Monday August 30 marks the 91st birthday for the Queen of Country Music, Kitty Wells. She was born Ellen Muriel Deason on August 30, 1919. Now retired, Kitty had her greatest success in the 1950s and 1960s. It was in 1952 that her recording of, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", elevated her to superstar status and marked her emergence as the first female star in country music history.
According to Billboard magazine, Kitty is ranked as the 6th most successful female artist in country music history, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, and Tanya Tucker.
Her rewards are many. In 1976 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame (the 2nd female to be elected to the Hall, following Patsy Cline), and is its oldest living member. In 1991, she received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming only the 3rd country music entertainer to be so honored. In 2008, the Hall of Fame honored her with a special exhibit, that was very well done. She was also voted the number-one female country artist for eleven straight years by Billboard magazine, for ten straight years by Cash Box, and the top female artist of the decade by Record World, and she was also the first female country singer to win an award from Downbeat magazine.
On October 30, 1937, at the age of 18, she married Johnnie Wright. (Yes, that will be 73 years of marriage this fall). They had 3 children. Ruby, who died last year, Carol Sue and Bobby. She spent the majority of her career touring with her husband and they retired full time from the road, with a show on December 31, 2000 in Nashville.
After the success of, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels", she was invited to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry. What was remarkable about this was that her song was banned for a period of time from being performed on the Opry. According to Kitty's husband"
"We were trying to get her on the Opry, but Vito Pellettieri, the guy who cleared all the songs on the show, says, 'You can't sing that song on the Opry because of the lyrics.' You know, that part about the trusting wife going wrong. Anyway, Roy Acuff went up and talked to Jim Denny and Jack Stapp and he told them, 'Kitty Wells is a female Roy Acuff. She sells songs with her sincerity.' And Honky-Tonk Angels' got to be such a hit, you know, that they had to let her sing it."
Her membership on the Opry ended on December 6, 1964, when she, along with 11 other Opry members were dismissed from the Opry for not meeting the Opry rule on appearances, which at the time was 26 shows per year. But, according to others, money is what really caused the issue. Not only were artists losing the highly paid Saturday night date if they paid the Opry, there were also issues with the percentages paid by the artists to the WSM Artists' Service Bureau.
Again, according to Johnny Wright, Kitty's husband, "They booked some of our dates, and then some of the dates were booked by our personal managers and booking agents. They were charging us fifteen percent on the dates they booked, and then if they didn't book a date you still had to pay them five percent of the dates that you booked yourself. Some of the artists stopped paying the five percent, a lot of them. But Kitty and I paid it right up to the very last, and I told Ott Devine, "Ott, I don't think it's fair for us to pay that and some of them not paying it. Unless you get everybody to pay it, then I'm not gonna pay it.' They didn't fire anyone. We just quit because we didn't want to pay the five percent."
Kitty rarely played the Opry after that and I think that was a great lost to the Opry. Even today, she could have been the female version of Jimmy Dickens, and would be considered one of the legends of the Opry.
Johnny Wright is in poor health now and Kitty spends most of her time at home watching over her husband. She did make an appearance on Marty Stuart's television show earlier this year and looked pretty good. And, she was honored with a show at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop last year.
Her awards, records and influence on country music are to numerous to mention. But, Kitty was the first female superstar in country music and set the path that has been followed by every female artist since then.
Happy Birthday Kitty Wells!!!!