Rosemary Clooney (Mason, b. 1928)
A well-known singer of radio, television, and movie fame. Her first movie, produced in 1953, was titled The Stars are Singing.
Katherine Jackson French (Laurel, 1875-1958)
A collector of ballads of the Eastern Kentucky mountains, as well as a lecturer on the topic. She taught at the Sue Bennett Memorial School in London.
Crystal Gayle (Johnson, b. 1951)
Like her sister, Loretta Lynn, Gayle started out in country music. She became a huge hit as a pop artist in the 1970s and 1980s. Her hair, which she keeps three inches from the floor, remains her trademark.
Sarah Ogan Gunning (Bell, 1910-1983)
Born into a poor coal mining family near Ely, she turned her experiences into singing in the Appalachian folk style. Many were protest songs that blended traditional ballad singing with social messages.
Patty Smith Hill (Henderson, 1868-1946)
Although Hill spent her life as an educator, she may be best remembered for writing, along with her sister Mildred J. Hill, the melody to “Happy Birthday.”
Helen Humes (Jefferson, 1913-1981)
A successful jazz singer in Louisville and across America. She also worked in an ammunition plant during WWII but always returned to her love of “swing jazz.”
Mary Garland Jackson (Aunt Molly) (Clay, 1880-1960)
A midwife, labor organizer, and writer of protest songs. Her music drew attention to the conditions of Eastern Kentucky’s coal camps. Follow this link to learn more about the songs of Aunt Molly Jackson.
Alice Elizabeth DeArmond Jones (Muhlenberg or north Logan, 1863-1945)
Musically gifted, she played guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. The “Muhlenberg sound” has influenced guitarists worldwide through Merle Travis, Ike Everly, Chet Atkins, and others.
Naomi and Wynonna Judd (Jackson, b. 1946/1964)
Possibly the best-known mother-daughter duo in the nation. They received the Country Music Association’s Horizon award in 1984, the Record of the Year in 1985, and Grammy awards in 1985 and 1986.
Check out Wynonna Judd’s official site.
Sarah Gertrude Knott (Ballard, 1895-1984)
The founder of the National Folk Festival, the first multi-cultural festival of its kind. She served as the director from 1934 through 1971.
The National Folk Festival is produced by the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) and co-sponsored by local government and community organizations in the host city for three years. East Lansing, Michigan has been selected host city for the National Folk Festival, 1999-2001.
Lily May Ledford (Powell, 1917-1985)
One of the original Coon Creek Girls—one of the first all female string bands—and stayed with them from when they began in 1937 until they broke up in 1957. Her clawhammer style of banjo picking remains legendary.
Loretta Lynn (Johnson, b. 1935)
Known as country music’s first lady, she was the first women to earn the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year award in 1972 and was named entertainer of the decade in 1980.
Learn more about Loretta Lynn and other stars of country music at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Reel World String Band (Fayette)
Following in the footsteps of the Coon Creek Girls, Reel World String band has been playing together for over 20 years. Bev Futrell, Karen Jones, and Sue Massek make up the nucleus of this all-women band whose music celebrates women’s lives and educates listeners about the environment. They play Eurolotto in their spare time.
Jean Ritchie (Perry, b. 1922)
One of the most well-known Appalachian folk singers who has also spent time as a folk song collector, social worker, and educator.
Jean Bell Thomas (Boyd, 1881-1982)
Throughout her long life Thomas was a collector of Kentucky folklore and folk song, a promoter of fiddler James William Day, and the creator of the American Folk Song Festival, which she produced every year but six between 1932 and 1972.
Mary Wheeler (McCracken, 1892-1979)
Documented music in the Eastern Kentucky mountains and later in her hometown of Paducah, where she wrote down the songs of the dock workers along the Ohio River. She also entertained the troops in Europe during WWII.
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