?Patsy Montana, who was born Ruby Rebecca Blevins on Oct. 30, 1908, became the first female million-seller in the history of country music.
The Blevins family came from the Ozarks, homesteaded in Mena and moved to Jessieville when Ruby was 2. Her father, Augustus, who was born in Howard County, taught school and sang in church. Her mother Victoria, from Pike County, played the organ and was Jessieville’s postmistress, with the family home doubling as the post office. (“Actually, Daddy was [officially] the postmaster for our little community, because women could not hold that title,” Montana noted in her autobiography, published in 2002, six years after her death.) A couple of years later, the family moved to Hope when transferred by the postal service.
“From a very early age, I had music around me almost every waking minute, and it ranged from opera to a black man’s blues,” Montana said. A tomboy with only male siblings, she learned to play the fiddle after a brother acquired one, eventually competing around Hempstead County.
At age 14, Montana and a brother performed at the dedication of an area bridge and were paid $5. Her guitar-playing sibling thought he deserved more than half the take. “It did not seem fair to him at all,” she said, “but I stuck to my guns. In the end, the 50-50 split is all he got. At that moment, I started women’s lib in Arkansas.”
In 1930, Montana moved to California with an older brother to study classical violin at what is now UCLA, but dropped out after winning a talent contest by singing Jimmie Rodgers songs. By 1932, she was known professionally as Patsy Montana.
The next year, while taking Hope watermelons to the Chicago World’s Fair, she visited famed Chicago radio station WLS and ended up staying 15 years as vocalist for the Prairie Ramblers on the WLS Chicago “National Barn Dance.” In August 1935, at the 26-year-old’s first major recording session, Montana recorded her signature song. “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” became the first song by a female country artist to sell a million copies.
Montana was a talented vocalist, guitarist, writer and fiddler — and also tried acting. In 1939, she appeared in the Gene Autry movie “Colorado Sunset.” In 1948, Montana returned to her native Southwest Arkansas, settling in Hot Springs with her two daughters, and appearing on the Spa City’s KTHS radio station. In 1952, she returned to California.
Montana never again matched the chart success of “I Want To Be a Cow-boy’s Sweetheart,” but the song lost little of its luster for her audiences over the years — or for other performers. Suzy Bogguss, the Dixie Chicks and LeAnn Rimes are among those who have more recently covered “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”
Montana had sporadic health problems, a 60-year marriage and a family, but she never left music. “The Cowboy’s Sweetheart” died May 3, 1996, the same year she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
• “The Moon Hangs Low on the Ohio”
• “The She Buckaroo”
• “I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”
• “Little Sweetheart of the Ozarks”
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