Six decades before the Judds, five before the Parton-Ronstadt-Harris Trio album, four before the Davis Sisters, there were two sisters named Millie and Dolly Good. In the 1930s they made history as country music’s first successful female harmony duet: the Girls of the Golden West. For a generation, they held forth over the big radio stations in Chicago and Cincinnati. Fans by the thousands wrote to them, sent them gifts, bought their records and used their gentle, haunting harmonies to weather the Depression. Almost by accident, they created a musical style that has echoed down the years, and their struggle to find their place in what was then an all-male profession blazed a trail that women singers today still follow.
The public got their first chance to really see the Girls of the Golden West in 1933, when WLS radio (Chicago) issued its annual promotional book, WLS Family Album. Earlier that year, the girls had joined the cast of The National Barn Dance, which was, in 1933, the biggest and best country music program in the nation. The page for the Girls pictured them in their knotted neckerchiefs and fringed skirts, and announced that they were genuine cowgirls from the hamlet of “Muleshoe, Texas.” It was the start of a legend that would persist for years and get into dozens of reference books. “We didn’t really even know where Muleshoe, Texas, was,” recalls Millie. “It just seemed like such a funny name to us.” The girls in reality were born in Mount Carmel, Illinois, a town some 300 miles south of Chicago on the banks of the Wabash, right on the Indiana state line. The girls grew up in Mount Vernon, and then later East St. Louis, where their father worked in a local plant. They grew up listening to their mother sing old songs, learning from her the rudiments of the guitar and the basics of harmony; after her daughters became famous, their mother even occasionally sang with Millie on the radio. As Millie and Dolly grew into