Country singer Kitty Wells passed away yesterday from complications of a stroke. She was 92.
Born Ellen Muriel Deason in Nashville, she got her musical start as a teenager performing with her sisters. At eighteen she married Johnnie Wright, an aspiring singer himself, and the two would often sing as a duo. It was at this time that Deason acquired the name Kitty Wells and began singing backup for Wright’s other duo, Johnnie & Jack.
In 1952, as an answer to Hank Thompson’s suggestive “The Wild Side Of Life,” Wells recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels.” The song was controversial for its time, especially the lyric “It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women,” and the single was banned from radio stations and the Grand Ole Opry. But when Wells became the first female singer to peak the country charts, the Grand Ole Opry invited her to perform.
Wells broke another barrier in 1956 with her album Kitty Wells’ Country Hit Parade, the first LP released by a female country singer. Wells had other hits in the ’50s and ’60s, including “Making Believe” and “Lonely Side of Town.”
For her work, she was often dubbed the “Queen of Country Music.” Along with Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and others, Wells is considered one of the most successful female country artists in history. In 1991, she became just the third country music artist to receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, behind fellow country trailblazers Hank Williams and Roy Acuff. She is survived by three children, eight grandchildren, and twelve great-grandchildren.
Below, watch Wells perform “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” on the Grand Ole Opry, as well as her 1955 hit “Making Believe.”