One of the country artists that helped break the glass ceiling in country music passed away on July 16, 2012.
Kitty Wells, or Ellen Muriel Deason on her birth certificate, was famous for her classic 1952 Honky-Tonk tune, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
When she released this track, she was the first female country artist to ever top the U.S. country charts. Suddenly, she was thrust into the spotlight. Kitty Wells was also the only artist to receive the female vocalist award for 14 consecutive years.
Impact of Kitty Wells on Music
Believe it or not, her hit 1952 song was actually her last-ditch effort. She had been recording and touring for over a decade. She was offered “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” and decided to record it. Afterward, her plan was to stay at home and raise a family.
“I had decided I wasn’t going to work anymore. When it started making a hit, it wasn’t too long before I had to go back to work,” the country trailblazer said in a 2001 interview, according to the Los Angeles Times.
As it turns out, that work would last her, too. Kitty Wells went on to spend six decades wowing country music fans with tunes like “How Far Is Heaven,” “Searching,” “Making Believe,” “Mommy For A Day,” and “Paying For That Back Street Affair.”
The 1991 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner passed away at the age of 92 in Madison, Tennessee from a stroke. That was long after she dominated in the 1950s and ’60s. At this time, men were the ones overwhelmingly controlling the music world.
The Queen of Country Music
“[Kitty Wells is] the undisputed queen of country music. There’s more to being a queen than just calling yourself a queen — it’s a title that goes with an entire lifetime of service and influence. You check the careers of anyone in [Nashville], and you won’t find anyone with a more spotless career than Kitty Wells,” popular singer Marty Stuart said to The New York Times at the time of her death.
The term “Queen of Country Music” has often landed on several resumes. However, Kitty Wells is the most aligned with the major title. She had a powerful and delightfully tangy voice. Kitty Wells also had songs that were important in context.
She sang in a female-positive light, shining a blaring light at some of the sexist norms that were in place at the time. “Too many times, married men think they’re still single / That has caused many a good girl to go wrong,” she croons in “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
Kitty Wells rose to fame in Nashville. At the time, female country artists were being pushed to the curb in the south. There were rules at the time that you couldn’t play two female records back to back and women couldn’t be headliners at concerts, according to an article from NPR. Songs weren’t written with women in mind, meaning they had a hard time rising to fame.
Her influence is still present today in voices like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris. Even more modern artists like Shania Twain, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Carrie Underwood are effects of her powerful ripple effect.