Women’s History Month: These Artists Thrived in the ’50s and ’60s

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Although country music was dominated by men when Billboard began ranking country songs in 1944, the landscape changed for female artists in the 1950s and 1960s, as the genre claimed Nashville as a recording center and the Country Music Association was formed to create new and larger audiences. This would also be the period when the music was battered by the advent of rock ’n’ roll but would ultimately find renewed vigor through outlets as disparate as bluegrass festivals and crowd-appealing network TV shows.

It’s a fool’s game to try to rank these groundbreaking women in order of their importance or influence. So what we’ve done is list them chronologically according to their first appearance on the Billboard chart.

THE HALL OF FAMERS

Probably the most prolific female songwriter of them all, Felice Bryant (1925-2003) and her fiddle-playing husband, Boudleaux, moved to Nashville in 1950 to work as full-time composers. They were encouraged by the success Little Jimmy Dickens had a year earlier with their song “Country Boy,” which rocketed to No. 7. Cuts by Carl Smith would follow.

But dwarfing these early successes were the hits they wrote for the Everly Brothers, among these “Bye Bye Love,” “Wake Up Little Susie” and “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” Then in 1968 came their insanely infectious “Rocky Top,” first a hit for the Osborne Brothers and, in time, a staple for every bluegrass banjo player who ever lived. The Bryants were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1991. An exhibit about their life is on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum through August 2.

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