Paste Magazine calls out Compass co-founder, Alison Brown, and Compass artist, Rebecca Frazier in this article about Women in Bluegrass.
Bluegrass is often maligned either as one of the whitest American music genres, or one of the most male-dominated. Certainly, the main foundational figures of bluegrass were all men—Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Jimmy Martin, Ralph Stanley. But women have been a part of bluegrass from the beginning, first with Sally Ann Forrester on accordion in Bill Monroe’s first band, and later with pioneers like Louise Scruggs, Earl’s wife and a powerful businesswoman in the bluegrass music industry, or Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, a duo most often quoted as paving the way for women in bluegrass.
2. Alison Brown
Alison Brown has been at the forefront of bluegrass for years, first as a renowned banjo player and then as the label head for Compass Records. Compass is one of the best record labels covering the modern roots revival, and Brown’s hand has been on the wheel for their many signings; she’s also produced many of the albums coming out of Compass’ Nashville offices. Brown actually started playing at a young age, and Stuart Duncan, now one of the most in-demand sidemen in Nashville, was her first musical partner. Duncan’s dad actually pushed him to play with her when he was 12! Speaking with Brown on the phone, she brings up the point that early women in bluegrass were usually there with men at their side, essentially as chaperones. The genre come a long way since then, she says. “When I was growing up people would always say, and it was meant in the kindest possible way, ‘You’re really good for a girl,’ because there weren’t a lot of girls or women playing. Out of this small pond of people, it was surprising to them. In my opinion, you’d have to be pretty unworldly to make a comment like that anymore.” Brown pointed to the rise of Alison Krauss as well as the real watershed moment for women in bluegrass. “Nobody had the success that Alison Krauss had,” Brown explains. “So, when that happened, I think it started to make it difficult for people to look at women in bluegrass as some kind of exceptional thing. Here was a woman who really blew out the boundaries for the music and really expanded the potential for the music and brought in new listeners.”
6. Rebecca Frazier
Like Kristin Scott Benson, guitarist Rebecca Frazier is another instrumental luminary in bluegrass today. The first woman to be featured on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine, Frazier’s talent as a guitarist is much respected in bluegrass circles. She’s also a great singer, and her recent album, When We Fall, showcases both talents. Like many women here, she started playing at a young age (just 12 years old) and later founding her band Hit & Run Bluegrass in Colorado, which has one of the best bluegrass scenes in the US. Now living in Nashville, she moved to the city on the cusp of motherhood, something that can be a difficult prospect for touring musicians. Now one of the most respected bluegrass guitarists, Frazier’s a source of inspiration for other artists, though she herself points to banjo player Alison Brown as one of her primary inspirations. “If we’d like to be honest about gender in the music world,” Frazier explains, “we need to address all parties. Women need to invest in themselves, hustle for gigs, network, and do the work of forming bands and cultivating their own talents if they would like to be taken seriously. The industry pretty much always rewards women who do these things. I’m not interested in any special handout just for being a woman. But on the other hand, if a woman is doing these things, yet she’s told ‘We already have enough women on the bill, so we’ll call you next year’—now that’s an issue. No one says to a male artist, ‘We already have enough men on the bill!’”
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