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 now known as “the first woman in bluegrass” for this achievement. Despite this, and the fact that she was an accomplished musician prior to her stint in Monroe’s band, Forrester is often dismissed and uncredited for this role as it was assumed that she was only filling in for the job in place of her husband, Howard “Howdy” Forrester, who was also a musician in Monroe’s band. Thought of generally as the “wife of a fiddler” rather than a skilled musician, Sally Ann took over her husband’s role as bandmate to Bill Monroe while he was in the military and therefore not available. She performed on several of Monroe’s records playing accordion and singing vocals, including several 1945 recordings on Columbia including playing accordion on “Kentucky Waltz” and “Bluegrass Special”and singing vocals on “Come Back to Me in My Dreams” and “Nobody Loves Me”.
Raised by her grandparents after the death of her mother at age three, Sally Ann grew up in Oklahoma, and was heavily influenced in her youth by western music like that of Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys. She learned to play piano, guitar, accordion and sang, and in 1939 she became a cast member on a new barn dance program, The Saddle Mountain Roundup on KVOO as “The Little Orphan Girl” where she met Howdy Forrester. She performed with Howdy on several radio station programs and tent shows, and even solo before her time in Monroe’s band. Even the name “Sally Ann” was likely an adopted stage name given to her by Monroe himself as documents detailing her later life refer to her as “Billie” off stage.