“Women are the cornerstone of country music.”

Leslie Fram, CMT’s award-winning senior vice president of music strategy, stated this in January 2013 upon announcing the music network and country lifestyle brand’s Next Women of Country campaign. This summer, 16 members of current and previous years’ Next Women of Country classes performed in songwriting rounds at sold-out events at Nashville’s City Winery.

In the 3,500-plus days that have elapsed since the program’s birth it has established a “safe space” for cultivating and mentoring country music’s ever-growing list of female artists as the genre resets and revises itself for its next century.

Reyna Roberts during CMT's "Night Out In Nashville" presenting the Next Women of Country Classes of 2021-2022 at City Winery Nashvillee on August 31, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Catherine Powell/Getty Images for CMT)
(Photo: Catherine Powell, Getty Images for CMT)

Somewhere between Mother Maybelle Carter and Kacey Musgraves, country music venerated then deemphasized women’s importance in the genre. This bizarre trend dovetailed with the consolidation of mainstream radio, a sustained climb in country music’s sales and tour revenue, the explosion of music’s digital marketplace, an increasing global footprint for social media and COVID-19.

Women’s roles in these moments waxed, then – for many, problematically – waned.