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Patsy Montana was a pioneering female country music singer whose signature song, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” was the first record by a female country artist to sell a million copies.
Patsy Montana was born Ruby Blevins on October 30, 1908, near Hot Springs (Garland County). She was the eleventh child and only daughter of farmer Augustus Blevins and his wife, Victoria. By the 1920 census, the family was living in Hempstead County. Raised on church songs, fiddle music, and the music of country star Jimmie Rodgers, Blevins headed to Los Angeles with her brother and sister-in-law in 1930; hoping to catch the public’s eye, she changed the spelling of her first name to Rubye. She studied violin at the University of the West (now known as the University of California at Los Angeles—UCLA) until a victory in a talent contest in 1931—she yodeled and sang Jimmie Rodgers songs—led to her own show on KMIC radio. Initially billed as “The Yodeling Cowgirl From San Antone,” Blevins soon became Patsy Montana, a name given to her by singer/songwriter Stuart Hamblen while she was performing with the Montana Cowgirls on a KMIC show Hamblen hosted with cowboy star Monte Montana.
In 1932, after two years spent breaking into the music business in Los Angeles, Montana returned to Arkansas, where country singer Jimmie Davis heard her on KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, and invited her to sing back-up for him at his next recording session. She recorded four debut songs on that trip. A bigger break came in 1933 when she accompanied two of her brothers carrying a watermelon to the Chicago World’s Fair and landed a job as vocalist for the Prairie Ramblers, a hugely successful Kentucky string band that appeared on radio station WLS. She then appeared regularly on the enormously popular National Barn Dance, a pioneering country-themed broadcast that started before the Grand Ole Opry, and recorded for the American Record Corporation. Montana also toured steadily, even after her marriage on July 4, 1934, to Paul Rose, who worked with WLS’s touring shows. Her biggest hit, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” composed by Montana herself, was recorded in 1935.
By this time, Montana was an established star with a clearly defined image as a “cowboy pal” who yodeled and dressed in the full western regalia favored by 1930s country stars, complete with gun and holster. Other songs followed in the same vein—“Sweetheart of the Saddle” (1936) and “I Wanna Be a Western Cowgirl” (1939), among others. Even more spirited were numbers such as “The She-Buckaroo” (1936) and “A Rip-Snortin’ Two-Gun Gal” (1939)—in the former she portrays herself as a “man-hatin’ lassie.” In the 1940s, Montana contributed “Goodnight, Soldier” to the war effort and also recorded with such well-known groups as the Sons of the Pioneers and the Light Crust Doughboys.
Montana also appeared in several films, the best known being Colorado Sunset (1939) with Gene Autry. From 1946 to 1947, she had her own network radio show, Wake Up and Smile, on ABC, which featured her trademark greeting, “Hi, pardner! It’s Patsy Montana,” accompanied by the thunder of horses’ hooves.
Montana returned to Arkansas in 1947, raising her two daughters, Beverly and Judy, doing radio shows on KTHS in Hot Springs, and appearing on Shreveport’s Louisiana Hayride. Her husband’s work eventually took the family to San Jacinto, California, but Montana continued to tour and make records into the 1990s, adding to her reputation as a hard-working professional entertainer. Between 1934 and 1992, she made more than 7,000 personal appearances in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In the fall of 1995, just before her eighty-seventh birthday, Montana played concerts in Hope (Hempstead County) and Little Rock (Pulaski County). She was frail and tiny in her boots and cowboy hat, but she sang and yodeled vigorously, closing as always with “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
Patsy Montana died in San Jacinto on May 3, 1996. Later that same year, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. As long as women sing country songs in cowgirl outfits, Montana’s niche in the pantheon of groundbreaking female country music stars is secure.
For additional information:Bufwack, Mary A., and Robert K. Oermann. Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music. New York: Crown Publishers, 1993.
Kingsbury, Paul, ed. The Encyclopedia of Country Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
McCloud, Barry, and Ivan M. Tribe. Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performers. New York: Berkley Pub. Group, 1995.
Robert CochranUniversity of Arkansas, Fayetteville
This entry, originally published in Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, appears in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture in an altered form. Arkansas Biography is available from the University of Arkansas Press.
Last Updated 9/5/2013
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