On the morning of February 27th, Jenee Fleenor received a particularly nice birthday surprise. The fiddle player was on the road with Blake Shelton when the ACM Awards nominations started rolling in — her name was among them, but she wasn’t exactly aware of it at the time.
“My phone started to blow up for my birthday messages, but then people started to say ‘Congratulations!’” Fleenor says. “I was like, ‘Why are they saying congratulations? For being born?’”
The ACM’s Specialty Instrument of the Year nomination follows Fleenor’s historic nomination and win for CMA Musician of the Year in November, making her the first woman to attain the honor. Fleenor’s work in the past year has included her touring boss Blake Shelton’s grungy “God’s Country” as well as Jon Pardi’s fiddle-driven Number One “Heartache Medication,” along with numerous other recorded projects.
“Of course I dreamed about getting that award someday,” Fleenor says. “But being a female, that part of it, I never dreamed I’d be the first female, honestly. To me it was all about being the best musician I could be. I never really thought much about, like, there’s not many females doing this. I really hope it does break some glass ceilings in that regard.”
It’s the realization of a dream she had growing up as a young fiddle player in Arkansas and a story she retells in the autobiographical new song “Good Ol’ Girls.” Fleenor began writing the track backstage before a show with Shelton and then finished it up later with her friends Buddy Owens and Phil O’Donnell.
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“I start playing this little melody on my bouzouki and [the phrase] ‘good ol’ girls’ came to my mind. We all know ‘Good Ol’ Boys,'” Fleenor says of the follow-up to her single “Fiddle & Steel.” “With the award really fresh in my mind, I’m like, ‘Heck, I’m a good ol’ girl. I’m just a country girl.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard that written.”
Mining a vein of classic country that wouldn’t feel out of step with George Strait or Patty Loveless, “Good Ol’ Girls” is propelled by Fleenor’s sizzling, melodic fiddle work and a lively Cajun bounce. “I was green when I turned 18 and headed to Nashville way/I caught a break, in 30 days, I was on that Opry stage,” she sings, recounting the moments that led up to her big CMA Awards win and seeing her mother with tears of joy in her eyes.
“The last verse talks about [how] I hopefully am inspiring some little good ol’ girls out there that are practicing their banjos and fiddles to live this dream as well,” Fleenor says. “It’s all in the song.”
Fleenor is on tour through the end of March with Blake Shelton as part of the Friends and Heroes Tour, where she gets to join John Anderson on “Seminole Wind” and its iconic fiddle opening. Additionally, her CMA Award and one of her instruments are on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame’s latest American Currents exhibit, which opened in early March. And maybe she’ll end up with another major award come April, but for now, she says it’s an honor just to be recognized.
“All I want to do is play fiddle on country music records and make other people sound good,” she says. “This is totally the icing on the cake.”