Pretty Good for a Girl by Murphy Hicks Henry: a short review

Banjo player Murphy Henry looks at women in bluegrass, and discovers that there are, and always have been, more woman players than everyone thinks. She also reports that they’re not exactly accepted, as most have either been related to another member of the band or have belonged to all-woman ensembles. The author’s particularly concerned that few women have ever been supporting musicians (dare I say “sidemen”?) with major bluegrass bands. She mentions this matter regularly, and examines it fairly thoroughly in the chapters profiling Missy Raines, Alison Brown, and (especially) Kristin Scott Benson. She sees change, but less change than she’d like. But the book’s far more about the biographies of specific performers than about how things might be differently arranged.

Pretty Good for a Girl is organized as roughly 40 profiles, usually of individuals but occasionally of bands. These are arranged more or less chronologically, with an occasional overview chapter to set things into context. This arrangement works surprisingly well, and the result is a very good history of bluegrass music as played by woman performers. There’s some room for quibbling about the selection of musicians–I’d not have included the Dixie Chicks, for instance, and might have replaced them with, say, Emma Smith–but these are editorial choices, and don’t really damage the overall effort. This is an excellent book, and highly recommended.

This review was originally published on LibraryThing.

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