Kitty Wells, born Ellen Muriel Deason, (August 30, 1919 - July 16, 2012) was an American country music singer. Her 1952 hit recording "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" made her the most popular female country singer up to that time and led to the introduction of female stars in the male-dominated country music genre.
Wells single-handedly changed the face of country music and controversially began the tradition of female country singers expressing frank lyrics from a feminine point of view. She inspired a number of other country singers over the next two decades such as Jean Shepard, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Skeeter Davis, Dottie West, and Connie Smith.
Kitty Wells' success in the 1950s and 1960s was so large that she continued to rank as the sixth most successful female vocalist in the history of the Billboard country charts well into the twenty-first century. In 1976, Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in 1991, she was the third country music artist, behind only Roy Acuff, and Hank Williams, to receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the seventh woman and first Caucasian woman to receive the honor.
Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919, long before Nashville earned its reputation as the "Music City U.S.A." In her teens, she debuted on WSIX, a Nashville-area radio station. There, she met singer Johnnie Wright, whom she eventually married when she was 18 years old.
Wells sang with husband Johnnie and his sister Louise Wright, and the three of them toured on the road as Johnnie Right & the Harmony Girls. Soon Johnnie met Jack Anglin and the two formed the well-known duo later known as Johnnie and Jack. The band now became known as the Tennessee Hillbillies and then became the Tennessee Mountain Boys. Jack Anglin and Johnnie's sister, Louise, then married. In 1942, Anglin was drafted to fight in World War II and the band was temporarily split up. While Anglin was away, the group continued touring and Wells took on the stage name that she would be known as for rest of her life, taking the name from the Folk tune "My Sweet Kitty Wells."
When Jack Anglin returned from the war, the band reformed as Johnnie and Jack. Kitty, who was now a mother of two, rarely performed with the group until it started making regular appearances on a show titled the Louisiana Hayride. Soon after, Johnnie and Jack began recording music for various small record labels, but Wells did not start recording until Johnnie and Jack were signed to RCA Records in 1949. At the duo's first session, Wells accompanied them on their recording sessions and also cut four sides of her own.
At the time, her newly released records did not get much attention because producers were skeptical about a female artists being able to sell records, and RCA dropped Wells from the label. At this point, Wells was ready to retire from the music business and focus more on raising her family.
"Honky Tonk Angels"Did you know?Kitty Wells' 1952 recording of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" led to the introduction of female stars in the male-dominated country music genre
As a last resort Wells recorded the song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," written by J.D. Miller. Ironically, the song had been turned down by almost every musician Miller had attempted to recruit for it. It was an "answer song" to Hank Thompson's number-one hit at the time, "The Wild Side of Life," in which Thompson regrets his fiancée leaving him, stating "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels; I might have known you'd never make a wife." Sung to the same melody as Thompson's hit, the answer song counters that the woman's leaving was due to her man's infidelity: "Too many times, married men think they're still single; that has caused many a good girl to go wrong." Wells herself was reportedly not happy about recording the song, but producers at Decca records were enthusiastic about it, and in May 1952, Wells cut her version.
No one expected the reaction the song received when in 1952 "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" became an instant hit. The song spent six weeks at number one on the country charts and became one of the most controversial songs ever recorded. It was almost unheard of for a woman to record a song from a feminist stance, and the song was soon banned from the Grand Ole Opry. Nevertheless, Wells herself was invited to join the Opry that same year, and record producers all over the country rushed to find female singers to match the success Wells had with the song.
Wells then released several additional major hits, including "Paying for That Back Street Affair" (1953), an answer song to Webb Pierce's "Back Street Affair." Her duet with Red Foley, "One By One," stayed on the charts for nearly a year, and set the stage for a series of hit duets with Foley and Wells in the next decade.
Height of her career
Wells continued to succeed on the country music charts for the rest of the 1950s and into the 1960s, becoming one of the most successful country singers of the era. In 1955, her duet with Red Foley called "As Long As I Live" ranked seventh among the country hits that year. The pair recorded a series of hit duets such as "No One But You" and "You and Me" during the rest of the 1950s. They also successfully toured together across the country, setting a trend for several later duet acts.
Wells also had major hits as a solo singer. "Makin' Believe," "There's Poison In Your Heart," and "I've Kissed You My Last Time" were some of her early country hits. Later hits from the mid-1950s included "Lonely Side of Town," "Repenting," and "Searching (For Someone Like You)." One of her songs from this time, "Jealousy," was Wells' only entry on the pop charts.
