The Mothers of Country Music

Mothers have long played a prominent part in the world of country music: The Ryman is, of course, the Mother Church of Country Music, and from Merle Haggard’s Mama Tried, Waylon’s Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys, Dolly’s Coat of Many Colours, to Martina McBride’s In My Daughters Eyes, and Blake Shelton’s The Baby, Mamas have long been a respected theme in country music. After all, both David Allan Coe and Brad Paisley claim that the best country songs contain ‘Mama,’ so it’s hard to disagree.

Country Music pays tribute to its roots, and a stars upbringing is often laid bare in lyrical form. Dolly Parton revealed the touching story of ‘a coat of many colours’ that her ‘Mama made’ for her. She contrasts her poverty with the richness of the love that ‘mama sewed in every stitch.’ Apparently it is a true story, and when Dolly received her first royalty check, she bought her mother a brand new fur coat.

There are many country stars who are mothers themselves; Loretta Lynn had three children by the age of nineteen, and went on to have three more. She brought the reality of motherhood to the country mainstream: ‘here in Topeka the rain is a fallin’, the faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’, one of them a toddlin’ and one is a crawlin’, and one’s on the way.’ She acknowledged that being a mother was far from easy, and somehow managed to balance this with her superstardom.

Country music is honest, and therefore not all stories are perfect. Bobbie Gentry’s Fancy, for example, tells the tale of a mother whose parting words to her daughter are: ‘just be nice to the gentlemen Fancy, and they’ll be nice to you.’ It is a dark song, and is a harrowing account of poverty. Yet ‘Fancy’ recognises that her mother was trying to provide for her daughter, the only way she knew how.

Tammy Wynette was famous for her kitchen sink country, D-I-V-O-R-C-E and I Don’t Want to Play House being the most notable examples. In the latter, she overhears her daughter telling a friend that she doesn’t want to ‘play house’ because it makes ‘my mommy cry.’ The song pulls on the heart strings – it is not the idea of a ‘perfect mother’ that has been seen throughout country music history, but a mothers love that is apparent throughout any struggles.

And that leaves my mother, without whom I would know nothing of country music. When I was a child, she danced with us around the kitchen table to the Mavericks, and when we moved to America, she tuned the radio to a country station. She bought me my first country CD, and when I began to discover traditional country – this was before YouTube – she sang Your Cheating Heart to me, long before I ever heard Hank Williams voice. She works just as hard as any of the wonderful country music mothers, and certainly deserves to be the subject of a signature Dolly tune. So let us take a moment, this Mother’s Day, to celebrate all the mothers who have made country music possible. Thank you.

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Me and My Mother, the person I hope to be when I grow up! (And Megey, our 16 year old dog, who just *had* to be in the picture)

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