CMT Announces Next Women of Country Class of 2020, Names Tanya Tucker as Tour Headliner

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Brandi Carlile was also on hand and honored with the impact award

Rising talent in the country community was recognized on Tuesday morning (Nov. 12), when CMT revealed its Next Women of Country 2020 Class at CMA Theater at Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The franchise, which launched in 2013 to provide opportunities for females struggling to be heard at country radio and booked on major tours, introduced its 11 new artists with a writers round that featured the singers each performing one of their songs.

Newcomer Caylee Hammack told Billboard ahead of the event that it was an honor to be one of 10 other acts inducted to the 2020 class and that she feels a sense of camaraderie, despite the industry often pitting women against each other and making them believe there is only one slot for females.

“Miranda [Lambert] told me that this whole industry will trick you into believing that there’s one slot for a woman at the top, but there is no slot for a woman at the top,” Hammack said. “We have to make them as we go and the only way we can do that is to rise together and help each other throughout this.”

In addition to Hammack, Abbey Cone, Avenue Beat, Gabby Barrett, Hailey Whitters, Kylie Morgan, Madison Kozak, Renee Blair, Sykamore, Tiera and Walker County were also inducted into the 2020 class. Several of the women, including Cone, Kozak, Walker County and Barrett, have attended past Next Women of Country events hoping to one day be invited themselves. “I've been following it for a while and seen so many amazing songwriters and storytellers come out of it who I look up to. So it feels full-circle to be invited into this 2020 class,” Kozak said.

“I think about how I got here and how I was inspired to chase this dream and it was because there were female powerhouse artists who I looked up to and showed me that it was possible like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Shania Twain. They showed me what it means to be a female in country music,” she added. “I think that this class is representative of that and it's lifting our voices. Leslie Fram is amazing for that and making us feel seen and heard. I hope [CMT Next Women of Country] is a microphone for the stories that all of us girls have to tell and that we can impact some others.”

Martina McBride and Fram, senior vp, music strategy & talent at CMT, announced the newcomers to the stage. Over 70 females have been inducted throughout the annual event with early artists including Lauren Alaina and Kacey Musgraves. When McBride heard that 70 females have been part of the series, she deadpanned, “Wow. So anybody that says that there aren’t enough female artists recording enough great songs is basically full of crap.”

It was a bold statement that Cindy Mabe, president UMG Nashville, reiterated during an impassioned message to the room when asked by Fram to “speak your truth.” Fram invited several of Nashville’s label heads to discuss their plans to help break females in the genre. Standing beside John Esposito, chairman/CEO Warner Music Nashville, Scott Borchetta, president/CEO BMLG, Randy Goodman, chairman/CEO Sony Music Nashville, and Jon Loba, evp BBR Music Group, Mabe stressed the need for women to be exposed on radio.

“This is about having a voice and a perspective of half a world … I wouldn’t be here without the voices of Dolly and the Judds and Reba in my ear. On the eve of country’s biggest night, I can’t help but think about our sole female entertainer of the year nominee and the fact that Carrie wouldn’t exist without the impact of Martina McBride,” Mabe said, while McBride looked on side stage and clutched her heart. “The women are bringing more adventurous, interesting, state-of-the-art, cutting edge music. It doesn’t all fit in a box. We will spend the next years figuring out how to get it exposed one foot in front of the other because great music should always rise and it’s not about fitting into a box … I get out of bed every day and make a movement towards making women’s voices matter again.”

Carlile also delivered an empowering message to those in attendance upon accepting CMT’s Next Women of Country impact award.

“I think this is an incredible time to be a woman in country music despite some of the chatter that you hear around because I can feel the tide changing. There’s a huge monumental shift happening in the way that we perceive women’s music and, particularly, if women want to hear other women’s music,” Carlile noted. “I think that comes down to the women of country music and the men who are all understanding that a platform needs to be given to women to tell the story of the other half of the human race … What we’re hoping and what we’re inviting country radio to do is to catch up … To anybody involved in country radio, thank you for listening and ask yourself the question every day before you go to work, ‘What do I want my job to say to my daughter today?’ because she’s an American girl, she’s in love with the boy, she needs wide open spaces, she’s a wild one. She’s more than the wearer of blue jeans in the back of a truck.”

For seven years, CMT’s Next Women of Country has also sponsored all-female tour lineups. Next year, Tanya Tucker will serve as the headliner of an all-female tour and the country legend shared her excitement to be on the road with several women. She said when she first got started in music, promoters would never put two women on the same bill.

Seated backstage following the event with her dog Stella, Tucker told Billboard that she’s starting to soak the invite in. “I’m very honored to be able to give these new up-and-coming gals some time on stage in front of my audience and to also introduce my audience to them and to the future,” she says. “I wish somebody had done that for me when I started out. I think it's a great idea and I'm very proud to be a part of it.”

“I don’t understand the void … there’s a lot of unanswered questions I have, and I don’t know the answers, but I’m sure going to try to make the changes I think need to be made and I’m trying to be part of making this change,” she said about the lack of opportunities for females in country music.

Tucker was quick to point out that she’s not dissing the men, since many of them have helped champion her own career. Instead, it takes both women and men to help with the gender imbalance on country radio and tours. During the event, Jordan Davis was asked to stand up for inviting only women out on his upcoming Trouble Town Tour with Kassi Ashton and Hailey Whitters joining him on select dates.

It was Warner’s Esposito who said it best during his time on stage alongside the other label executives: “I can’t wait until we don’t have to celebrate women separately because it’s not an issue,” he conceded.