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Kitty Wells, 1919-2012


Kitty Wells
Photo credit: courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Country Music has weathered seismic changes since May 1949, when Kitty Wells stepped up from her gig as “girl singer” with Johnnie & Jack and their group and stood alone behind a microphone at Owen Bradley’s Castle Studios. She had agreed to record a song written by J.D. Miller and pitched by Troy Martin. It didn’t thrill Wells or her husband, Johnnie Wright of Johnnie & Jack, but she agreed to cut it mainly for the $125 session fee.

That song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” exploded when released that summer, rocketing to No. 1, staying there for six weeks and selling well over a million copies. It pushed Wells from the background in her husband’s group and square into the center of the Country Music spotlight. It also caused controversy by daring to rebut Hank Thompson’s hit, “Wild Side of Life,” which dismissed a wife gone bad as a “honky tonk angel” for abandoning marriage and succumbing to the temptation of saloons “where the wine and liquor flow, where you want to be anybody’s baby.”

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The Recording Academy® Statement re: Kitty Wells

“Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Kitty Wells was a trailblazer for women in country music. Known as the ‘Queen of Country Music,” her songs resonated with women in an evolving post-war America, and she unassumingly paved the way for other strong female country singers, including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette, among others. She performed for seven decades, and she continues to be a model for generations of female country singers. Our sincerest condolences go out to her family, friends, and all who have been inspired by her music and legacy.”

Neil Portnow
The Recording Academy