The late Kitty Wells changed the course of country history. She was a trailblazer for women at a time when female singers in country were far and few in between.
Her trademark song, of course, was It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, an answer song (we don't' have them any more) to Hank Thompson's huge hit The Wild Side of Life. It seemed that women were being blamed for the troubles of men, but Wells tossed that idea on its head with this release.
It's a shame that all the blame is on us women
It's not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that's ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame.
Not only did Wells get a hit career out a song she had some ambivalence about recording, she got herself a career as well. "I wasn't expecting it to make a hit," she said in a Nashville Scene story from 1999. "I just thought it was another song."
Not all were so keen on the song. Some radio stations refused to play the song. The Grand Ole Opry wouldn't hear of it either - for awhile anyway.
Wells was best known for that song, but she was not exactly a one-hit wonder. Wells racked up 44 top 10 hits during the career.
Patsy Montana preceded Wells in terms of enjoying success, but that was in the pre-chart era. The result was that wells set the stage for women in country music, which now is taken for granted.
Of course, Wells made it to the Grand Ole Opry and even the Country Music Hall of Fame.
While way later in her career, I had the chance to interview and see Wells in concert in Peabody, Mass. probably a good 18 years ago. I remember her being gracious and low key during the interview with her husband, Johnny, with whom she played for decades, by her side. In concert, Wells did not have the voice she once did, but it was still an honor to hear one of country's greatest perform her songs.
Barry Mazor wrote in The Wall Street Journal a few years ago, "She would reign as country's first true female star, virtually unchallenged, right through the 1950s and into the early '60s, recording more than 30 top-10 hits. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Barbara Mandrell are among those who've credited Ms. Wells for opening the door for female country stardom in the process."
Mandrell obviously agreed, tweeting tonight, "Kitty Wells was every female country music performer's heroine. She led the way for all of us."
Thanks Kitty for doing so because succeeding generations of women also have you to thank. You left your mark on country music. R.I.P.