Rubye Blevins was the first female country artist to sell a million records. Never heard of her? Of course you have! The song was “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the year was 1935 and the stage name under which she recorded and performed across six decades was Patsy Montana.

The artist, who was the eleventh child of her farmer parents in rural Arkansas, played organ, violin and guitar, moved to California at age 21 in 1929. Already an accomplished yodeler, singer and guitarist, she entered and won a local talent competition that awarded her a spot on the Hollywood Breakfast Club radio program, where she was billed as “Rubye Blevins, the Yodeling Cowgirl from San Antone.”

Blevins’ yodeling was initially influenced by the music of Jimmie Rodgers, but when she worked at the same radio station in California with champion yodeler Monty Montana, she changed her name to Patsy Montana. Along with two other women, she formed the Montana Cowgirls.

On a return visit to Arkansas, her performances on KWKH, a radio station in nearby Shreveport, Louisiana, were noticed by local recording star Jimmie Davis, a yodeler himself. She was invited to back him in his recording sessions, giving her the chance to record her own debut release, “When the Flowers of Montana Are Blooming,” in 1933. Later that year she accompanied some of her brothers to the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. A successful audition at WLS radio as singer for the Prairie Ramblers, who later backed her on most of her recordings, led to regular appearances on National Barn Dance with which she was a performer on radio and for the station’s traveling show until the 1950s.

“In my time the WLS National Barn Dance was the place,” Blevins said in a 1984 interview published in the Nashville Tennessean. “I’ve been on the Opry, but I was on the biggest first.”

In 1934 Blevins married Paul Rose, a music industry professional who was stage manager for Autry and ultimately managed Blevin’s career. They remained married until her death in 1996 in California, where they had permanently relocated for Rose’s job. The couple had two daughters who went on the road with her as children, sometimes appearing as the Patsy Montana Trio.

In 1934 she wrote a song in response to a favorite of hers, “Texas Plains,” by Stuart Hamblen, with whom she worked in the early years of her career and who is credited with co-writing the song because Blevins had used it as inspiration. “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” became a 1935 hit, catapulting Blevins into national recognition. Showcasing her yodeling as well as her voice, the record sold more than 1 million copies and was certified gold.

Hundreds of advertisements for musical performances throughout the United States in newspapers from 1933 through the late 1950s lists “Patsy Montana” among featured acts alongside stars like Cowboy Slim, Red Foley, George Gobel, Pat Buttram, the Carter Family and Gene Autry, with whom she made several films, including a full-length feature called “Colorado Sunset.”

The hardworking performer discussed her years of intensive touring with the authors of Country Music: The Encyclopedia, musing that she wondered how many miles she had slept “cramped in a car with my head on the neck of the base fiddle.”

During the 1940s she was the leader of an ABC radio program called Wake Up and Smile. She appeared on a daily radio show in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and many Saturday nights she performed on the Louisiana Hayride. In 1964 she released an album on which a talented but unknown Waylon Jennings made his national debut. She continued making public appearances and performing into the 1980s when she was already in her 70s.

“Yodeling is a good show stopper but they tell me it won’t sell,” she said in a 1987 interview in the Jackson, Mississippi, Clarion-Ledger.

Blevins estimated that in her career she had appeared on more than 200 singles and dozens of albums. In addition to recording tunes by various songwriters she wrote many songs herself, and most had the Western themes that became her trademark. She was honored in 1987 with induction into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

“You have to have endurance to be in this business,” she observed, adding, “I feel sorry for these kids who go directly to the top, because they only have one way left to go and that’s down.”

Though Blevins was a pioneer in Country-Western Music who is credited with opening the previously male-dominated industry to women as headliners, studio musicians, songwriters and radio hosts, she was denied inclusion in the Country Music Hall of Fame five times, finally being inducted in 1996 after her death.

Her signature song, “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” was chosen by members of the Western Writers of America as one of the Top 100 Western songs of all time. In 2012 her record was added to the Library of Congress‘s National Recording Registry list of “culturally, historically or aesthetically important” American sound recordings.

This copyrighted story by Claudia Johnson was originally published in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.