Celebrating Great Women of Country on International Women’s Day

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for CMT

Since today is International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight some of MY favorite songs by women of country music over the last sixty years.  Women deserve more airplay and equal time in our format.  Hopefully programmers are waking up to that notion and will give more women the airplay they rightfully deserve.  Anyway, here are some of my faves, what are some of YOUR favorites?

My father used to play this one by the great Brenda Lee on the turntable when I was a kid.  He told me had a crush on her as a boy, and one can see why.

For most people, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” is her definitive recording, but this is my favorite of her’s.

Loretta Lynn was the Academy of Country Music’s Artist of the Decade in 1969, following a string of hits that put her on the map.  This is my favorite of her catalog.

No list of great women of country is complete without Tammy Wynette.  She defined strong woman of song in the 1970s.

Nobody made a bigger impact on country music in the 70s and 80s than Dolly Parton and brought to fans to the format through her amazing stage presence and pop-crossover appeal.  Here’s one of her classics.

Since there was already another singer named Brenda Lee in country music, when Loretta Lynn’s beautiful and super talented younger sister Brenda hit the scene, she gave her the name “Crystal” after the Southern fast-food restaurant.  Crystal Gayle continued down the road of cross-over appeal set by Dolly Parton during the late 1970s.

The late 70s and early 80s were dominated by airplay on the radio and TV by Barbara Mandrell. Her popularity and mainstream appeal took her and her sisters Louise and Irene to new heights as stars of their own weekly variety which aired on NBC.

The late Dottie West added a unique sex appeal with her string of hits, such as this classic later recorded by Jo Dee Messina.

Women struggled for a voice on country radio in the 1980s, but there were some highlights and hot flames by one-hitters like Terri Gibbs, whose “Somebody’s Knockin'” received lots of airplay for years.

Remember Sylvia?

Who could forget Juice Newton?  Her mainstream and country songs were played all over the radio and were prominent on new TV channels like The Nashville Network.

In the mid-1980s, a ropin’ ridin’ girl from Oklahoma finally broke through after years of recording.  Reba McEntire would become the dominant female performer in country music for the next twenty years.

Johnny’s daughter was just as talented as him.  Rosanne Cash‘s “Seven Year Ache” was an instant classic.

Without a doubt, the most successful female duo in country music is still Naomi and Wynonna.  This is one of The Judds‘ greatest songs of all time.  Wynonna would go onto a very successful solo career in the 90s.

I always loved Kathy Mattea‘s voice.  So strong, so sensual even.

Enter the boot-scootin’ 1990s.  Tanya Tucker who first hit the scene in the 70s had a major resurgence and a string of hit singles.

The beautiful Lorrie Morgan.

Mel Tillis’ daughter Pam Tillis had a string of hits, including this memorable one.

She didn’t need Mama Judd any more.  Wynonna broke through with a strong and sexy solo style that was unmistakably her’s.

I always thought Patty Loveless was sexy.  She sure had some great songs, didn’t she?

Somewhere in a karaoke bar, every night, someone tries to sing like Martina McBride and fails.  Martina’s voice dominated country music radio throughout the 90s and early 2000s.  I had a crush on her for years.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Faith Hill when I was a baby country deejay in Peoria.  She was in town to perform at the Heart of Illinois Fair.  Everyone in the station was mezmorized by her beauty and talent.  She actually SANG this song ON the air.

Before she was slavin’ in her Southern Kitchen, Trisha Yearwood was making wonderful music.

Who could forget Deana Carter‘s classic?

Nobody took as much heat and brought as much heat as Shania Twain.  Shania, like many women before her, brought a new audience to the genre.

Both LeAnn Rimes and Trisha Yearwood recorded this song.  I was always preferential to LeAnn’s version.

Enter the 2000s and the girl groups.  Hello, Dixie Chicks.  So many amazing songs.

The copycats.  SHeDAISY.  They were cute.

Remember this one from Miranda Lambert?  So much snark.

I remember listening to this on repeat when it came out.  Alison Krauss has the purest voice, and this song by her and her band Union Station is pure bliss.

Carrie Underwood burst onto the scene fresh off American Idol… it was like they were waiting all these years for a her to arrive and record hit after hit after hit after hit.

This song from Gretchen Wilson is about as good as country music gets.

So is this Lee Ann Womack classic.  Amazing.

Without a doubt, one of my favorite vocal performances of all time.  Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland killed it here.

This isn’t the Taylor Swift we know today, by any means, but this is the song that put this young lady on the map.  She single-handedly changed popular music, brought more families to Nashville to pursue their dreams, and became an international sensation.  I will not lie, I totally underestimated her.

Kacey Musgraves didn’t take off overnight, but her debut single was very strong.

As country music continues to find new fans and search for it’s contemporary voice, artists like Kelsea Ballerini are leading the way.

Maren Morris is another important modern woman of country. Such a beautiful song.

Artists like Ashley McBryde make me feel like the future of our genre is in very good hands.

Women have played a very important role in country music, a role that should never be diminished due to gender.  Thank you to these many wonderful women who have brought us stories, happiness, and tears over the years.  They sing to the heart of America, they sing songs of love, struggle, and life, and we are grateful to them on this Internation Women’s Day not only today but every day.