Obituary: Patsy Montana

Patsy Montana, "The Yodelling Cowgirl", was the first female singer in country-music history to cut a million-selling record.

Accompanied by the Prairie Ramblers, she entered ARC's Chicago studio on 16 August 1935 and, with the label's British-born talent scout "Uncle" Art Satherley at the helm, recorded her self-penned "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". A superb showcase for her supple, fluid yodelling, it proved one of the biggest hillbilly hits of the Thirties.

Five years earlier, Rubye Blevins, as she was then still known, had arrived in Los Angeles with one of her 10 brothers, in the hope of pursuing a musical career. She enrolled at the University of the West (now UCLA) and began performing locally, eventually winning a talent contest with a couple of Jimmie Rodgers's songs. (Rodgers, "America's Blue Yodeller", was an important influence on virtually every country star of note in this period.) She rapidly built up a regional following, and for a while worked with a now-forgotten rodeo star and sometime silver-screen cowboy named Monte Montana.

The Prairie Ramblers, with a line-up that included Charles "Chuck" Hart on mandola, "Happy" Jack Taylor on guitar and bass, Shelby "Tex" Atchison on fiddle and Floyd "Salty" Holmes on harmonica, jug and guitar, were, until 1933, a successful string band known as the Kentucky Ramblers. In that year they became cast members of Chicago's National Barn Dance on the Sears-owned radio station WLS and, taking their lead from a popular journal, the Prairie Farmer, changed their name.

Patsy Montana joined the group in that same year following a successful audition while visiting the World's Fair in Chicago. Together, she and the Ramblers became mainstays of the Barn Dance and recorded prolifically for a variety of labels including ARC, Melotone, Decca and Victor. Among their hits were "I'm an Old Cowhand", "Goodnight Soldier", "The Moon Hangs Low" and "Little Old Rag Doll".

The band's sound, which had until then been firmly rooted in the stringband traditions of the South Eastern States, began to reflect the music that was emerging from Texas, Oklahoma and California. Hollywood-based singing cowboys such as Gene Autry had proved popular both on record and on film and "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" sat comfortably within the genre. Based on Patsy Montana's own earlier recording "Montana Plains", it owed more than a little to Stuart Hamblen's "Texas Plains", an early success in the style. Other material, especially the risque numbers the group recorded under the name the Sweet Violet Boys, owed more to the western swing of bandleaders like Milton Brown and Bob Wills.

By the mid-Forties Patsy Montana hosted her own nationally syndicated radio show and was appearing on television. In 1952 she headed for the West Coast, settling in California where, seven years later, she "retired" from music to sell real estate. The lure of performing proved too much however, and over the next decade she cut a series of albums for independents, among them the much sought-after Sweetheart (1965) for Starday.

She continued to tour into the Seventies, often performing with her two daughters as the Patsy Montana Trio. In 1993 Patsy Montana became one of only two women - the other being Roy Rogers's wife Dale Evans - to receive the Western Music Association's "Living Legends of Western Music" award, a fitting honour for one of country music's true pioneers.

Rubye Blevins (Patsy Montana), musician: born Hot Springs, Arkansas 30 October 1914; married 1934 Paul Rose (two daughters); died 3 May 1996.