Oral History Project Spotlights the Women Behind the Scenes in Nashville Music
From Minnie Pearl and Mother Maybelle Carter to Kacey Musgraves and Margo Price, women have often been center stage in country music (even if you have to look beyond country radio to hear them). And, to put a spin on the old saying, behind every good woman is a community of other women.
At least, that’s what Tiffany Minton was thinking when she started the Women Musicians in Nashville Oral History Project. “We have interesting stories to tell,” she observes, “and in various areas of the music industry, we are disproportionately underrepresented.”
Minton arrived in Nashville in the early 2000s and played drums with local bands and musicians including Adia Victoria and Thelma and the Sleaze. But, she recalls, “I quickly realized that I wasn't seeing myself, as far as my experience as a woman, that visibly in other bands. I would just show up [to gigs] and I would be one of maybe one or two [women], including my bandmate.”
Sensing that women in Nashville’s music scene are “proportionately underrepresented,” Minton entered the master’s program in public history at Middle Tennessee State University in 2019, to start an oral history project chronicling the experiences of female musicians-for-hire on Music Row. “I realized that it would be a really interesting opportunity to document parts of Nashville music history, but also the wider music industry's history, and these women's lives in a unique way that hadn't been done before,” she says.
In its current state, Minton’s oral history project consists of 20 two-hour video interviews and transcripts with female musicians and songwriters from the Nashville music scene. Minton drew her first round of subjects from friends and colleagues she’d met over the past decade, who, in turn, recommended their friends and colleagues to her. “Those relationships are what grow a community of women, what support a community of women working, and it's been replicated in this project, too,” she says.
The girls’ club that helped Minton find her subjects reflected a sea change in how women work together in Nashville. “There’s a very tight-knit community of women who have a vested in [recommending] one another for jobs,” Minton observes, reflecting on a gig that string players Kristin Weber and Larissa Maestro shared. “That’s how you get good jobs. That’s how you get seen.
“For every five or 10 men, there are maybe one or two women who are doing the same thing,” she adds. “It’s a good way to increase the exposure and the odds that your female friends are going to have a leg up in the community.”
Minton’s first round of interviews will be included in the archives at the Center for Popular Music in Murfeesboro, Tenn., this summer. Though Minton graduated in June, she has plans to continue the project.
“My focus right now is just to try to get as many stories as I can, because a lot of women, especially at the beginning of the development of the country music industry in Nashville, are getting a lot older, and some of them have already passed and all of that. So, I want to make sure that I try to meet those women,” she says. “But also, there's a really amazing, and fairly large, group of younger women now who are experiencing really interesting levels of success, and I think it's important to document that as well, to get them at that particular time and place in their lives.”
Keep reading to learn a bit more about five of the women included in Minton’s Women Musicians in Nashville Oral History Project. You might not know them by name, but you’ve definitely sung along to the music they’ve made:
To read more about Minton's work and the women in the Nashville music scene she's chronicling, visit TMinton.com.
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