Monday, July 16, 2012

Kitty Wells

In the history of country music, many of the entertainers are known by their nicknames. When you mention "The Man in Black", "Coal Miners Daughter", "The Singing Ranger" and "The King of Country Music", you know immediately who it is. And when you mention "The Queen of Country Music" you know it is Kitty Wells, and today we were all greeted with the sad news that Kitty had passed away at her home in Madison, Tennessee.

I am not going to go through all of her career highlights as those are available elsewhere, including on the website of the Nashville Tennessean. But I will write about her history at the Grand Ole Opry. Kitty first came to the Grand Ole Opry in 1947, when Johnny and Jack joined the show. Johnny was of course her husband, Johnny Wright and Jack was Johnny's brother-in-law Jack Anglin. They stayed at the Opry for about a year and then they left to go to the "Louisiana Hayride." In 1952, Johnny and Jack went back to the Opry, but Kitty had retired and was not part of the act.

In May 1952, Kitty recorded "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels" which sold over 1 million copies and was #1 on the country charts. With the biggest record of her career and in country music at the time, efforts were made to get Kitty on the Opry as a solo artist, but there were issues. According to her husband Johnny, "We were trying to get her on the Opry but Vito Pellettieri, the guy that 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."

Kitty Wells would remain a member of the Opry until December 1964 when she, along with some others including her husband Johnny, were dismissed from the Opry for not making the required number of shows for the year. According to Johnny, it was a dispute over booking fees and percentages, and he claimed that they quit. "They didn't fire anyone. We just quit because we didn't wanna pay the five percent."

After leaving the Opry, Kitty would continue to make guest appearances at the show. It was not as often as many fans would have liked but at least she did appear. In later years it was reported that she had wanted to rejoin the Opry but it just didn't happen. Personally, I had the opportunity to see Kitty do a show just one time. It was at the Tower Records store in Opry Mills and she was there on a Saturday afternoon. She performed for about an hour and did all of her hits. Sorry to say that only about 100 people made the decision to watch the "Queen" perform.

I went through my Opry files to find a couple of line-ups with Kitty Wells listed. The 1st one is an early one, from Saturday September 5, 1953:

7:30: Prince Albert
Ernest Tubb (host): You Nearly Lose Your Mind
Minnie Pearl: Comedy
Faron Young: Baby My Heart
Square Dancers: Sugar In The Gourd
Ernest Tubb: Stand By Me
Jordaniaires: I'm So Glad Jesus Lifted Me
Rod Brasfield: Comedy
Faron Young: Going Steady
Stringbean: Ida Red
Ernest Tubb: My Wasted Past

8:00: Martha White
Carl Smith (host): Just Wait Til I Get You Alone
Bill Monroe: Rocky Road Blues
Johnny and Jack: South In New Orleans
June Carter: You Flopped When You Got Me Alone
Possum Hunters: Soldier's Joy
Kitty Wells: Honky Tonk Waltz
Carl Smith: Trade Mark
Carter Family: The Sun's Gonna Shine In My Back Door
Bill Monroe: Uncle Pen
Carl Smith: Don't Just Stand There

8:30: Royal Crown Cola
Roy Acuff (host):  Lonesome Joe
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Molly Neely
George Morgan: I'll Furnish The Shoulder For You To Cry On
Pap and Jug Band: Darling Nellie Grey
Webb Pierce: It's Been So Long
Grandpa Jones: Are You From Dixie
Oswald: Roll On Buddy Roll On
Howdy Forrester: Say Old Man

9:00: Martha White
Ernest Tubb (host): I'm So Alone In A Crowd
Jimmy Dickens: Galvanized Wash Tub
Hank Snow: For Now and Always
Moon Mulligan: Cherokee Boogie
Anita Carter: Why Should I Cry Over You
Lonzo and Oscar: Charming Betsy
Crook Brothers: Black Mountain Rag
Ernest Tubb: Driftwood On The River
Chet Atkins: Sweet Georgia Brown
Jimmy Dickens: What About You

9:30: Warren Paint
Roy Acuff (host): Tennessee Central No. 9
Lew Childre: El Rancho Grande
Cowboy Copas: Gone and Left Me Blues
Roy Acuff: Just To Ease My Worried Mind
Howdy Forrester: Cripple Creek

