One-of-a-Kind Country Music Diva Called a Pioneer



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Charline Arthur (right) with a fan at the Big D Jamboree.

Charline Highsmith Arthur is perhaps one of the least known country music pioneers that is worth knowing.

Elvis Presley once described her as “one of the finest.”

Arthur was born September 2, 1929, in Henrietta, Texas, reportedly in a railroad boxcar. Her family moved to Paris, Texas, four years later. The child was exposed to music early on. Her father played the harmonica and her moth sang and played the piano and guitar.

Determined to express herself musically as well, she sold soda bottles collected from the roadside to buy her first real guitar for $6. From there, she and her sister Dottie performed at church, barn dances, and rodeos.

Singing church hymns and getting polite applause at community events would not be her legacy, however. Arthur had a bluesy, rocking country sound and her wild stage antics were influential to eventually bigger performers like music legends Presley and Patsy Cline. She is now considered a pioneer of rockabilly music. She was the first female country musician to attempt to express a unique, "unladylike" style that was not accepted in Nashville.  

Inspired to become a performer by Ernest Tubb, Arthur landed her first gig singing for radio station KPLT in Paris by the age of 15. She left Paris when enticed to do so by people in a traveling medicine show.

Arthur took after her parents. She played lead guitar, rhythm guitar, fiddle, steel guitar, mandolin, piano, five-string banjo, and harmonica.  She was "discovered" by the legendary Col. Tom Parker who later managed Presley. He signed her with RCA Victor in January 1953. She recorded 28 songs with RCA. 

She moved to Dallas to headline the Big D Jamboree, an unusual honor for a woman at the time. She was the first female country singer to perform onstage wearing pants, and was the only one photographed with a cigarette. While other female country performers stood demurely to sing, Charline pranced across stage, climbed on top of amplifiers, or sang lying down. Her shows were rowdy and sometimes racy. 

She toured with artists such as Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  

[Information for this article came from the Texas State Historical Association.]

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