Kitty Wells was a pioneer in the world of country music, known for breaking barriers and paving the way for future female artists. Born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1919, Wells’ early life was spent in poverty and difficult circumstances.
Despite this, she developed a talent for singing and began performing at a young age, eventually finding her way onto local radio stations. It was at one of these radio performances that Wells caught the attention of country music legend Roy Acuff, who introduced her to executives at RCA Victor.
This meeting led to Wells signing with the label and ultimately achieving her breakthrough hit with ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’in 1952. This song became the first by a female artist to top the country charts, solidifying Wells’ place in music history as a trailblazer for women in the genre.
- Kitty Wells was a pioneer for female artists in country music, opening doors and breaking down barriers for women in the genre.
- Her breakthrough hit with ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ challenged societal norms and expectations of women in music, becoming the first by a female artist to top the country charts.
- Wells’ emotional vulnerability and ability to convey raw emotions through her music set her apart from her peers and influenced many female artists who followed in her footsteps.
- Her legacy as the ‘Queen of Country Music’ continues to inspire new generations of musicians, and her contribution to country music has been recognized through numerous awards and accolades.
Early Life and Musical Beginnings
The early life and musical beginnings of Kitty Wells saw her develop a passion for country music that would eventually lead to her becoming one of the genre’s most influential and successful female artists.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee on August 30, 1919, Wells was raised in a musical family and began singing at a young age. Her father, Charles Cary Hopper, was a gospel singer and musician who often performed at local churches, while her mother, Myrtle Hatcher, played the guitar and sang at home.
Wells’ interest in country music was sparked by listening to the Grand Ole Opry radio show as a child. She began singing with her siblings at local events and entered talent contests as a teenager.
In 1937, she married Johnnie Wright, who would later become her musical partner and husband of over 70 years. Together, they formed the Johnnie & Jack duo and began performing on radio stations in Tennessee.
However, it wasn’t until 1949 that Wells made her breakthrough as a solo artist with her hit song ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’which became the first number one hit by a female country artist.
Local Radio Performances
Local radio performances were instrumental in spreading the music of early country artists to a wider audience, including those of Kitty Wells. Wells’ first experience with radio came in the late 1930s when she began singing on a local station in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, radio was the primary way for artists to showcase their music and gain exposure to a broader audience.
Wells’ radio performances were well received, and she soon gained a following in the local music scene. Her talent and unique style caught the attention of country music star Roy Acuff, who invited her to perform on his radio show, the ‘Grand Ole Opry.’ This appearance was the beginning of Wells’ rise to fame, and she soon became one of the most prominent country music artists of the 1950s.
Without the exposure and opportunities provided by radio, Wells may have never reached the heights of success that she achieved during her career.
Signing with RCA Victor
After gaining a significant following in the local music scene, Wells’ career received a boost when she signed with RCA Victor, one of the most prominent record labels in the country music industry. The signing with RCA Victor marked a turning point in Wells’ career as it allowed her to reach a wider audience and record her music in a professional setting.
This also led to her releasing her first hit single, ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’which became the first number one country hit by a female artist and opened doors for other female country singers.
RCA Victor was known for its high standards and quality recordings, and Wells’ signing with the label was a testament to her talent and potential. Under the guidance of producer Steve Sholes, Wells recorded a string of successful hits, including ‘Release Me’and ‘Making Believe,’which solidified her status as a country music icon.
Her success with RCA Victor also paved the way for future female country singers, who were previously underrepresented in the male-dominated industry.
Breakthrough Hit: ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’
Upon signing with RCA Victor, Kitty Wells’ breakthrough hit ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ became the first number one country hit by a female artist and opened doors for other female country singers.
The song, which was initially banned by some radio stations due to its controversial lyrics that challenged the double standard of men being allowed to frequent honky tonks while women were judged for doing the same, ultimately became a massive success.
It topped the country charts for six weeks and even crossed over to the pop charts, solidifying Wells’ place in country music history.
The impact of ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ was far-reaching and long-lasting.
It not only paved the way for other female country singers, but it also challenged societal norms and expectations of women in music.
Women were no longer relegated to singing about love and heartbreak, but could now tackle political and social issues through their music.
The song remains a classic and continues to be a powerful statement on gender inequality.
First Female Singer to Top the Country Charts
The achievement of becoming the first female singer to top the country charts was significant in breaking down gender barriers and paving the way for future generations of women in the music industry.
Kitty Wells accomplished this feat in 1952 with her song ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’which not only topped the country charts, but also crossed over to the pop charts, reaching number 27.
This was a remarkable achievement for a female artist at the time, as the country music industry was heavily male-dominated and women were not often given the opportunity to succeed.
Wells’ success paved the way for other female country singers, such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette, to make their mark on the industry.
