Where are the Girls?

Casey Henry

Casey Henry

There is an article in the most recent issue of Banjo Newsletter titled "Young Guns of Bluegrass." It profiles six banjo players between the ages of 16 and 22 -- all boys -- who are all playing with touring bands, and in most cases, have been for at least a couple of years. The introduction to the article does state that they didn't include Cia Cherryholmes because she has recently been profiled in BNL, but at 26 she's a little older than this group anyway, though she started playing at about the same time. As I looked at their pictures and read their profiles (they play with bands including Barry Scott and Second Wind, Kenny and Amanda Smith, Carrie Hassler and Hard Rain, and Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper) I thought, "where are the up and coming girls?"

Let me say right off that I in NO WAY intend to take anything away from these guys. They're all great players and deserve the recognition, and will no doubt keep the banjo flame burning long into the future. But I wondered, since Kristin Scott Benson has now won Banjo Player of the Year twice and plays with one of the top bands in bluegrass, where are the girls coming up in the following generation?

Are the girls really not there? Or (as Murphy is finding out as she works on her history of women in bluegrass) are they there and people just don't notice them, don't recognize them? Do our cultural constraints make it harder for girls to become "young guns" with all the aggression, assertiveness, mastery, self-confidence, and even violence that that implies? Would these bands, who seem to have no problem taking teenaged boys on the road with them consider taking a girl of the same age? Are the girls, as is so often the case, playing with family bands and thus discounted or ignored? Or are the girls taking a more cautious approach and going to college before looking for a job with a touring band? Kristin was in college the whole time she was playing with Larry Stephenson and managed both quite nicely.

I now know what I'm going to pay attention to, maybe even do interviews for an article, while I'm on the road this summer: female banjo players, from the ages of 16 to 22, in bands who are out there playing, on stage, for money. I can't wait to see what I find. If y'all know any names, feel free to throw them out.

35 thoughts on “Where are the Girls?

  1. steve burris

    Two young pickers you might want to check in on are,
    Maggie Mackay-her band is called-Chasing Blue, you can find her on My Space. The other young lady is Katie Norton on You tube. I’m not sure if she has a band or not but she can sure play.

  2. Martin Bacon

    All I ever wanted to do was “pick like a girl”! Kristin Scott Benson, Gena Britt, Julie Elkins, Casey Henry, Murphy Henry.

  3. Murphy

    YOU GO, CASEY! Great blog!!!!!! Don’t forget Gina Furtado. And, all you folks out there in Blog-land: Help us out with some names!

  4. Jim Hand

    I am a 57 year old male, but also the father of two daughters and this happens in TOO many cases. When my girls were playing sports the local headlines were all covered with the news of the locals boys teams and very little coverage of the girls sports. Most of the guys on the baseball team could not even come close to hitting our softball pitcher. The girls always get the short end of the stick in coverage.

  5. Martin Bacon

    I don’t know if it is always true but also being the father of two very wonderful and talented daughters, I would have to agree that it is often the case. Murphy, I asked the BHO folks to weigh in on who they know that are up and coming woman banjo players.

  6. Bret Young

    Molly Tuttle. She’s 17 and plays in a California-based band with her dad and two brothers. She is an accomplished bluegrass and clawhammer banjo player, although she plays more guitar than banjo onstage.

  7. Martin Bacon

    OK, how about Rhiannon Giddons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Lizzy Long (plays with Little Roy Lewis), Tina Trianosky (Mrs. Adam Steffey), Cari Norris (granddaughter of Lily May Ledford)

  8. Roland

    Holy Crap! What a great responce to this. I don’t know ages, but I am going to have to say, Maggie Mackay of Chasing Blue, You Casy, and I like Grace Van’t Hof of the band Della Mae

  9. Big Johnson

    Sarah Jaroz. Maybe better known as mandolin player, but equally talented on clawhammer.

