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On the Passing of Country Music’s Queen – Kitty Wells, 1919-2012

17 Jul

Country music lost a true legend and pioneer yesterday with the passing of Kitty Wells, just a few weeks shy of 93.  She died peacefully at her home in Madison, Tennessee, after suffering complications from a stroke.

Wells’ historical significance to country music – particularly to women in country music – certainly cannot be overstated.  She became the first female artist in history to score a number-one country single with her landmark 1952 hit “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”  It was an answer song to the Hank Thompson hit, “The Wild Side of Life,” and is one of only a few answer songs to nearly eclipse the song it responded to. The song made such a bold, controversial statement at the time that it was banned from a number of radio stations.

Wells was a consistent presence on the country charts from the early fifties to the late sixties – the only consistently successful female artist in country music at the time.  She became the first female country artist to release her own full-length LP with her 1956 release Country Hit Parade.  She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976, and was its oldest living member for the last few years of her life.  Because of her many unique accolades and accomplishments, Wells is often referred to as the Queen of Country Music.

Barbara Mandrell, to whom Wells was a mentor as well as a personal friend, issued the following statement yesterday:

“Kitty Wells was every female country music performer’s heroine. She led the way for all of us and I feel very grateful and honored to have known her. She was always the most gracious, kind and lovely person to be around. I so appreciated her being a part of my life and a mentor to me.”

I know I sure did love Kitty Wells’ music, and still do.  I always found her performances to have a simple, unadorned sincerity about them that’s become rare in recent years.  She truly sounded like one who meant every word she sang.  In addition, I have long had a special appreciation for the many talented women of country music, which causes me to hold Kitty Wells in particular regard as the one who laid the groundwork, and provided inspiration for the generations of female talent that followed in her footsteps. Country music has a long and illustrious history of outstanding, gifted, and at time outspoken female artists – from Dolly and Loretta to Patty and Trisha – and it all goes back to Kitty Wells.  Better yet, she taught them to sing what they believed in, and not to be afraid to ruffle a few feathers.  It’s difficult to imagine what the story of country music would have been without her.

Thank you, Kitty Wells. Rest in peace.

Kitty Wells performs her signature classic, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”

Kitty Wells performs “Making Believe,” a 15-week #2 hit in 1955 (revived by Emmylou Harris in 1977).

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3 Comments

Posted by on July 17, 2012 in News and Events

 

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3 responses to “On the Passing of Country Music’s Queen – Kitty Wells, 1919-2012

  1. sharon wells

    July 17, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Great writing, great tribute to someone loved by many.

     
  2. Paul W Dennis

    July 26, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    It’s always good to find a younger person who appreciates the past . For many younger listeners Kitty is too far in the past to be more than someone they’ve read about somewhere. Even for me she was more legend than hitmaker and I’m 60 years old.

    Although I heard Kitty’s records on radio throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, by the time I paid any serious attention to music (1965) her best days as a charting artist were already behind her, and the size of the hits that followed grew progressively smaller- there were no top tens after 1965 and no more top twenty records after early 1966. In fact after 1968 (the year I started collecting LPs) many of her singles didn’t chart at all.

    Kitty Wells was a great artist and apparently a very good person as well. We should remember her and revisit her music occasionally, if only to trace the progress women have made in country music and society

    Thanks for the nice article Ben

     
    • Ben Foster

      July 26, 2012 at 10:41 PM

      Thanks, Paul! Always enjoy hearing from you. Yes, Kitty Wells was definitely very much before my time, and it is a shame that few among younger individuals have much familiarity with her. She is certainly a worthwhile discovery, and an artist who deserves to be remembered.

       

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