The recent interview with early bluegrass and country music pioneer Barbara Martin Stephens, conducted by Leadership Bluegrass, about her work as an artist representative in the 1950s and ’60s when such work was rarely done by women, is now available for online viewing.
Stephens was the first female booking agent on Music Row when she opened an office in 1964, and worked with top artists like Loretta Lynn, Betty Amos, Hank Williams, Jr, Jimmy Martin & the Sunny Mountain Boys, and Grandpa Jones. With no one to teach her the ropes, she learned by watching other successful managers and agents.
As the wife of Jimmy Martin for many years, Barbara gained a great deal of insight about the business from the inside, and took on booking and promotion initially to help his career, but was able to learn even more by observing Tillman Franks managing the Louisiana Hayride when she and Jimmy moved down to Shreveport. After telling Jimmy that she could do what Franks was doing, he helped set her up as an agent and she ended up booking all the acts for the Wheeling Jamboree at WWVA.
Throughout the interview she discusses what it was like back in the days with no internet or cell phones, no fax machines or computers, when it wasn’t easy to reach artists out on the road.
A charming and compelling storyteller, this one hour session will be fascinating to anyone with an interest in this period of American music history. It’s well worth the investment of your time.
Katie Hogue moderates and leads Barbara through this discussion.
Hats off to Leadership Bluegrass and the IBMA for sharing this important piece of biography in music business.