  10. Kory Wells

    I’m glad you’re asking the question and to see so many replies, but if the festivals my daughter and I attend are any indication, I’m not sure girls ARE playing bluegrass banjo at nearly the same rate they’re playing fiddle. My kids have also been involved in marching bands, so I have to say, it reminds me of there being so many more boys than girls playing percussion.

    I also think because there are still a lot of all-male bluegrass bands, it’s naturally easier for them to take a young man on the road rather than a young woman. The reverse would be true of an all-woman band contemplating their first male band member. Certainly there is no simple answer to your question, but I hope it serves as a call to established players – and especially the women – to actively mentor and recruit the up and coming girls.

  11. Steve (in Japan)

    Hey, let’s be fair and honest here and turn back our clocks. Just imagine or think about the Casey Henry in the 16 to 22 age group of 10 plus years ago. You know she’d have to interviewed and subsequently recognized as one of or the USA’s very best upcoming banjoist.

  12. admin

    Those are all awesome women pickers, Marty, and I’m sure they’ll be flattered to find out you think they’re between the ages of 16 and 22… 😉


  13. admin

    Good players, all! Rhiannon, Tina, and Cari play old-time, and I think in the interest of making this a manageable article, I’ll need to stick with bluegrass. I wonder how old Lizzie is now?


  14. admin

    Nikki is now twelve and her newer clips are even more impressive. Definitely one to keep an eye on!


  15. Martin Bacon

    I just wanted to point out that there are a lot of great women playing the banjo, some more noticed than others and besides my Mom died two years ago and I’m sure if you asked her she met those age criteria (she taught me to never ask a woman’s age so how would I know?). You are right thought, I should read the point of your blog. Sorry.

  16. Martin Bacon

    I saw “old Lizzie” playing with Earl and Little Roy the day before Thanksgiving last year. She was doing good and she and Little Roy seem to be doing a lot of shows looking through the last Bluegrass Unlimited.

  17. Martin Bacon

    How about Grace Van’t Hof. Oh, and Casey is Gina Furtado between 16 and 22? Cuz if she isn’t, you gotta slam your Momma in the interest of fundamental fairness:)

  18. Jim

    Another vote for Alana Flowers from Mount Holly NC-She took 3rd place at Renofest a couple of weeks ago and OMG! She killed! Very talented young lady and her band, The Flowers Family Band took 3rd in the band competition against some very stiff competition in both catigories.

  19. Steve (in Japan)

    I just watched a couple of video clips, and there’re more, of the Flowers Family Band on “YouTube.” They’re really good. My vote is the same as Jim’s.

  20. Laurie

    Gailanne Amundsen, between the 16-22, plays clawhammer & fiddle, in a band with her brother Roger. The band is called Jubil’s Kin. She is definitely coming up.

  21. Martin Bacon

    I could be wrong but I don’t think Alana Flowers would meet the age criteria. She is very good. I think she won or placed very highly in the banjo competion at Merlefest in the past couple of years.

  22. Dean Hill

    For your history of women in bluegrass, please include Lauren Seapy, a wonderful banjo player with an early edition of Lost Highway. Stuart Duncan was a teenager in the group when Lauren was playing.

    As for a new “young gun” check out Katy Clark, banjo player in the newly formed group Ida Red. Her brother is Ben Clark, banjoben1 on YouTube, where you can see Katy play.

  23. Steve (in Japan)

    I took Dean Hill’s advice and found Katy Clark’s banjo playing on “YouTube” and she’s really a good banjoist too. It’s probably faster and easier to enter [CLark Family Bluegrass] in YouTube’s search block. There’re quite a few clips to watch and done at home.

  24. Steve (in Japan)

    Dern if it isn’t St. Patty’s Day in April. How about the term “Banjoister!” Wimmin!

  25. Steve (in Japan)

    Ah, St. Patty, how’s ’bout feminista-twistoista-banjoista! I bet you like that one. Tune up, why don’t you!

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