Jeannie Seely Inspired a Generation of Country Women — Now, They’re Inspiring Her
Jeannie Seely has always kept herself tied to other musical generations. As a Nashville newcomer in the mid-1960s, she found mentors in Porter Wagoner and George Morgan, among others; more than five decades later, she speaks fondly of Morgan's daughter Lorrie and Waylon Payne, son of Sammi Smith and Jody Payne, her friends and collaborators.
Both Morgan and Payne are special guests on Seely's recently-released An American Classic album. She calls him "a brilliant, brilliant talent" and notes that she "can't even imagine how proud" George Morgan would be of his daughter.
"I always love to bring the new generation into any of [my] projects," she shares, but for as much as Grand Ole Opry mainstay has inspired younger artists, they're now inspiring her.
"I always champion the young people because I realize that's the future of this music that I love so much," Seely explains. "To see so many of the young people coming up and hear the songs that they're writing — some of these girls are writing such incredible songs," she adds, specifically calling out Ingrid Andress and her recent hit "More Hearts Than Mine."
"I'm always delighted when I get to introduce them on the Opry. They inspire me," Seely admits. "That's one reason, I think, that I stay as active as I do, is because I keep getting inspired by these young people."
At the height of her career in the '60s and '70s, Seely was a trailblazer in the genre: She pushed the boundaries of what was deemed "acceptable" for female country artists to wear, and was the first artist to wear a miniskirt onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. She was also the first woman to serve as an Opry host.
"Each era is different, and every situation, every artist, is different," she says, reflecting on the biases she faced back then and those that women in the genre face now, "but my main thing is to try to never take no for an answer, to try to keep proving that you've got quality work ... and make sure they see that and realize that, and be ready for whatever opportunity you can find to step in and show that you can handle it."
Seely recalls her mother, Irene, telling the future country star and her three siblings, "You think you're beaten, you are." Her parents taught their children they could accomplish whatever they wanted to in life — but they also warned them that it wouldn't be easy.
"I was taught that it was gonna take a lot of hard work to get there, and I was told that there would be rejections and disappointments," Seely recalls of her childhood in western Pennsylvania.
She continues with a chuckle, "I don't know that that prepared me when they came."
Watching a new generation of artists, specifically its female stars, fight to be heard, Seely says she's proud of how, and what, they've accomplished. "I think the young women are doing it in a very classy way," she notes.
"It's just, unfortunately, a slow process of changing people's minds," she adds, "but I think it's happening. Perseverance, I guess, is the main thing."
LOOK: 29 Songs From Women in Country That Demand Attention