July 10 Trivia Question

This Contest is Closed
The winner is Gary Veeder

There were several people who had the correct answer, but Gary got there first!!! Please all play again!


Who was the first “woman in bluegrass”, by which I mean a regular member of a working bluegrass band (excluding Sara and Maybelle Carter, for instance)?

  1. Bessie Lee Mauldin – bass fiddle/vocals with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys
  2. “Bobbi Jean” Gladys Flatt – vocals with Charlie Monroe’s Kentucky Pardners
  3. Wilma Lee Cooper – guitar/vocals with the Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan
  4. Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester – accordion/vocals with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys
  5. Gloria Belle Flickinger – bass fiddle/vocals with Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys
  6. Rachel Veach – banjo/vocals with Roy Acuff’s Smokey Mountain Boys

ANSWER is “D or A”

Either D or A. D was true BEFORE Flatt & Scruggs joined Monroe to form “bluegrass as we know it”.

A was true AFTER Flatt & Scruggs joined Monroe, which is “bluegrass we know it now”.

Additional Bowden Comments

Yeah, this question had two answers depending if you used Monroe’s definition of “blue grass music”, which was basically any music HE made since 1939. Or if you used the more common definition of bluegrass which is what was formed when Flatt & Scruggs joined Monroe in 1945. Wilene “Sally Ann” Forrester was first about 1943. Her husband Howdy (Howard) Forrester was Bill’s fiddler, but he went in the Navy during WWII. Wilene was a jack of all trades musician, ticket seller, money-keeper and concession food seller. Howdy was happy to have her stick with Monroe’s show. She played accordion and sang tenor on a couple of Columbia recording sessions in 1945 with Monroe. Howdy got home from the Navy in 1945 right at the time Earl Scruggs became a Blue Grass Boy. He and Wilene played a week or so with Monroe AND Lester and Earl and then they took off for Oklahoma to play Western Swing music. Howdy became famous fiddling for decades with Roy Acuff (he also played fiddle on one session with Flatt & Scruggs in 1951).

Bessie Lee was (ahem) one of Bill’s girlfriends from the mid 1940s to the mid 1960s. She sang and was known as “the Carolina Songbird”. She used to travel with the band, which Earl said scared all the band members to death because her husband was in the Tennessee Highway Patrol, and Monroe insisted that all drivers must break the speed limit. Jimmy Martin said he and Bill used to make up songs while driving and Bessie Lee would take them down on a steno pad. By the mid 1950s she was playing bass fiddle routinely with the band, and singing a solo on most shows. Her bass playing has been described as, er, uh, “unorthodox”. Pete Rowan and Del McCoury have told about another unpleasant feature of traveling with Bessie Lee — she always had a mean little dog in her arms! Bessie played bass on years worth of Monroe recordings, but she never sang on a Monroe record.

Wilma Lee Cooper never considered herself bluegrass, even though she used bluegrass instrumentation. I did see her once on a bluegrass festival in Pennsylvania. Many great bluegrass sidemen passed through her band over the years.

Gladys Flatt (“Li’l Bobbi Jean) sang in the Charlie Monroe show with Lester, but no one considers that bluegrass.

Gloria Belle Flickinger was one of the most well-known “women in bluegrass” in the 1960s from extensive recording and personal appearances as a regular member of Jimmy Martin’s Sunny Mountain Boys. Even so, she was not the first “girl singer” in Martin’s show.

Thanks to all the participants and congrats to the winner!

I neglected to comment on “Sister” Rachel Veach, who played banjo, sang and did comedy with her “Bashful Brother Oswald” in Roy Acuff’s Smokey Mt. Boys during the 1940s. She was a regular member of the band and made a couple of records with them. She played the old two-finger banjo style. Although the Acuff show was a huge influence on Earl Scruggs, no one ever would call Acuff’s band “bluegrass”.

Also, I may have mistakenly suggested in my comments that Wilene Forrester played in the Blue Grass Boys in December 1945 with Flatt & Scruggs as band mates, when her husband Howdy got home from WWII service in the Navy and got his old job back. It “might” have happened, but there is no documentation or testimony that she was on stage with them in that fleeting period. So Bessie Lee still lays claim to being the first “woman in bluegrass as we know it”.


9 Responses

  • Off the top of my head without consulting any references I believe the answer is D Wilene Forrester, who played with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys during WWII while Bill’s fiddler and her husband Howdy Forrester was in the service. I think Rachel Veach was with Roy Acuff earlier (late 30s), but I wouldn’t call Roy Acuff and the Smokey Mountain Boys a bluegrass band. I don’t think Roy ever did. Ditto for Charlie Monroe and the Kentucky Pardners at the time that Lester and Gladys Flatt were with him (also during the war). Bessie first played bass with Bill later, and Gloria Belle was with Jimmy Martin I the 60s, I think.

  • I have no idea at all, so I’ll take a wild guess and hope for the best. I’ll choose “A”. Did I win?

  • Excellent crop of entries this week!!! Glad to see so many taking a crack at this. Thanks for playing, and here’s a lovely parting gift — Vanna?

    A couple of arguable points might enter into this week’s question. What does “first” mean? What does “regular memeber of a working bluegrass band” mean? I won’t get into defining “woman”. All the women named are real people, who all did the job described in the answer — no “tricks” there. You have to think your way through the two arguable points I guess. Keep those entries coming now til Lynn announces a winner Thursday evening.

    Murphy Henry (of “The Murphy Method” DVD banjo lessons fame) wrote a very well researched book several years ago about Women in Bluegrass. She figured out who was the first woman bluegrass BAND LEADER — a lady named Betty Fisher. She dedicated chapters to a surprising number of early women in bluegrass.

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