Wells’ influence also extended beyond country music, as she inspired other female artists in various genres to pursue their dreams and break down gender barriers.
Today, female artists are a vital and respected part of the music industry, and Wells’ achievement in 1952 played a significant role in making this a reality.
Continued Success in the 1950s and 1960s
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Kitty Wells continued to make a significant impact on the country music scene. Her success allowed other female artists to gain recognition and paved the way for future generations of women in country music.
Wells’ unique style of singing, which blended elements of traditional country with a more modern sound, resonated with audiences and helped to expand the boundaries of the genre.
During this time, Wells released a number of hit singles, including ‘Release Me,”Heartbreak U.S.A.,’and ‘Amigo’s Guitar.’She also toured extensively, performing at venues across the country and even internationally.
Her talent and hard work earned her numerous awards and accolades, including induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. Overall, Kitty Wells’ continued success in the 1950s and 1960s solidified her place as a pioneer in country music and left a lasting impact on the industry.
Queen of Country Music’ Nickname
Earning the nickname ‘Queen of Country Music’, the impact of Wells’ unique style of singing on the genre paved the way for future generations of female artists.
Wells’ ability to convey raw emotions through her music and her unwavering dedication to traditional country music set her apart from her peers.
Her signature song, ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’was a bold statement against the double standards imposed on women in society. The song was controversial at the time of its release, but it became a massive hit and paved the way for other female artists to assert themselves in the male-dominated industry.
Wells’ reign as the ‘Queen of Country Music’ spanned over two decades, during which she released numerous hits in various sub-genres of country music, including honky-tonk, gospel, and ballads.
Her voice had a distinctive quality that could evoke deep emotions in listeners, and her songs were relatable to people from all walks of life.
Her influence on the country music industry was immense, and it earned her numerous accolades, including inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Wells’ legacy as a pioneer for female artists in country music continues to inspire new generations of musicians, and her music remains timeless.
Legacy and Influence on Female Artists in Country Music
Kitty Wells’ impact on the country music industry paved the way for future generations of female artists to assert themselves in a male-dominated industry, challenging gender norms and societal expectations through their music. Her trailblazing career opened doors for women in country music, and her influence can be seen in the work of many female artists who followed in her footsteps.
Here are four ways in which Kitty Wells’ legacy and influence can be seen in the work of other female country artists:
Challenging Gender Stereotypes:
Wells was one of the first female country artists to sing about topics that were traditionally associated with men, such as cheating and drinking. Her frank and honest approach to these themes helped to break down gender stereotypes and paved the way for other female artists to do the same.
Authenticity and Honesty:
Wells was known for her authentic and honest approach to music, and this has been echoed in the work of many female country artists who have followed in her footsteps. By staying true to themselves and their experiences, these artists have been able to connect with audiences in a powerful way.
Embracing Emotional Vulnerability:
Wells’ music was characterized by its emotional vulnerability, and this has been an important influence on many female country artists. By embracing their own emotional vulnerability, these artists have been able to create music that is deeply personal and resonant.
Breaking Down Barriers:
Perhaps most importantly, Wells’ career helped to break down barriers for women in country music. Her success helped to prove that women could be just as successful as men in the genre, and this has inspired countless female artists to pursue their dreams and make their mark in the industry.
Awards and Accolades
One notable aspect of the impact of a female country singer on the industry is the recognition they receive through awards and accolades. Kitty Wells was no exception to this as she received numerous awards throughout her career.
In 1953, she was the first female artist to reach number one on the Billboard country chart with her song ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.’ She was also the first female country singer to receive a gold record for selling over one million copies of the same song.
Wells received several other awards throughout her career, including induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, and the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award in 1998. In 2007, she was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Americana Music Association Honors & Awards show.
These accolades not only recognize Wells’ contribution to country music but also serve as a testament to the influence she had on future generations of female country artists.
Personal Life and Later Years
After achieving numerous awards and accolades in her career, Kitty Wells also had a personal life outside of music. She was married to fellow country musician Johnnie Wright for over 70 years until his death in 2011. Together, they had three children and were a beloved couple in the country music industry.
Later in her life, Wells continued to perform and tour, but also took on a different role as a businesswoman. She owned and operated a number of businesses, including a hotel and a theme park.
Wells also remained active in supporting various charities and causes, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Despite her success and fame, Kitty Wells remained humble and dedicated to her family and community until her passing in 2012.
To further illustrate Kitty Wells’ personal life and later years, here are four key points:
Wells was married to Johnnie Wright for over 70 years and had three children together.
She owned and operated a number of businesses, including a hotel and a theme park.
Wells continued to perform and tour later in her life, but also supported various charities and causes.
Despite her success and fame, Kitty Wells remained humble and dedicated to her family and community until her passing in 2012.