Strong. Confident. Empowering. These are a few of the terms used to describe the women of country music ahead of the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony where Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Carrie Underwood, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott were honored for their contributions to the genre. From superstar acts to newcomers building a path of their own, the genre-defining female artists all lent their voices to the conversation.
“It’s so exciting that this whole entire community is celebrating women that have influenced the whole entire genre forever and we get to honor a lot of the women that have paved the way for all of us,” Maddie & Tae’s Madison Marlow shared as such country icons as Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Carrie Underwood were feet away.
McBride is one of the women that helped pave the way for modern female artists. As one of the most prominent voices to come out of the ’90s country era, many cite her as an influence to this day. “Women have a really strong point of view that a lot of people can relate to,” McBride said. “I feel like it’s doing the country music audience a disservice to not have [music] where it’s easy to get to.”
Fellow trailblazer Evans spoke honestly about her frustration with country radio and its pushback on female artists. She shared memories of growing up on stage, covering songs by strong female acts Reba McEntire, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and more starting when she was four-years-old. “I never would’ve dreamed when I was a little girl onstage that at some point, I would be completely blackballed from the genre that I love so much and that I’ve also contributed music to and helped grow,” she confessed.
One young artist who counts both McBride and Evans among her influences is Danielle Bradbery. Since winning The Voice in 2013 at the age of 16, the “Worth It” singer has been working to forge her own path in the genre. She looks to her fellow female artists as inspiration on how to grow as an artist. “Confidence, strength and to stand up for yourself,” she says of what she’s learned from the women of country. “Letting us all know that it’s okay to walk in a room with your head held high and not be afraid to say what’s on your mind and write the realest songs and stay true to your heart.”
Acclaimed pop singer Tori Kelley was welcomed into the country music family as a featured vocalist on Chris Lane’s “Take Back Home Girl,” earning her first Top 10 hit on country radio in 2018. Kelley, who performed with honoree Scott during the show, also sees the strength and confidence in the women of country music and notes the importance for young people to recognize those qualities. “I think it’s cool to see women who are confident in being themselves and get up on stage and do their thing,” she says. “I think that’s inspiring for any young girl to look up to.”
For McBride, the sense of unity amongst the genre’s contemporary female artists is another positive example, with many stars reaching out on social media to commend each other’s accomplishments. “It takes a lot of work, you need to be strong,” she defines of what it means to be a woman in country music, citing how important it is for women to support other women. “I feel like in country music, we always have done that to a certain extent, but I see more and more of it than even when I started out. I think that’s a beautiful thing.”
“I feel really empowered to be a woman in country right now,” adds Marlow. “I think everyone’s really coming around to the idea that we do need more women in country. We need that voice heard, because there’s so many little girls that need someone to look up to.”