Although Wells was never known much for her songwriting ability, she did write some of her own material throughout her career. She won two BMI awards for her songwriting of "Whose Shoulder Will You Cry On" and "Amigo's Guitar." Wells' success opened the door for other female vocalists in the 1950s, notably Jean Shepard, Goldie Hill, and Rose Maddox, but no other woman came close to achieving her success. It was not until the early 1960s when Patsy Cline and Skeeter Davis emerged on the scene that other female vocalists began to hit the top-ten charts with frequency.
Wells continued to manage quite a few hits in the early to mid-1960s. In 1961, she obtained her second number one hit, entitled "Heartbreak U.S.A." Her success continued with another string of top tens, such as "We Missed You," "Will Your Lawyer Talk to God," "I'll Repossess My Heart," and "Password." She also had a duet hit with Webb Pierce in 1964 called "Finally." Wells continued to put risky material in much of her songs throughout her career, inspiring other female country singers to do the same. Loretta Lynn, for example, followed suit when she recorded "Don't Come a Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)" in 1967.
Wells also became the first female country star to have her own syndicated television show in 1968. Called "The Kitty Wells Show," the program was fairly popular but could not compete against others starring more contemporary male artists such as Porter Wagoner and Bill Anderson, and only ran for one year.
By the time Wells scored her final major hit in 1968, "My Big Truck Driving Man," there were more than a dozen women who could be considered top-level country stars, such as Shepard, Davis, Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith, Dottie West, Norma Jean, Jan Howard, Jeannie Seely, and the fast-climbing newcomers Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Lynn Anderson, and Jeannie C. Riley, all of whom owed a debt to Wells for her groundbreaking career.
Overall, Kitty Wells had 64 hits on the Billboard Top 40 country chart, placing her among the 25 most-charted singers.
Later life and retirement
Wells continued recording at least two albums a year for Decca until 1973. In 1974, she signed with Capricorn Records and recorded a blues-flavored album Forever Young, on which she was backed by members of the Allman Brothers Band. The album was not a huge commercial success, though it received considerable acclaim. In 1976, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, becoming one of the first women to receive the honor (Patsy Cline was the first to be elected). In the late 1970s, she and her husband formed their own record label, Rubocca (the name was a composite of their three children's names: Ruby, Bobby and Carol) and released several albums.
In 1979, at age 60, Wells was back on the Billboard Magazine charts with a modest hit, "I Thank You for the Roses." In 1987, she joined fellow Opry legends Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn on K.D. Lang's "Honky Tonk Angels Medley." The Wells/Wright show remained a very successful road show well into the 1990s. In 2001, Wells officially retired with a farewell performance in her hometown of Nashville.
Wells and her husband celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in 2007, a rare achievement for any couple and one of the longest celebrity marriages in history. Johnnie died in 2011 at the age of 97. Kitty Wells died on July 16, 2012, aged 92, from complications from a stroke.1
|Year||Single||U.S. Country Singles||U.S. Pop Singles||Album|
|1952||"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels"||#1||-||Country Music Hall of Fame Series|
|1953||"Paying For That Back Street Affair"||#6||-||Country Music Hall of Fame Series|
|1955||"As Long As I Live" (with Red Foley)||#3||-||Kitty Wells' & Red Foley's Golden Hits|
|1955||"I've Kissed You My Last Time"||#7||-||Country Hit Parade|
|1955||"Make Believe ('Til We Can Make It Come True)"||#6||-||Queen of Country Music|
|1955||"Makin' Believe"||#2||-||Country Hit Parade|
|1955||"There's Poison In Your Heart"||#9||-||Country Hit Parade|