9:45: American Ace
Roy Acuff (host): Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
Marty Robbins: Sing Me Something Sentimental
Jimmy Riddle: Casey Jones
Roy Acuff: Drifting Too Far From The Shore
Oswald: Blue Ridge Mountain Blues

10:00: Wallrite
George Morgan (host): Everything Rolled Into One
Bill and Jimmy Martin: Cabin of Love
Webb Pierce: I'm Walking The Dog
George Morgan: Crying In The Chapel
Don Slayman: Fire On The Mountain

10:15: Dr. Le Gear
Hank Snow (host): Golden Rocket
Faron Young: I Can't Wait
Bill Monroe: I'll See You In Church Next Sunday
Hank Snow: A Fool Such As I
Fiddle Tune: Ricketts Hornpipe

10:30: Jefferson Island Salt
Ernest Tubb (host): Let's Say Goodby Like We Said Hello
Jimmy Dickens: Bessie The Heifer
Jordanaires: My Rock
Duke Of Paducah: Comedy
June Carter: Kawliga
Lonzo and Oscar: Hole In The Bottom of The Sea
Ernest Tubb: Fortune In Memory
Chet Atkins: Rainbow
Jimmy Dickens: Asleep At The Foot of The Bed
Fiddle Tune: Old Joe Clark

11:00: O-Cello-O
Howdy Forrester: Liberty
Marty Robbins: I'll Go On Alone
Roy Acuff (host): No One Will Ever Know
Bobby Hebbs: Mr. Spoons
Roy Acuff: Jesus Died For Me

11:15: Darimix
Carl Smith (host): Hey Joe
Johnny and Jack: Poison Love
String Bean: John Henry
Gully Jumpers: Old Joe Clark
Carl Smith: This Orchid Means Goodby

11:30: Hester Battery
Hank Snow (host): Message From The Tradewinds
Lew Childre: Maple On The Hill
Moon Mullican: A Thousand and One Sleepless Nights
Crook Brothers: Mississippi Sawyer
Hank Snow: Honeymoon On A Rocket Ship

11:45: Grand Ole Opry
Cowboy Copas (host): Filipino Baby
Sam and Kirk McGee: Goodby and So Long To You
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Going Home To Julie
Grandpa Jones: Gold Old Mountain Dew
Cowboy Copas: Love Me Now

Another line-up I have that featured Kitty Wells is from Saturday October 16, 1976, when Kitty appeared on the 2nd show that night, which was part of the annual D.J. Convention that was held annually in October:

9:30: Kelloggs
Porter Wagoner (host): Tennessee Sunshine
Charlie Walker: Pick Me Up On Your Way Down
Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper: Bury Me Beneath The Willow
Dottie West: Country Sunshine
Guy Willis & C.W. Mitchell: Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain
Matt Magaha: Orange Blossom Special
Porter Wagoner: When Lea Jane Sang/Cold Hard Facts of Life/Carroll County Accident/Green, Green Grass of Home

10:00: Fender
Ernest Tubb (host): If You Don't Quit Checking On Me
Bill Carlisle: No Help Wanted
Kitty Wells: It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
Johnny Wright and Kitty Wells: Ashes of Love
Ernest Tubb: Waltz Across Texas

10:15: Union 76
Stonewall Jackson (host): Washed My Hands in Muddy Water
Hank Locklin: Send Me The Pillow You Dream On
George Hamilton IV: Early Morning Rain
Stonewall Jackson: Waterloo

10:30: Trailblazer
Grandpa Jones (host): I Don't Love Nobody
Lonzo & Oscar: Crawdad Song
4 Guys: Hello Walls/Big Bad John/Wings of A Dove
Roy Clark: A Sweet Bunch of Daisies/Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms
Jimmy Henley: Orange Blossom Special/Bluegrass Breakdown

10:45: Beechnut
Wilburn Brothers (host): It's Another World
Jerry Clower: Selling Butter to See Tarzan
Brother Oswald: The End of the World/The Great Speckled Bird
Crook Brothers/Stoney Mountain Cloggers: Lafayette

