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.