Gender in Bluegrass Culture

Bluegrass has been, and still is, a musical genre dominated by white males, usually between the ages of 18 and 40. Why is it that so many other genres today are full of female artists and groups, yet bluegrass has struggled to showcase their female talents? Up until the early 2000’s, very few female bluegrass players were well known, and only a fraction of them were lead performers or solo artists. This is due partially to the roots of the bluegrass performers. Many of the pioneering musicians were young men from rural areas, who traveled to festivals and shows as a means to earn money, often as a part time job when there was no harvest or help needed back home. This did not transfer to their female counterparts, who were expected to stay home, help raise children, watch the house, etc. The idea of women traveling far away from home to perform in bars and festivals was not accepted well in the traditional minded communities that listened to bluegrass. As bluegrass spread throughout the country, and as new artists began emerge, women began to make themselves known on the stage. However, they almost always appeared as part of a group, using the trope of being a “mother, sister, wife or daughter” to gain access to the stage. It wouldn’t be until artists like Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss appeared that women would be able to forge their own careers, and even today, it is still much more difficult for a solo female artist or group to be recognized than their male counterparts.

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