Kitty Wells, country music's acknowledged first female superstar, died yesterday at her Tennessee home.
Her leap to stardom with the much-loved standard, It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, almost didn't happen. She had been singing and perform since 1936, a year before she married her husband of more than 70 years, Johnnie Wright. In 1952, she was on the verge of retiring to become a fulltime wife and mother. But she agreed to record Honky Tonk Angels to collect the union-scale fee.
Angels became an instant hit, despite being initially banned by NBC radio and the Grand Ole Opry (too racy). Not only did the recording top the country charts for six weeks, it also made it onto the pop Top 40, forcing Nashville to rethink its belief that women country singers would not be money makers.
Ms. Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. Fifteen years later, she became the third country western performer (after Hank Williams and Roy Acuff) to receive a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
Ms. Wells, who was 92, died of complications from a stroke. Her survivors include two children, eight grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.