Today the music world lost one of the most influential honky tonk female singers in country music. Miss Kitty Wells passed away earlier today at the age of 92. Wells passed away due to complications from a stroke.
Kitty Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason on Aug. 30, 1919. She was married to Johnnie Wright of the duo Johnnie & Jack. They would be married for over 70 years until he passed away late last year. She is survived by a son, Bobby, and a daughter, Sue Wright Sturdivant; eight grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Ruby, died in 2009.
Kitty Wells would be the first female singer to reach the top of the country charts with her 1952 song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” The song was an answer tune to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life.”
Despite NBC radio network banning the song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” would go on to sell 800,000 copies during the summer of 1952. She would also sing “Release Me,” “Making Believe,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” and many other notable tunes.
In all, Kitty Wells charted 81 singles and 35 Billboard Top Ten records. Wells would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. She would be given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1991, being the first country female to receive the honor. She was just the third country singer to get the honor after Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.
Many country music stars expressed their grief on the loss of Kitty Wells.
Loretta Lynn’s website provided a statement from Loretta. In it, Lynn noted that , “Kitty Wells will always be the greatest female country singer of all times. She was my hero. If I had never heard of Kitty Wells, I don’t think I would have been a singer myself. I wanted to sound just like her, but as far as I am concerned, no one will ever be as great as Kitty Wells. She truly is the Queen of Country Music.”
Barbara Mandrell said that, “Kitty Wells was every female country music performer’s heroine. She led the way for all of us and I feel very grateful and honored to have known her. She was always the most gracious, kind and lovely person to be around. I so appreciated her being a part of my life and a mentor to me.”
Harold Bradley, session guitarist, noted that Kitty was, “the most sweet, gentle lady. She always knew her songs when she came in and she was very easy to work with.”
As the country music community mourns, the original honky tonk angel has gotten her wings.
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.