Kitty Wells was a pioneering country musician who skyrocketed into the spotlight, becoming country's first female superstar. But her fame and fortune almost didn't happen.
This 1976 file photo shows Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Kitty Wells during the Country Music Association (CMA) awards in Nashville, Tenn. Wells, the first female superstar of country music, has died at the age of 92. The singer’s family says Wells died at her home Monday after complications from a stroke. Her recording of "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" in 1952 was the first No. 1 hit by a woman soloist on the country music charts. Other hits included "Making Believe" and a version of "I Can't Stop Loving You." (AP Photo, file)
In 1952, Wells was 33 years old, many years into an unfruitful musical career and considering hanging up her cowgirl hats and calling in quits. She was married to fellow country musician Johnnie Wright, who was also suffering from a stalled career. But then, all at once, everything came together for both Kitty Wells and her husband. Wright received an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry on the strength of his single "Poison Love" with duo Johnnie & Jack.
As for Wells, she received an offer to record a song for Decca Records. She didn't much want to, but she was swayed by the $125 union scale recording payment. She went to the studio and sang "It Wasn't Got Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels"… and a star was born.
It was the beginning of a country music reign for Kitty Wells, who stayed at the top of the charts throughout the 1950s with solo hits and duets, too.
Kitty Wells' success changed her life – and it also opened the door for other female country musicians. Before Wells, record labels were reluctant to release anything by a woman, but she showed them that a woman's records could sell. Others soon followed in her footsteps, and as the '60s went by, those other female country artists began to eclipse Wells' fame, bringing new country sounds to a new generation. Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and many more stepped through the door that Kitty Wells opened, enjoying the fame she made possible.
But Kitty Wells didn't stop playing music. She continued recording and performing for much of her long life, hitting the Billboard charts again at age 60 with "I Thank You for the Roses."
Kitty Wells died today at age 92, leaving behind a huge legacy – one of great country music, and of blazing a trail for all the leading ladies of country over the past 60 years.
Written by Linnea Crowther