Date of Award

8-2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Music

Major

Music

Major Professor

Rachel M. Golden

Committee Members

Allison S. Robbins, James Fellenbaum

Abstract

This thesis explores the past and current roles that female bluegrass musicians achieve within the music industry in the United States. Using sociological concepts by Judith Butler, Simon Frith, Mavis Bayton, and, importantly, Thomas Turino’s ideas of participatory and communal versus performative and individual, I demonstrate women’s complex musical, social, and cultural positions in bluegrass culture.

While women continue to make strides in achieving recognition in the bluegrass genre, society still hinders them from finding complete acceptance alongside male musicians. As bluegrass music is based on patriarchal foundations set by its creator, Bill Monroe of the Blue Grass Boys, female bluegrass musicians constantly struggle to variously actualize and resist this gendered model. Even as bluegrass women achieve success through manipulation of the traditional rules set before them, they continue to struggle against patriarchal foundations and women’s historical association with the voice.

Through historical research, personal observations, and in-depth interviews with three female bluegrass musicians, I show that even as these women find acceptance within their own bands, they recognize the unequal musical acknowledgement they receive. With regard to communal and individual performance realms, women, unlike men, have trouble fulfilling positions in both areas. In order to achieve success, some bluegrass women embrace their sexuality and present an overtly feminine image to their audiences.

Notions of tradition, authenticity and hybridity help frame my discussion of women’s roles. While the power of tradition and authenticity hinder women’s progress in the genre, concepts of hybridity allow them to branch out from conventions set down by first generation male bluegrass performers like Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers.

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