11:00: Coca-Cola
Hank Snow (host): I'm Moving On
Jimmy C Newman: Diggy Liggy Lo
Jeanne Pruett: Hold to My Unchanging Love/Love Me/You Don't Need to Move A Mountain/Satin Sheets
George Lindsey: Comedy
Fruit Jar Drinkers: Nubbing Ridge
Del Wood: Chosen Children
Kirk McGee: While I'm Away
Hank Snow: I Almost Lost My Mind

11:30: Elm Hill
David Houston (host): Almost Persuaded
Stu Phillips: Have A Nice Day
Jimmy Dickens: Family Reunion
Marion Worth: Afraid
Stu Phillips: Let Me Love You All Over Again
Jimmy Dickens: The Preacher Man
David Houston: Come On Down

I have other line-ups with Kitty Wells listed, but I thought that I would post those 2. It would be nice if the Opry dedicated the shows this weekend to Kitty, but from past history, if a performer is not a current member, they will not. Kitty was a trailblazing woman in country music and her Hall of Fame induction was well deserved. God Bless Kitty Wells!!!


  1. Byron, great job, and thanks. She always will be The Queen.

    I couldn't help but notice that in the 1976 lineup, Mr. Acuff wasn't there but Oswald was. Also, David Houston hosting a segment with The Potato on it. Wow.

  2. Great article. Kitty Wells was surly one of Country's Music's greatest Jewel's.

    I was in hopes that someday she would have been given the "Kennedy Center Honors" at Washington D.C. The Kennedy Center seemed to have ignored Country music from its conception of the Awards in 1978 until 1991 when Roy Acuff received the honor. Then they followed through the years with, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Kitty should have got the honor as well, along with Bill Monroe and Minnie Pearl.

    I remember an interview with Reba after it had been announced she was the newest member of the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011. The reporter referred to Reba as the "Queen of Country Music" and Reba stop him right there and said, "No your wrong. Kitty Wells is and will always be the Queen of Country Music". The reporter ignored the remark and went on with the interview.

  3. Funny how long time partners don't last long after one passes. We just lost Johnnie September 27 of last year. They were married almost 74 years.

    I had the pleasure of seeing them in concert about a half dozen time. Always a good family show and they were very humble and down to earth people the like of which we will probably never see in the business again.

    It is a shame that in latter years she was not in the limelight beyond us die hard fans and that she did not get awards like the Kennedy Center. At least Marty Stuart remembered and had her on his show last fall. I hear that RFD will run that this weekend and repeat through next week.


  4. On the Tuesday Night Opry tonight, the Oak Ridge Boys honored Kitty Wells by performing, "Life's Railway to Heaven" to a standing ovation. Great job by the Oaks. I was somewhat surprised that Jimmy Dickens did not say anything. After all, she was one of the last of his generation.

  5. Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, that may be WHY he didn't say anything. I suspect it's rough for him to see his generation dying out.

  6. Good point Michael. There really can't be too many left from the pre-World War II era that are either still alive or actively performing. I know there are a few still out there, but not many.

  7. Someone told me this morning that Kitty was still performing and was scheduled to appear at an Illinois Co. fair this month. Is that really true?

    1. I wouldn't be able to answer that with 100% confidence but after all those years appearing as a family I can't imagine Kitty and Bobby going it alone. I am thinking the last time she did a road appearance was in 2008.


  8. About Little Jimmy....A personal story: My late grandmother was 89 years old and honored for 70 years of membership in our local church. Too me grandma did not look to enthused when the church did this for her. I asked her, "Grandma don't you feel honored". Her reply was, "Son, how would you feel if you looked around a place that you love so much and realize everyone that was there when you arrived was now dead".

    I would say even though we feel honored to have such as these around, "The last man (or woman) standing" so to speak is properly a mighty lonely person.

  9. When Hank Snow died, I guess it was The Tennessean that got a photo that appears to have disappeared from the internet: his open casket, with Dickens standing by it, his back to the camera. I thought to myself at the time that he might be thinking, I'm not much younger. I just did a eulogy for a dear friend who was 86 and thought, a lot of his friends are close to that age.

  10. My almost-94-year-old Dad says he remembers a comic on WSIX (not WSM) who was the insurance announcer. His name was either Norman Allen or Allen Norman, and his sign-off tagline was, "Mother's favorite son." Does this sound familiar to anyone? He performed in the 1940s with Kitty Wells & Johnnie Wright. Thanks...