|1955||"Who's Shoulder Will You Cry On"||#7||-||Country Hit Parade|
|1956||"How Far Is Heaven"||#11||-||Singing on Sunday|
|1956||"I'd Rather Stay Home"||#13||-||Country Music Hall of Fame Series|
|1956||"Lonely Side of Town"||#7||-||After dark|
|1956||"No One But You" (with Red Foley)||#3||-||Kitty Wells & Red Foley's Golden Hits|
|1956||"Searching (For Someone Like You)||#3||-||Country Music Hall of Fame Series|
|1956||"You and Me" (with Red Foley)||#3||-||Kitty Wells' & Red Foley's Golden Hits|
|1957||"I'll Always Be Your Fraulein"||#10||-||Kitty Wells' Golden Favorites|
|1957||"I'm Counting on You" (with Red Foley)||#6||-||Kitty Wells and Red Foley's Golden Hits|
|1957||"Repenting"||#6||-||Kitty Wells' Golden Favorites|
|1957||"Three Ways (To Love You)"||#7||-||Kitty Wells' Golden Favorites|
|1958||"Jealousy"||#7||#78||Kitty Wells' Golden Favorites|
|1958||"One Week Later"||#12||-||Queen of Country Music|
|1958||"She's No Angel"||#3||-||Winner of Your Heart|
|1958||"Touch and Go Heart"||#15||-||The Kitty Wells Story|
|1959||"All the Time"||#18||-||The Kitty Wells Story|
|1959||"Mommy For a Day"||#5||-||The Kitty Wells Story|
|1959||"Your Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down"||#12||-||After Dark|
|1960||"Amigo's Guitar"||#5||-||Seasons of My Heart|
|1960||"Left to Right"||#5||-||Kitty Wells' Golden Favorites|
|1960||"I Can't Tell My Heart That" (with Roy Drusky)||#26||-||More Great Country Duets|
|1961||"Heartbreak U.S.A."||#1||-||Heartbreak U.S.A.|
|1961||"The Other Cheek"||#19||-||Seasons of My Heart|
|1961||"There Must Be Another Way to Live"||#20||-||Kitty Wells|
|1961||"Ficke Fun"||#29||-||Seasons of My Heart|
|1962||"We Missed You"||#7||-||Especially for You|
|1962||"Will Your Lawyer Talk to God"||#8||-||Especially For You|
|1963||"I Gave My Wedding Dress Away"||#22||-||The Kitty Wells Story|
|1963||"A Heartache For a Keepsake"||#29||-||Kitty Wells|
|1964||"Finally" (with Webb Pierce)||#9||-||Kitty Wells Duets|
|1964||"Password"||#4||-||The Queen of Country Music|
|1964||"This White Circle on My Finger"||#7||-||Kitty Wells Greatest Hits|
|1965||"I'll Repossess My Heart"||#8||-||Burning Memories|
|1965||"Meanwhile, Down At Joe's"||#9||-||Country All the Way|
|1965||"You Don't Hear"||#4||-||Burning Memories|
|1965||"Six Lonely Hours"||#27||-||Burning Memories|
|1966||"It's All Over (But the Crying)"||#14||-||The Kitty Wells Show|
|1966||"A Woman Half My Age"||#15||-||Country All the Way|
|1966||"Only Me and My Hairdresser Know"||#49||-||Love Makes the World Go Around|
|1966||"A Woman Never Forgets"||#52||-||Country All the Way|
|1967||"Queen of the Honky Tonk Street"||#28||-||Queen of the Honky Tonk Street|
|1967||"Love Makes the World Go Around"||#34||-||Love Makes the World Go Around|
|1967||"Happiness Means You" (with Red Foley)||#43||-||Together Again|
|1967||"Hello Number One" (with Red Foley)||#60||-||Together Again|
|1968||"We'll Stick Together" (with Red Foley)||#54||-||Kitty Wells Duets|
|1968||"Living As Strangers" (with Red Foley)||#63||-||Together Again|
|1969||"Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" (with Red Foley)||#74||-||Together Again|
|1979||"The Wild Side of Life"||#60||-||Real Thing|
|1979||"Thank You For the Roses"||#75||-||Greatest Hits Vol. 1|
|1987||"Honky Tonk Angels Medley" (with k.d. Lang, Brenda Lee and Loretta Lynn||-||Absolute Torch and Twang|
- ↑ Tim Ghianni, 'Queen of Country Music' Kitty Wells, country music star, dies at 92 Reuters (July 16, 2012). Retrieved July 17, 2012.
- Dawidoff, Nicholas. In the Country of Country: People and Places in American Music. New York: Pantheon Books, 1997. ISBN 978-0679415671
- Dunkleberger, A.C. Queen of Country Music: The Life Story of Kitty Wells. Nashville, TN: Ambrose Printing, 1977. OCLC 49909573
- Pinson, Rob, Richard Weize, and Charles Wolfe. The Golden Years, Kitty Wells. Legacy Books, 1987. ASIN B0006EY75O
- Whitburn, Joel. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Country Hits. Billboard Books, 2006. ISBN 0823082911
All links retrieved April 20, 2018.
- Kitty Wells Official Website www.kittywells.com
- Kitty Wells Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- Kitty Wells IMDb