Country music has suffered another great lost as Johnnie Wright, 97, the husband of Kitty Wells and one half of the recording duo Johnny & Jack, died today at 97 at his home in Madison, Tennessee.
Born in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, Wright first performed with Jack Anglin in 1936. In 1937, he married Wells, who was 18. The two, along with Wright's sister Louise, performed as Johnny Wright & the Harmony Girls. In 1939, Wright and Anglin formed Johnnie & Jack. They teamed up full-time in the 1940s and, except for the time Anglin spent overseas during World War II, remained together for more than two decades.
In 1952, Johnnie & Jack's "Poison Love" led to tem being on the Grand Ole Opry, where they and Wells were invited to join and stayed for 15 years. They continued having hits in the 1950s, including "Stop the World (And Let Me Off)". Following Anglin's in a car accident in 1963 on his way to the funeral for Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas and Randy Hughes, Wright continued performing and releasing records.
In 1964, he and his Tennessee Mountain Boys had a Top 25 hit with "Walkin', Talkin', Cryin', Barely Beatin' Broken Heart". The following year, he had a big hit with "Hello, Vietnam", which went to number one. In 1968, he and Wells recorded an autobiographical duet, "We'll Stick Together" and continued playing live shows together through the early 1980s.
In 1992, the couple and their son Bobby began playing together again. On December 31, 2000, the duo performed their farewell concert at the Nashville Nightlife Theater in Nashville.
Wright and Wells had three children, two daughters Ruby, who died in 2009, and Carol Sue and a son, Bobby. Each had minor success individually as recording artists. Both Bobby and Ruby performed as part of their parents' road tour for many years. (from wire reports).
Johnnie & Jack first joined the Opry in 1947. They spent a year at the Opry and then left to move to Shreveport and be a part of the Lousiana Hayride. In 1952, they returned to the Opry, where the remained members as a duo until Jack passed away in the car accident in 1963. Johnnie Wright, along with Kitty Wells, remained Opry members until both were fired on December 6, 1964, for failing to meet the Opry's attendance requirements. While the Opry announced they were fired, Johnnie would maintain that they quit and the reason had to do with paying the 5% commission to the WSM Artists' Service Bureau.
I saw Kitty Wells and Johnnie Wright perform once. They put on a great family show. Johnnie had been retired and in declining health for a number of years. In retirement, they still lived in the same house in Madison that they had lived for most of their married life. And out front in the driveway, their tour bus was still parked and ready to go, "just in case."
It seems like everytime a legend dies, we lose a part of country music's history and legacy. In the last several months, we have lost, in addition to Johnnie, Wilma Lee Cooper, Billy Grammer and Charlie Louvin. All have been missed.
All of our prayers go to Kitty and the family.