News Article

Bluegrass is often maligned either as one of the whitest American music genres, or one of the most male-dominated. Certainly, the main foundational figures of bluegrass were all men—Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley. But women have been a part of bluegrass from the beginning, first with Sally Ann Forrester on accordion in Bill Monroe’s first band, and later with pioneers like Louise Scruggs, Earl’s wife and a powerful businesswoman in the bluegrass music industry, or Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, a duo most often quoted as paving the way for women in bluegrass. Today, it’s not as hard to point to powerful women in bluegrass, from country star Alison Krauss (who has a new album coming this year), who got her start as a precocious bluegrass prodigy, to popular Americana artists like Sarah Jarosz or Sara Watkins, both of whom emerged in the bluegrass scene at young ages.

Still, it’s not always an easy road, and the artists interviewed here recognize the struggle of women within a music genre that’s constantly looking to the past for authentication. But these artists also recognize that we’re on the cusp of change. The International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) recent annual conference looked very different from past years: there was a showcase on diversity featuring artists of color (who are virtually non-existent in traditional bluegrass), as well as LGBT artists. Speaking at the IBMA conference, Marian Levy, a founding member of Rounder Records, called for change in the tradition, stating the Rounder Records rallying cry that “music doesn’t discriminate.” There’s still much work to be done, though, and these seven artists are at the forefront of the new wave of women smashing the bluegrass “grass ceiling.”