I’ve Endured: Women in Old-Time Music

Close-Up on Women in Old-Time Music

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The Bowman Sisters

Courtesy of Bob Cox


Gray, Tennessee

Date of Birth

Jennie Bowman Cain: December 30, 1912; Pauline Bowman Huggans: September 22, 1911

Date of Death

Jennie Bowman Cain: December 1976; Pauline Bowman Huggans: December 24, 2003

Jennie and Pauline Bowman, the oldest teenage daughters of East Tennessee fiddler Charlie Bowman, recorded as The Bowman Sisters at the Johnson City Sessions in 1928 and 1929. They put down four sides for Columbia Records: “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Swanee River,” “Railroad Take Me Back,” and “Old Lonesome Blues.” They also recorded three unreleased songs for the American Recording Company in 1931.

In the early 1930s, they joined the Loews Metropolitan Theater Vaudeville Circuit, traveling to towns and cities across the east coast, as part of the Blue Ridge Ramblers, a 12-member band that included their father. They also appeared together as a country blues-style duet. Jennie kept a meticulous journal of the band’s time on the road, noting show venues and dates – in 1931 they performed 249 days of the year, with 168 the following year – collecting flyers and photographs, writing down various events related to the band, and recording their many radio appearances from Wheeling, West Virginia, to Portland, Maine. When not performing as The Blue Ridge Ramblers, Charlie, Jennie, and Pauline also went on stage with two other musicians as The Variety Five. The sisters became so well known through their time on the vaudeville circuit that they were even invited to appear in a national commercial for Colgate toothpaste, though in the end they missed out on this opportunity.

Pauline left the vaudeville stage behinid when she married big band musician Jimmy James; she eventually came back to East Tennessee where she later ran a cafe called the Green Bean. Jennie also moved back home and got married, though she continued to perform professionally with various bands around the region and in neighboring states. She was also offered a starring role in the film Yodelin’ Boy from Pine Ridge, which starred Gene Autry and Smiley Burnette, but she had to turn down the offer as she was pregnant with her first child at the time.

Take a Listen

Select Discography

  • “My Old Kentucky Home” 
  • “Swanee River” 
  • “Railroad Take Me Back” 
  • “Old Lonesome Blues”

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