Kitty Wells died yesterday in Nashville of complications following a stroke. She was 92.
Kitty Wells was such a legendary groundbreaker. Without her there would never have been Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton or Reba or any other women willing to sing a song from the heart. Up until yesterday, Kitty was the oldest living member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Now I think that honor goes to Little Jimmy Dickens at 91 (but I could be wrong).
In the early 50s, Hank Thompson had a huge #1 hit with the song “The Wild Side of Life.” The lyric: “I didn’t know God made honky-tonk angels, I might have known you’d never make a wife. You gave up the only one who ever loved you and went back to the wild side of life.”
In 1952, when she was about to give up show business, someone convinced Kitty Wells to cut the song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.” She did it primarily to make the union scale recording payment of $125. It references “The Wild Side of Life” and then gives the “facts” …. “… too many times married men think they’re still single … that has caused many a good girl to go wrong.” The song created an uproar and was banned from lots of radio stations (owned, programmed, and run by men) and, at least for a while, from the Grand Ole Opry (interestingly, also controlled by men). “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.” But the nation went crazy for the song and it sold 800,000 copies upon its release. The Billboard charts had only been around for 8 years and a woman had never hit the #1 spot, but Kitty Wells’ song zoomed up the chart and stayed there for a phenomenal 6 weeks. Because of that success, the Opry then invited her to become a member. She became the first female country artist to have an LP … and that didn’t happen until 4 years later. Record companies were just not convinced that a “girl singer” could sell album. She also became the first female artist to have her own syndicated TV show.
In 1991, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award along with Bob Dylan, Marian Anderson, and John Lennon. She was only the third country music artist to be honored by the NARAS (following Roy Acuff and Hank Williams). “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. In 1976, she became the second woman inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Patsy Cline had been inducted posthumously 3 years earlier.
– Submitted by Janice Williams, Music Design