by Jessica Nicholson
Some of country music’s most memorable songs have been written and/or performed by all-female groups, whether that’s the musical contributions of Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters (June, Helen and Anita Carter), The Forester Sisters’ five No. 1 hits in the 1980s, mother-daughter duo The Judds’ iconic string of 14 No. 1 hits on the Hot Country Songs chart, or the Chicks (formerly the Dixie Chicks) with their inescapably catchy, bold singles like “Goodbye Earl” and “Travelin’ Soldier.”
Today, CMT highlights some of country music’s most successful all-female groups.
As the sun set on the 1990s, The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks) were the top-performing country group on country radio, with multi-platinum projects including Wide Open Spaces (1998), Fly (1999) and Home (2002). “Goodbye Earl” earned crossover success, as did “Long Time Gone” and their cover of the Fleetwood Mac hit “Landslide.” The trio’s Natalie Maines, Emily Stayer and Martie Maguire offered a unique amalgam of sounds anchored in traditional country, accented with both bluegrass instrumentation and a pop sheen. However, in 2003, the band’s Maines stated to a London audience that she was “ashamed” President George W. Bush also hailed from the band’s homestate of Texas, causing country radio stations to pulled the trio’s music from the airwaves. The trio fought back, releasing Taking the Long Way in 2006 and earning five Grammys. They followed with an extended musical hiatus that ended with 2020’s Gaslighter.
In 2016, country star Maren Morris joined forces with Americana luminaries Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires, as well as hit songwriter Natalie Hemby, to form The Highwomen. The group’s name was inspired by country supergroup The Highwaymen, which included Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson.
“Amanda gave me a call and we started putting together this group of women that we loved to try and represent more women and girls voices in country music,” Carlile told Ellen DeGeneres.
The group’s 2019 self-titled debut album, produced by Dave Cobb, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, and that same year, they performed with Yola and Dolly Parton at the Newport Folk Festival.
Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt
Dolly Parton, one of Nashville’s leading stars in the 1970s, joined forces with folk singer Emmylou Harris and country-rock singer Linda Ronstadt for the experimental album Trio in 1987.
“Even though we didn’t look like we would fit together, when you heard us, you felt it and you saw it,” Parton said during a 2019 documentary on the group.
“We just wanted to do it for the music and we didn’t know that it would be successful, and we didn’t care,” Ronstadt said. “We just wanted to do it. We figured we’d earned the right.”
They earned a chart-topper with a song from the Trio album, “To Know Him Is To Love Him,” and a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Group with Vocal. In 1999, they collaborated on Trio II. This year, the Trio album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
This all-female trio made country radio chart history in 2019 with their breezy kiss-off “Buy My Own Drinks,” as the first all-female trio in 14 years to reach the Top 20 on the country radio charts. That same year, they opened for Carrie Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360 and released their debut album Blue Roses. Naomi Cooke and Jennifer Wayne formed the group in 2015 along with Hannah Mulholland, who left the group in 2020 and was replaced by Natalie Stovall. Last year, the trio released their first holiday project, When I Think About Christmas.
Sibling trio SHeDAISY’s Kassidy, Kelsi and Kristyn Osborn had an aptly titled debut album, The Whole SheBANG, as their first project for Lyric Street Records was certified platinum after its release in 1999, spearheaded by singles including “This Woman Needs,” “I Will…But,” and “Little Good-byes.” Their second album, 2002’s Knock on the Sky, didn’t garner any huge radio hits, though “Mine All Mine” was featured in the movie Sweet Home Alabama. They fared better with their third album, Sweet Right Here which included the hit “Passenger Seat,” well as “Don’t Worry ‘About A Thing.” They released another album and a greatest hits project before exiting Lyric Street.
Twin sisters Heather and Jennifer Kinley earned a Top 10 hit with the pleading ballad “Please” in 1997 and followed it with a Top 15 hit with “Just Between You and Me.” The duo was nominated for a Grammy and earned the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Vocal Duo or Group honor in 1997. The next year, they would earn a Top 20 hit with “Somebody’s Out There Watching.” In 2000, they released Radney Foster and Georgia Middleman’s “I’m In,” which Keith Urban re-recorded and earned a hit with a decade later.
