Lou Carson (born Virginia Lucille Overstake) began performing on the WLS National Barn Dance stage at the age of 17 as one of the Three Little Maids with her sisters Evelyn and Eva. She played guitar in the trio and also wrote songs, including some that she sold...

Etta Baker

Etta Baker

A master guitarist in Piedmont blues, Etta Baker learned an Appalachian style of fingerpicking from her father Boone Reid, who she sometimes played with at local dances. Music was a big part of her life with several family members playing instruments from the banjo to...

Women in Old-Time Music:

Educational & Additional Resources

We have a variety of educational and additional resources to help you explore the topic further – including information about the organizations and programs featured in the exhibit; a select bibliography of useful books, articles, and websites; and a K-12 lesson plan.

Women in Old-Time Music:

Events & Programs

The museum is hosting a wide range of programming to go along with the I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music special exhibit – from film screenings, Speaker Sessions, and related books on Radio Bristol Book Club to musical performances, workshops, and family-friendly events. 

Women in Old-Time Music:

Women’s Voices

For the exhibit, we interviewed 18 women:

  • Sheila Kay Adams
  • Toni Doman
  • Cathy Fink
  • Trish Kilby Fore
  • Bev Futrell
  • Alice Gerrard
  • Allison de Groot
  • Tatiana Hargreaves
  • Karen Jones
  • Amythyst Kiah
  • Elizabeth LaPrelle
  • Sue Massek
  • Ivy Sheppard
  • Emily Spencer
  • Martha Spencer
  • Roni Stoneman
  • Suzy Thompson
  • Kalia Yeagle
Through these conversations, we explored what old-time music means to them, the challenges they’ve faced, the women who have inspired them, and what they envision for old-time music’s future. Check out our Women in Old-Time Music video playlist – we will upload a new interview at the beginning of each month, with the first appearing on May 1!

Women in Old-Time Music:

Sounds & Songs

From Sarah Ogan Gunning’s “I’m a Girl of Constant Sorrow” and Etta Baker’s “One Dime Blues” to Amythyst Kiah’s “Polly Ann’s Hammer” and the Reel World String Band’s “Little Omie’s Done Got Wise,” explore our Spotify playlist inspired by the special exhibit.

Listen on Spotify

Women in Old-Time Music:

Media Kit

For promotional materials and additional information about the exhibit, please refer to our media kit.

Information for Interested Venues

Bring the Exhibit to You

I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music is available to travel to other venues in 2024 and 2025. Learn more about the traveling exhibit and how to display it at your site HERE! You can also reach out via email to learn more: rrodgers@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org.