Kitty Wells, who paved the way for women in country music and was known as the “Queen of Country,” has died, the AP reports. She was 92.
As her biography on the Country Music Hall of Fame notes, Wells was 33, a wife and a mother when she recorded It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels in 1952.
At the time, it was a revelation: A woman coming out of Nashville replying to a popular song about cheating with a strong, unrelenting voice and lyrics to match.
“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 ev’ry heart that’s ever broken / was because there always was a man to blame,” she sang.
NPR Music featured Wells for their 50 Great Voices series. Linda Wertheimer talked to Robert Oermann, who wrote a book about women in country music. He said you can’t overstate her impact.
“Wells was not the first female country singer — there had been others from Chicago, Atlanta and the West Coast. But Oermann explains that for Wells to come out of Nashville was extraordinary, because women were regularly pushed to the background in the South at the time.
“‘They had all these weird rules, like you couldn’t play two female records back to back; women couldn’t headline concerts,’ he says.”
According to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Wells was the top female country artist of her time. She recorded 35 Billboard Top Ten records and 81of her singles climbed the charts.
She was born Muriel Ellen Deason in 1934. As the CMH, puts it on stage she was “unpretentious, proper, and even old-fashioned;” in her private life she had no scandals, but in her songs “Wells could be the rejected woman, the barroom sinner, worldly-wise, a victim of her own passion, even morally weak.”
“Ultimately, Wells’s great achievement was defying the accepted country music wisdom of her time, which warned that women don’t sell records and can’t headline shows,” the Hall of Fame writes.