Sara Evans Responds to Sexist Radio Exec: 'Country Music Would Not Be What It Is Without Women'
It's one of the most talked-about topics in the country music business right now: Radio consultant Keith Hill's comment last week comparing female vocalists in the genre to tomatoes -- and suggesting that radio programmers feature less female vocalists on their stations if they want to keep ratings up.
Needless to say, many of the top female artists in the format weren't too happy about the comments. However, in an interview with Billboard to promote this month's Rock the South Festival in Cullman, Alabama, on June 19-20, Sara Evans says she's glad Hill made the statement -- for one simple reason.
"I'm really glad Keith made that statement, because we women of country music have been talking about and dealing with this for the past five to seven years, and I don't really know what happened," she said. "As a female artist, we have seen it get harder and harder to get played on the radio -- almost to the point that we feel that we have no genre anymore. They just will not play women. It's so ridiculous. The reason I'm glad that Keith Hill made the statement is now we have a way to talk about it. It's a touchy subject, because you don't want to offend the people that you need to play your records. Since he brought it up, we can respond to it."
Evans -- who has charted 19 top 40 singles (including five No. 1s) on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart -- says women have given the format some of its finest moments. "Country would not be what it is without women. Some of these huge, iconic artists and songs, like Loretta and Dolly. I was born to be a country singer, and it's all I've ever done. To get to a point in my career where you feel the doors are closed for women is not only frustrating, but it's scary. I want my career to continue. I have a family to support. If country radio is not going to play female artists, that's a scary thing. You feel blocked out that you have no genre or outlet for your music. To me, that's asinine. Think about it: If Hollywood was only going to cast men, then the movies would start to become boring and narrow. I just feel that the country format has become narrow in what they allow us to hear. In other genres, the subject matter is so much broader and diverse. It's very frustrating."
Admittedly, Evans is one of the few female vocalists who has had success on the airwaves the past few years -- with "Slow Me Down" hitting the top 20 just last year. Part of the argument from that radio consultant is that female listeners would simply rather hear male artists. Evans addressed that, saying, "People keep blaming it on the women fans. I would love to appeal to the fans as well to not only listen to men. I don't know what came first -- the chicken or the egg. I don't know if they're only playing men, so that's all they are hearing, or if they are only wanting to hear men. I don't know what the issue is."
The singer noted the difference in the marketplace today from when she was signed to RCA in the late 1990s. "When I came into the scene, there were so many dynamic and fabulous women who were happening. Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks, Lee Ann Womack and LeAnn Rimes. I had my first No. 1 in 1999. It was never an issue. Then, all of a sudden, one day they weren't playing female vocalists. I remember when I released 'A Little Bit Stronger,' and it was No. 1 for two weeks. I thought, 'I really can't complain, because they're playing me.' But then when I released the second single, the label warned me how tough it was to get women on the radio. I didn't understand why. Country music would not be what it is without women. If you're not going to play women, you're going to have to call it another genre or split it up and give females somewhere to release music."