Country music wasn’t always an equitable genre. It took women – trailblazers like Loretta Lynn – to not only put female country singers in the same bracket as their male counterparts but, to do it in a way that didn’t shy away from the rougher edges of femininity.
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When it comes to having your music banned from radio, it’s hard to match the devil-may-care spunk of Lynn. The “Coal Miner’s Daughter” sang about divorce, going on the pill, getting into fights, and a host of other taboo topics that made the more traditional corners of Nashville blush in the mid-60s.
If songs like “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and “Fist City” seem tame today, it’s because of Lynn’s unparalleled contributions to country music that have molded the genre in her own image.
The latest installment of CMT’s “Next Women of Country” saw some of the genre’s brightest up-and-comers take the stage at Nashville’s City Winery on Tuesday (Nov. 8) for a tribute performance to Queen Loretta.
Among the line-up were Brooke Eden, Wendy Moten, Stephanie Quayle, Caylee Hammack, Erin Enderlin, Miko Marks, Sacha, Tiera Kennedy and Bowen*Young. Before playing an original selection for their own catalogs, each of the artists covered a Lynn song with a marked reverence.
Speaking ahead of the show, Moten (performer and co-host for the evening) told American Songwriter, “I am so happy to be a part of this history. We are celebrating Loretta Lynn, who got banned from the radio for singing some truths they didn’t want to hear. Even back then we were fighting to be heard and seen. I’m so happy to be a part of this platform that shines a light on that.”
That same sentiment was mirrored in each of the performances. Not only did the women feel an innate kinship to Lynn’s journey in the industry, their backgrounds, struggles, and dreams all mirrored the late great icon as well.
During the first round, Ontario, Canada, native Sacha spoke about her country roots. “Though you may not know it when you’re looking at me, You’re Looking at Country,” the singer-songwriter remarked before jumping into the Lynn song of the same name. Soon after, Quayle spoke about how Lynn’s candor and vulnerability helped her to create her own deeply intimate album, On The Edge. She then belted out a rendition of “You Ain’t Woman Enough.”
“On the heels of this album, I hear Lynn’s music differently,” Quayle told American Songwriter ahead of the performance. “I see her through a different lens. I have so much respect for her and when we were doing our soundtrack earlier it really felt like she was in the room.”
In the middle of the two rounds, CMT’s Leslie Fram was awarded the CMA Media Achievement Award for her continued support of female artists, teams and label execs in country music. Soon after, Kennedy, Eden, Hammack, Bowen*Young, and Moten took the stage, continuing the fete.
Kennedy lulled through “Fist City” before previewing a new song of hers titled “Jesus, My Mama, My Therapist.” The latter was a crowd-pleaser with tongue-in-cheek lyricism in the spirit of Lynn. Elsewhere Eden broke hearts with a stunning performance of “She’s Got You.” Eden is a trailblazer herself, paving the way for LGBTQ+ country artists much in the way Lynn did for her.
“When I moved to Nashville, I didn’t even know that I was part of the LGBTQ community,” Eden told American Songwriter. “I met my wife during my first week of a radio tour. It was something that I didn’t see for my future. There was a moment where I was kind of mad at God because I thought, ‘Why would you put this dream in my heart to be a country singer and then also introduce me to the love of my life in the same week?’ Those two worlds had really never successfully coincided.”
She continued, “It’s time that we grow up in a world where a little kid can watch CMT and see a same-sex couple, just like they would see a hetero couple.”
Hammack lent her classic country vocals to “Coal Miner’s Daughter” before launching into a stirring performance of her 2020 track “Forged In The Fire.” Wife and husband duo Bowen*Young chose to perform “Lay Me Down” – a duet between Lynn and Willie Nelson. The pair then played a poignant number called “Dangerous Love,” which detailed a home invasion they recently suffered.
Moten closed out the second round with a Lynn deep cut from her second record titled “Before I’m Over You.” After paying homage, Moten played George Strait’s “The King of Broken Hearts,” switching out the genders for a female-focused version.
The theme of the night was certainly “admiration” – admiration for country music, admiration for their fellow artists and admiration for Lynn. Each of the women keenly listened to their round partners, taking in each note like an excitable audience member. At moments they were moved to tears, in others they were laughing along with each other’s stories and reveling in their accomplishments.
With a long list of star-studded alumni and last night’s event as proof, the CMT Next Women of Country artists are making the genre their own and stand only to continue their string of accolades.
Photo Credit: Getty Images for CMT