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Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass (Music in American Life) [Kindle Edition]

Murphy Henry
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The first book devoted entirely to women in bluegrass, Pretty Good for a Girl documents the lives of more than seventy women whose vibrant contributions to the development of bluegrass have been, for the most part, overlooked. Accessibly written and organized by decade, the book begins with Sally Ann Forrester, who played accordion and sang with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys from 1943 to 1946, and continues into the present with artists such as Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, and the Dixie Chicks. Drawing from extensive interviews, well-known banjoist Murphy Hicks Henry gives voice to women performers and innovators throughout bluegrass's history, including such pioneers as Bessie Lee Mauldin, Wilma Lee Cooper, and Roni and Donna Stoneman; family bands including the Lewises, Whites, and McLains; and later pathbreaking performers such as the Buffalo Gals and other all-girl bands, Laurie Lewis, Lynn Morris, Missy Raines, and many others.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

For too many years, bluegrass was considered a “man’s music.” But as this impressive history of women in bluegrass clearly indicates, women have been a big part of bluegrass since its earliest days, even when they were ignored by the media and fellow musicians. Henry herself is a banjo player and teacher as well as founder of the Women in Bluegrass newsletter. Many of the more than 70 women in Henry’s book have been sadly overlooked. What most people don’t know, she points out, is that when Earl Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and Lester Flatt created the Blue Grass Boys in 1945, they were accompanied by Sally Ann Forrester on accordion, and there are plenty of other similar examples. Among the bluegrass women profiled here are Rose Maddox, the Stonemans, Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, and the Buffalo Gals, along with Alison Krauss and the Dixie Chicks. In all, a much-needed addition to the bluegrass canon. --June Sawyers


"A ground-breaking biographical and cultural history."--Publishers Weekly

"A book that's been so needed, on a topic so neglected for so long."--Roots Watch

"A fascinating history of bluegrass music from a female musician's perspective. Wonderfully readable, brisk in its sweeping chronology of a huge topic, and filled with anecdotal gems that bring history to life, this is an enthralling and important book."--Thomas A. Adler, author of Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festivals

"One of the most important bluegrass books that will be published this decade."--Bluegrass Today

"This impressive history of women in bluegrass clearly indicates women have been a big part of bluegrass since its earliest days, even when they were ignored by the media an fellow musicians.  A much-needed addition to the bluegrass canon."--Booklist

"This terrific book adds significantly to our knowledge of bluegrass music. Part reference and part impassioned argument, Pretty Good for a Girl is filled with extremely interesting narratives and has the firepower to become a great inspiration for a new generation of young women musicians."--Ellen Wright, coauthor (with Roni Stoneman) of Pressing On: The Roni Stoneman Story

