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Kitty Wells, queen of country, dies at 92

Monday, July 16, 2012 – Kitty Wells, the queen of country music, died today at 92 in Nashville after complications from a stroke.

Miss Kitty was best known for the huge 1952 hit It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, an answer song to Hank Thompson's The Wild Side of Life.

Wells stayed atop the country charts for 6 weeks, starting a run of 33 top10 hits through 1965.

Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason in 1919 in Nashville. She began singing as a child, learning guitar from her father. As a teenager, she sang with her sisters, who performed under the name the Deason Sisters on a local radio station beginning in 1936. At 18 she married Johnnie Wright, a cabinet-maker who later became one-half of the duo Johnnie & Jack.

Wells sang with Wright and his sister Louise Wright, touring as Johnnie Right and the Harmony Girls. Wright met Jack Anglin, who married Louise and became part of the band, which became known first as the Tennessee Hillbillies and then the Tennessee Mountain Boys.

Wright and Wells performed as a duo. During this time, Wells adopted the name "Kitty Wells" as her stage name. When Anglin returned from the Army, he and Wright formed the Johnnie & Jack duo. Wells would tour with the pair, occasionally performing backup vocals. Wells did not sing on their records until signing with RCA Records in 1949 releasing some of her first singles, including Death At The Bar and Don't Wait For The Last Minute To Pray with neither charting. Wells was dropped from the label in 1950.

In 1952, Paul Cohen, an executive at Decca Records, approached Wells to record It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels. Wells agreed to the session at Owen Bradley's studio on May 3, 1952 because of the $125 union scale recording payment. "I wasn't expecting to make a hit," said Wells later. "I just thought it was another song."

The record's message was controversial and banned by many radio stations and temporarily from the Grand Ole Opry. The single took off during the summer of 1952, and sold more than 800,000 copies in its initial release. It became the first single by a female singer to peak at number one in the eight-year history of the country music chart. Because of her major breakthrough, Wells received a membership to the Grand Ole Opry.

The hit was followed by Paying For That Back Street Affair, a response to Webb Pierce's Back Street Affair. The single reached number 6 in the spring of 1953. In 1953, Wells had two Top 10 hits with Hey Joe and Cheatin's A Sin. The next year, Wells partnered with country star Red Foley for the duet One By One, which topped the Billboard Country Chart. The song led to a slew of hit singles from the duo within the next two decades, including 1954's "As Long as I Live, which peaked at number 3. As a solo artist in 1954, Wells had two major hits with the number 8 Release Me and the Top 15 hit, Thou Shalt Not Steal, written by Don Everly of the Everly Brothers.

Wells became the first female country singer to issue an LP, starting with 1956's "Kitty Wells' Country Hit Parade," which consisted of her biggest hits. She released her first studio album in 1957 with "Winner of Your Heart. " Soon other female country singers released LPs in the late 1950s and early 1960s. "Making Believe' and "Lonely Side of Town" became chart-toppers for Wells. In 1957, Wells issued "Winner of Your Heart."

Wells then switched to Decca, releasing discs between 1957 and 1973. She also partnered with Pierce the same year for two duet singles, including the Top 10 hit, Oh So Many Years The duo didn't record together again until 1964 with the Top 10 hit, Finally. In 1959, Wells had two Top 5 hits with Amigo's Guitar and Mommy For A Day.

In 1966, Wells then had her final Top 20 hit with It's All Over But the Crying, which peaked at 14 on the country charts.

During the late '60s and '70s, Wells' hit streak ended, but she had minor hits and remained a popular concert attraction.

Wells started her own syndicated television program with her husband in 1969. The Kitty Wells/Johnnie Wright Family Show also featured appearances by their children, including actor Bobby Wright, and stayed on the air for several years. She became the first female country star to have her own syndicated television show, but the program only ran for one year.

Wells released three studio albums in 1970 and 2 more the following year with no singles becoming hits. She later switched to Capricorn Records, with her blues-based sic, "Forever Young," featuring the Allmans as her backing band.

Wells' commercial success waned over time although she continued being a concert draw.

In 1976 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, becoming the second female to be elected after Patsy Cline was in 1973. In 1991, Wells was awarded from the Grammy Awards a Lifetime Achievement award.

Johnny Wright died at 97 last year.

More news for Kitty Wells

CD reviews for Kitty Wells

Forever Young
When Kitty Wells' album was first released in 1974, it was a flop. For the woman crowned the Queen of Country Music for her classic honky tonk twang, it was a risk to record this series of crossover songs. With songs by Bob Dylan and Otis Redding and musicians from the Southern Rock tradition, the release took Wells' fans too far out of their comfort zone, and it was promptly pulled from the marketplace. In this age when arguments abound regarding what is or is not country, this re-issue reminds »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Kristofferson gives insight, but no easy answers – When they say music gets better with age, they're not always just talking about songs alone; sometimes they're also referring to the listener. When Kris Kristofferson sings, "Well, I woke up Sunday morning/With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt," to smartly open "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," he... »»»
Concert Review: No sugarcoating, Welch dishes out an experience – Gillian Welch (accompanied, as always, by master guitarist David Rawlings), celebrated her "The Harrow & The Harvest" album with a powerful night of music. She apologized many times for the utter unhappiness expressed through this album's songs, admitting it's "not the most chipper album" at one point.... »»»
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