Appalachian Women in Country Music

Written by Isaac Punch, Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University.

The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at

My research focused on Appalachian women musicians who stand out as influences for subsequent generations. Lily May Ledford of eastern Kentucky and her all-female string band, the Coon Creek Girls, had an enormous musical impact due in part to the fact that all-female string bands was uncommon for the 1930s. Loretta Lynn’s background in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky also influenced the future of country music beyond measure. Likewise, Dolly Parton’s musical influences while growing up in eastern Tennessee would shape country music and inspire a generation of singers and musicians. I concluded the essay by discussing how this collection of female musicians inspired and paved the way for present-day musicians such as Rhiannon Giddens of North Carolina, who was known initially as a founding member of the critically acclaimed, Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Born and raised in the Piedmont near Greensboro, North Carolina, Giddens approach to traditional and modern music has been recognized the world over. All of these women deserve individual attention, but I wanted to connect them through women in Appalachian music and how their backgrounds seeped into their music and made an impact in country music more broadly.

Appalachian Recipes

The following recipe’s videos and descriptions were made by Jillian MacKinnon, a Senior Honors student at Western Carolina University. The Appalachian Women’s Museum would like to thank her work and for her permission to share it to our website.

Included at the end of this post is a second variation of the Mexican Cornbread recipe written down by Charlene Monteith and submitted by her granddaughter.

Asparagus Souffle- Gertrude Dills McKee, 1936:

Published in the Jackson County Home Demonstration Council’s Favorite Recipes from Famous People in 1950, this asparagus souffle is sure to please any crowd. While this recipe was not published until 1950, it was submitted by Jackson County’s own Gertrude Dills McKee in 1936 between her first and second terms as the 32nd District’s State Senator. Favorite Recipes from Famous People was released locally as a tribute to the late McKee who had passed only two years earlier.

Honey Cake- Mountain Makin’s in the Smokies, 1957:

Submitted for the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association’s 1957 release of Mountain Makin’s in the Smokies, this honey cake is similar to a coffee or breakfast cake. Similar in its process to modern cakes, this cake works well for beginners and experts alike. While it would be best with fresh, local honey, store bought honey will still produce a spectacular cake that works nicely as a sweet breakfast or dessert. The finishing touches of confectioner’s sugar and honey drizzle are completely optional, but they do make for a nicely finished cake.

Mexican Cornbread- Betty Davis Kimble, 1974:

As one of many additions to The Webster Cookbook published in 1974 by The Webster Historical Society, this recipe for Mexican-style cornbread is sure to please a crowd. While yellow cornbread is a Southern Appalachian staple, this version influenced by Mexican cuisine is somewhat non-traditional. Filled with cheddar cheese, diced hot chilis, yellow onions, and baked in a cast iron skillet, this crossover cornbread appeals to many different flavor palettes.

Mexican Cornbread – Charlene Monteith:

Handwritten Mexican Cornbread Recipe

Another Version of the Mexican Cornbread recipe was written out by Charlene Monteith in 1988 to send to a friend.  Ms. Monteith is known to be very specific about the brands she uses and making “enough to feed a whole army, or at least the whole neighborhood”.

Her recipe reads:

Charlene’s Mexican Cornbread

6 cups “Three Rivers” self-rising cornmeal
2 cups “White Lily” self-rising flour
3 teaspoons (level) baking soda
1 ¾ cups Mazola corn oil
1 ¾ cups Buttermilk
12 eggs (slightly beaten)
2 cups yellow cream-style corn
2 medium onions (chopped)
6 slices American Cheese (crumbled)
Hot or med. hot pepper pods (to taste)
¼ cup sugar

Sift cornmeal, flour and soda. Add oil, eggs, buttermilk, corn, onions, peppers, and sugar. Add cheese – mix thoroughly.
Bake at 375° for 30-40 min.
(This recipe was divided into (3) 9″ x 12″ pans)
(You may use extra cheese for a design on the bread about 3 min. before bread is removed from the oven.)