Product Details

  • File Size: 3263 KB
  • Print Length: 528 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (May 2, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #403,829 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating and informative June 26, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Bluegrass music has been known traditionally as a male-dominated genre. If you are even a little bit interested in the history of bluegrass music, this book is a declaration of how women have made and continue to make their mark on the music. From the less well-known (e.g., Grace French) to the famous (e.g., Allison Kraus), it grabs you from the first page and draws you into the stories of over fifty women, driven to do what they love: play music. Some of the book's fascination comes from seeing these stories from the woman's point of view -- not only how each one developed her craft, but how she dealt with family, boyfriends, husbands, children, traveling with male band members, reputation, leadership, and, always, the attitude that she might be "pretty good for a girl."
The best aspect of this book is how readable it is. Divided into time periods, with chapters on specific women or groups of women, it will be easy for anyone to pick up and delve into at any place in the book, or you can start at the beginning and be unable to put it down until you have read it all. The book is so well documented that it is likely to be referenced in the future, on par with the works of Charles Wolfe or Neil Rosenberg. The only disappointment is that there is no companion CD!! Reading this book makes you want to go out and find every old record mentioned and hope that many have been re-issued on CD. Pretty Good for a Girl is a refreshing combination of readability and scholarship that anyone can enjoy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
The genesis of Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass by Murphy Hicks Henry (University of Illinois Press, 2013, 456 pages, $29.95) grew from a comment intended as a compliment but experienced by women musicians as the ultimate put-down. Henry decided to create a data base of women in bluegrass as well as to begin distributing a newsletter on the same topic which continued to be published until 2003. Her master's thesis on Sally Ann Forrester, the first woman in bluegrass, became the basis for the first chapter in this cyclopedic account of the increased presence and influence of women in bluegrass from its beginning in (and before) 1945 to the present. Pretty Goodfor a Girl, ten years in the writing, provides the reader with a perspective putting the lie to the marginalization of women in the assertion that bluegrass was, and continues to be, largely a boys' club. Murphy Henry not only sets the record straight, she does so in a witty, engaging manner (sometimes with a slightly bighty edge) that entertains as it informs. For any student of bluegrass history, tradition, and culture, this book is must reading! Read the full review on my blog.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book justifiably stands with Neil Rosenberg's Bluegrass: A History and Robert Cantwell's Bluegrass Breakdown: The Making of the Old Southern Sound in the University of Illinois' Music in American Life series. Anyone attempting to write about any aspect of the history of Bluegrass music is immediately confronted with the problem of definition, which in turn sets the efforts historical boundaries. Henry takes this head on at the start of Chapter 1. "I have defined a bluegrass band as one that features the five-string banjo played in the three-finger Scruggs style." With this entirely reasonable definition for her purpose, Ms. Henry sets her starting point at 1945. What this means, of course, is that some women who made seminal contributions to what became Bluegrass such as Maybelle and Sara Carter and Molly O'Day are not included. The stories of the many artists who are included provide the wellspring for comprehensive coverage of a neglected element of the development of Bluegrass music. Although she does it through short biographies of the women, Ms. Henry clearly is writing about the culture in which these women worked and how it shaped their ability, or lack of ability, to impact the evolution of the Bluegrass sound. And, as she makes clear, this lack of ability to shape the emerging genre was not due to lack of musicianship.
Each section of the book represents a decade and begins with a short synthesis of the lives and musical contributions of those included followed by a brief biography of each. Sally Ann Forrester kicks off the decade of the 1940's. Here Ms.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! August 21, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I bought this because I began playing banjo a couple of years ago, and was struck almost immediately at how the field seemed quite dominated by males. I went to a camp or two, and found some female instructors -- who, to a person, were excellent players and teachers both. One of those was Murphy Henry. I now take lessons from her daughter Casey.

This is an eye-opening read that women have always been part of bluegrass, but their presence (and/or abilities) have often gone unrecognized -- neither men nor women seem to "see" or "hear" them -- after all, they are "pretty good, for a girl". Anyone who has grown up hearing that phrase handed out understands that at best, it's a back-handed compliment. At worst, it's an open insult. Yet more than half the population is female -- and, yes we can play fiddle, banjo, bass...

Murphy writes the stories of the women in bluegrass clearly and articulately. Her style is open and friendly, as if she is sitting next to you, telling you these stories personally. The research that has gone into this book is evident, but it isn't overbearing -- this doesn't come across as an academic tome. Instead it's a fascinating read into the lives of women who often felt as though they were alone -- that there weren't other women playing bluegrass (even when there were). Murphy looks at the entire aspect of being female and playing professionally -- the juggling of home and children with the demands of traveling and being in a band.

I learned a lot about women I'd only heard of before, a lot about what it takes to be a professional musician, a lot about bluegrass, hillbilly and country music beginnings. Highly recommended for anyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass
I have thoroughly enjoyed this book about "Women in Bluegrass" A great "Coffee Table" Book! Read more
Published 2 months ago by carolyn elrod
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
I knew for sure Murphy Henry is an outstanding banjo player and teacher, but I had no idea she is just as excellent a writer. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Deb D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Murphy Henry writes pretty good for a girl
This book is fascinating because it does not just chronicle the careers of the subjects. It provides a level of detail and honesty almost never seen about people who are still... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Brian P. Murphy, PC
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty Good For A Girl: Women in Bluegrass
This is truly an amazing book. I would recommend it for anyone interested in Women in Bluegrass. I don't think Murphy Henry has left anyone out. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Jean E. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Book review.
Very good social history of women in a specific genre. I know the author and feel she did a fantastic job.
Published 9 months ago by Gerald K Pratt
5.0 out of 5 stars What makes the green grass blue?
The artfully revealing chapter on Cincinnati's Blue Grass legend and WNKU "Music from the Hills of Home" (online) PBS host Katy Laur, has earned a place in the cannon of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by R. Haley
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly captivating!
This work is a true masterpiece! It tells the many unheard stories of the women in bluegrass. The writing is informative and entertaining at the same time. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Sarah Jade
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
It's about time someone paid attention to and wrote about the women in bluegrass, or "hillbilly" music as it used to be called. Excellent book, well researched.
Published 14 months ago by Pat A
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating.
I guarantee you will learn things from this work. A labor of love from a woman who knows her music and who loves the culture.
Published 15 months ago by Amazon Customer
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