CMT's Next Women of Country Speak Their Minds

Kelleigh Bannen Explains Reality of Female Artists and Songwriters

The ladies of CMT's Next Women of Country definitely left the men at home Tuesday (Nov. 4) during a star-studded soiree in Nashville. And that might not have been a bad thing.

Aside from introducing Kelsea Ballerini, Mickey Guyton, Maddie & Tae and RaeLynn as the latest additions to the Next Women of Country franchise, the event at Nashville's City Winery also allowed some of the best and brightest ladies in the business to deliver heartfelt performances and messages to the industry crowd.

Among the others previously selected for Next Women of Country are Lauren Alaina , Danielle Bradbery, Laura Bell Bundy, Brandy Clark, Sheryl Crow, Sarah Darling, Lindsay Ell, Rose Falcon, Rachel Farley, Lucy Hale, Kristen Kelly, Jana Kramer, Nikki Lane, Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope, Angaleena Presley, Natalie Stovall and Holly Williams.

And because Next Women of Country shines a light on a new generation of signed and unsigned female artists making an impact on country music, it wasn't simply about what they were singing on Tuesday. It was also about what they were saying. And once they were given the microphone, they didn't hold back on the issue of a need for more gals in the country music space.

One of my favorite stories came from Kelleigh Bannen as she regaled the audience with an impassioned account involving one of her friends and favorite female writers, Jessi Alexander, whose incredible success includes writing hits for everyone from Patty Loveless to Little Big Town. Her other credits include Lee Brice's "I Drive Your Truck" (the CMA's 2013 song of the year) and Blake Shelton's "Mine Would Be You" (nominated for single of the year at Wednesday's CMA Awards). Heck, her catalog even includes Miley Cyrus' "The Climb."

Bannen recalled Alexander telling her about the turning point in her songwriting career.

"She said kind of jokingly, 'Well, it was when I stopped writing female songs and started writing guy songs,'" Bannen explained.

After pausing a moment, Bannen lamented to the audience, "Y'all, that's really sad when an outstanding songwriter knows. ... She knew the marketplace. There's just not a voice for her songs for the most part -- right now -- in this moment. And I think that's a really serious statement."

It was a telling statement, but Bannen was quick to suggest the startling truth should provide the motivation to inspire positive change.

"I don't say that to blame anyone," she said. "It's amazing to me that ... our finest product that we make here are songs."

I have to agree with her. Still, there seems to remain a glass ceiling not only for women on the country charts but also for the female artists. She's confident all of this can and will change.

"I pray that because of things like CMT's Next Women of Country and all of y'all that are chasing music that you believe in -- not just that's easy -- that there will continue to be a voice for songs from songwriters like Jessi Alexander and Nicolle Galyon and Liz Rose," Bannen said.

The singer then launched into a haunting rendition of "Church Clothes," a song by Galyon and Rose, two of the best writers in town.

One listen to that tune written by the ladies for the ladies, and you will agree that things must change.

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