A! Magazine for the Arts

Virtual speaker series focuses on honky-tonk woman

January 26, 2021

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in historic downtown Bristol, Tennessee-Virginia premiered a free Virtual Speaker Series in January, and the first installment of the series featured Paula Johnson, Food History Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

“We are excited to be kicking off the Virtual Speaker Series. This series is an opportunity for us to host and feature a wide range of speakers and topics – from music history and regional stories to technology and behind-the-scenes work at museums – and will help us to fulfill our educational mission through engaging and interesting programming,” Head Curator Rene Rodgers.

This series is part of a partnership with the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative. The mission of the initiative is to create, educate, disseminate and amplify the historical record of the accomplishments of American Women - a diversity of women’s stories that have not been widely shared. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution and collaborates with them to bring a wide variety of programming, resources and special exhibits from the Smithsonian to Bristol that would otherwise not be available in Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.

“Before Coal Miner’s Daughters and Many-Colored Coats: Pioneering Women in Country Music” is Feb. 2 at 7 p.m. Bailey George talks about the women who made their mark in early country music. Traditionally the role and widespread recognition of women in country music has been relegated to a handful of “superstars” who rose to fame in the 1960s and 1970s. But female country artists have been making recordings since the beginnings of country music recording. The impact of these pioneering artists has been somewhat overshadowed by flashier, pop-oriented female artists in recent years, but without these trailblazing recordings, the country music industry as we know it would not exist. With this talk, George takes a look at some of the forgotten female artists, musicians, writers, and performers from days long before there were coal miner’s daughters or many-colored coats.

George has been collecting and researching vintage music since he was 11 years old. He is the host of the popular Honky Tonk Hit Parade on Radio Bristol, playing country music from the 1940s and 1950s every Wednesday, from 3-5:30 p.m. In addition to his archival work and his time on-air, Bailey also performs in a duo with Jessica Stiles as “Bailey George and Jukebox Jess.”

William Isom and Alona Norwood will talk about the work of Blacks in Appalachia and the importance of amplifying Black narratives and histories March 2.

There is no cost to attend the Virtual Speaker Series, but those interested must pre-register online to participate. For more information and to register, visit the Events page at BirthplaceOfCountryMusic.org.