July 16, 2012
Kitty Wells, who was on the verge of quitting music to be a homemaker when she recorded a hit in 1952 that struck a chord with women and began opening doors for them in country music, died on Monday at her home in Madison, Tenn. She was 92.
The cause was complications of a stroke, said her grandson John Sturdivant Jr.
Ms. Wells was an unlikely and unassuming pioneer. When she recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” she was a 33-year-old wife and mother intending to retire from the business to devote herself to her family full time. The only reason she made the record, she told the weekly newspaper Nashville Scene in 1999, was to collect the union-scale wage ($125) that the session would bring.
“I wasn’t expecting it to make a hit,” she said. “I just thought it was another song.”
But Ms. Wells’s record proved to be much more than just “another song.” It was a rejoinder to Hank Thompson’s No. 1 hit “Wild Side of Life,” a brooding lament in which the singer blames a woman he picks up in a bar for breaking up his marriage, and it became her signature song.
“Honky Tonk Angels” resonated with women who had been outraged by Mr. Thompson’s record, which called into question their morals and their increasing social and sexual freedom. At a time when divorce rates were rising and sexual mores changing in postwar America, the song, with lyrics by J. D. Miller, resounded like a protofeminist anthem.
“As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin’/The tune about the wild side of life,” Ms. Wells sings, she reflects on married men pretending to be single and causing “many a good girl to go wrong.” She continues:
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.
The NBC radio network banned Ms. Wells’s record, deeming it “suggestive,” and officials at the Grand Ole Opry would not at first let her perform it on their show. The Opry eventually relented, in part because of the song’s popularity and Ms. Wells’s nonthreatening image.
Ms. Wells “sang of ‘Honky Tonk Angels,’ but no one would have ever mistaken her for one,” Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann wrote in the book “Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000.” “She was always proper, always dignified,” they added. “She dressed in prewar gingham instead of pantsuits, flamboyant Western garb or satin costumes.”
Sung in a gospel-inflected moan and backed by a crying steel guitar, Ms. Wells’s record spent six weeks at the top of the country charts and crossed over to the pop Top 40. The song’s success not only made her the biggest female country music star of the postwar era, it also persuaded record executives in Nashville to offer recording contracts to other women. (Music labels had not thought female singers were worth the investment.)
Ms. Wells became a model for generations of female singers, from Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Iris DeMent. The renowned song publisher Fred Rose anointed her the Queen of Country Music.
Muriel Ellen Deason was born in Nashville on Aug. 30, 1919. Her father, a brakeman for the Tennessee Central Railroad, played guitar and sang folk songs after the fashion of Jimmie Rodgers. Ms. Wells grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and singing gospel music.
She learned to play the guitar at 14 and made her singing debut on the radio in 1936. She married Johnnie Wright the following year and worked briefly in a group with her new husband and his sister. When Mr. Wright formed the singing duo Johnny and Jack with Jack Anglin in the late ’30s, Ms. Wells, at that point performing under her married name, was the featured “girl singer” in their show.
She appeared on some of the biggest radio hoedowns of the day, including “Louisiana Hayride” and the weekly Grand Ole Opry broadcast. As the Little Rag Doll she worked as a disc jockey, playing records and selling quilt pieces on KWKH in Shreveport, La. Mr. Wright suggested that she adopt the stage name Kitty Wells, drawn from an old folk ballad made popular by the Pickard Family.
Ms. Wells recorded for RCA Victor in 1949, but all of her major hits were made after that for the Decca label and produced by Owen Bradley. Several of her early records were duets with country stars like Red Foley and Webb Pierce. During her 27-year recording career she placed 84 singles on the country charts, 38 of them in the Top 10.
Family was important to Ms. Wells and her husband. Early on they incorporated their children into their touring revue. They also recorded with them.
Mr. Wright, Ms. Wells’s husband of more than 70 years died last year. She is survived by a son, Bobby, and a daughter, Sue Wright Sturdivant; eight grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Ruby, died in 2009.
Ms. Wells had her own syndicated television show in 1968 and made a country-rock album with members of the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band in 1974. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1991 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Ms. Wells with a lifetime achievement award. Only two other performers in country music, Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, had previously received that honor.
Kitty Wells was born on August 30th, 1919 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitty_Wells
August 30th, 1919
8 + 30 +2+0+1+1 = 42 = her personal year (from August 30th, 2011 to August 29th, 2012) = Everybody loved Kitty Wells.
42 year + 6 (June) = 48 = her personal month (from June 30th, 2012 to July 29th, 2012) = Remembrance.
48 month + 15 (15th of the month) = 63 = her personal day = (from her time of birth on Sunday July 15th, 2012 to Monday August 16th, 2012) = Stroke.
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