Friday, December 6, 2013

Remembering Kitty Wells August 30, 1919 - July 16, 2012

On July 20, 2012, the "Queen of Country Music" received her final standing ovation in the Hendersonville Church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Eddie Stubbs, longtime fiddle player for Wells and her late husband, Johnnie Wright and one of many who paid tribute to Wells said this, "Let's all stand together and give Kitty Wells the biggest round of applause ever given to her"

Kitty Wells
Ellen Muriel Deason was born and spent her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee.  She began singing as a child and was taught to play the guitar by her father who worked for the Tennessee Central Railroad.  Her dad and his brothers were musicians and her grandmother was a gospel singer.  Ellen and her sisters sang together as children and were known as the Deason Sisters.  They performed on a local radio station.

When Ellen was 18, she married another aspiring musician by the name of Johnnie Wright.  Wright was a cabinet maker and played music on the side in a duo known as Johnnie & Jack.

Newly married, Ellen, Johnnie and Ellen's sister Louise began touring under the name of Johnnie Right and the Harmony Girls until Louise met and married Jack Anglin that joined the group and became known as "The Tennessee Hillbillies and then the "Tennessee Mountain Boys."

Ellen changed her identity to Kitty Wells soon after she and her husband began performing as a duo.  The name Kitty Wells was actually chosen by her husband from a folk song called "Sweet Kitty Wells."

Kitty and Johnnie
It was in 1952 that Kitty was approached by an executive from Decca Records to record a song called "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.  During that time, Kitty was considering giving up and retiring from a career in music.  Reluctantly
, Kitty agreed to record the song.  The lyrics were controversial at that time and was banned by several radio stations and the Grand Ole Opry.  However, audiences loved the song and it's recording sold more than 800,000 copies in its initial release.  It became the first song to reach #1 on the record charts by a female singer.  The success for the song also caused Wells to receive membership in the Grand Ole Opry.  Another successful hit by Kitty Wells followed with the release of "Paying For That Back Street Affair."  She would have two more hit songs with "Hey Joe" and "Cheatin A Sin"  On top of that, she recorded a duet with country star, Red Foley called "One By One" that peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Music Chart.  Wells career peaked when she recorded "Making Believe" that is regarded as one of the greatest songs in country music history. It was included on the soundtrack for the film "Mississippi Burning." Several other successful  songs followed.

Kitty Wells funeral folder
She and her husband Johnnie also became popular enough to have their own television program called "The Kitty Wells/Johnnie Wright Family Show" that included appearances by their children.  She remained a popular concert attraction.  She was awarded a Grammy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.  She is also ranked #15 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music" in 2002.  Kitty and husband, Johnnie performed together for the last time at the Nashville Nightlife Theater in 2002.  Her final television appearance was on the "Marty Stuart Show" in 2010.

Kitty Wells died on July 16, 2012 from complications of a stroke at the age of 92.

Kitty's funeral
The funeral (funeral program pictured) was attended by many country western greats including Marty Stuart, Bill Anderson and Ricky Skaggs.
 She was remembered as a "woman of deep faith" "always exhibited poise, professionalism, dignity and class, and was a top notch cook."  She considered her voice a "gift from God."

She and her husband, Johnnie of nearly 74 years, now rest in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

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