Maddie & Tae
In 2014, Maddie & Tae’s Maddie Marlow and Taylor Dye fired a warning shot at “bro country” lyrics that objectify women with their cheeky debut single “Girl In A Country Song,” and earned a No. 1 hit in the process. They followed with the Gold-certified Top 10 hit “Fly” from their debut project, before proving they are no one-hit wonder when they notched a second chart-topper with “Die From A Broken Heart” in 2019.
Mississippi natives Chapel Hart, part of CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2021, includes sisters Danica and Devynn Hart, and their cousin Trea Swindle. Last year saw their breakthrough single, “Jesus and Alcohol,” accompanied by a video that featured ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. They then released the inspirational track “I Will Follow.”
The trio told CMT, “We hope our fans take the message that all things are possible with hard work and dedication! If you are true to your heart and put your energy in the right place, you will watch your dreams start to take flight!”
After making their debut in 2011 at the ACM special Girls Night Out: Superstar Women of Country, Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley released their debut album Hell on Heels, and gave themselves new nicknames—Holler Annie (Presley), Lonestar Annie (Lambert) and Hippie Annie (Monroe). They followed with a second album, Annie Up, in 2013, and Interstate Gospel in 2018. Interstate Gospel, led by the deadpan single “Got My Name Changed Back,” tackled topics such as divorce, depression and the vices used to get by.
The Pointer Sisters
Family groups abound on this list, including The Pointer Sisters— Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June—siblings who incorporated an array of styles including R&B, pop and country into their sound. The group’s most successful track was “Fairytale,” a song penned by Bonnie and Anita, which was named Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1974 Grammy Awards. The song’s success also allowed the group to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, becoming the first Black female vocal group to do so.
Mother-daughter duo The Judds put tight-knit family harmony center stage in the 1980s when they broke through with the soulful, sweet “Mama He’s Crazy” in 1984, the first in a string of No. 1 hits including “Why Not Me,” “Girl’s Night Out,” “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Ole Days)” and many more. They earned the CMA’s Vocal Group of the Year honor every year from 1985-1991, and earned five Grammy awards along the way. Wynonna’s bluesy growl and Naomi’s pure harmonies made the duo one of the decade’s top acts.
In 1990, Naomi revealed she had been diagnosed with Hepatitis C and announced her retirement; the duo disbanded a year later, and Wynonna launched her solo career. In 1999, the duo reunited for a concert in Phoenix, Arizona, and recorded a live album, The Judds Reunion Live. In 2011, they reunited again for a farewell tour. Mother and daughter have sporadically reunited on stage in the years since. In 2017, they honored Kenny Rogers at his All In For The Gambler concert in Nashville, where they performed “Back to the Well.”
The Forester Sisters
Sisters Kathy, June, Kim and Christy Forester notched five No. 1 hits between 1985 and 1987 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, including “I Fell in Love Again Last Night,” “Just in Case,” “Mama’s Never Seen Those Eyes,” “Too Much is Not Enough,” and “You Again.” The Forester Sisters’ run concluded with the Top 10 hit “Men” in 1991. The group sporadically recorded in the 1990s, including the gospel project Sunday Meetin’ and the 1996 country album, More Than I Am.
Sweethearts of the Rodeo
Sister duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo, which included siblings Janis and Kristine Oliver, earned several Top 10 hits in the late ‘80s, with a blend of bluegrass and country. They released their debut single “Hey Doll Baby,” which reached the Top 20 on the country charts. “Since I Found You” would be the first of seven consecutive Top 10 hits for the duo between 1986 and 1988. Their 1986 self-titled debut project and its 1988 follow-up, One Time, One Night, sold well, though their third and fourth projects were met with only modest sales. They changed labels in the early 1990s and released the 1993 album Rodeo Waltz, followed by 1996’s Beautiful Lies.
Two of country legend Loretta Lynn’s children—twin sisters Patsy and Peggy—followed their own musical dreams to launch the duo The Lynns. In 1997, they released the single “Nights Like These,” which failed to reach the Top 30 on country radio. The following year, they released the single “Woman to Woman,” and a self-titled album. They earned CMA nominations for Vocal Duo of the Year in 1998 and 1999.