On This Day: Kitty Wells Becomes 1st Woman to Reach No. 1 on the Country Charts 70 Years Ago

by Jim Casey

With all due respect to Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells was the original “Queen of Country.” Kitty earned the title by becoming the first solo female artist to top the Billboard country chart. Yes, 70 years ago on Aug. 23, 1952, Kitty Wells reached No. 1 with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” The tune, which was penned by J.D. “Jay” Miller, was an answer-song to Hank Thompson’s 1952 No. 1 hit, “The Wild Side of Life,” which blamed women for male philandering.

The icing on Kitty’s cake? “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” knocked Hank’s “The Wild Side of Life” out of the top spot on the Billboard country chart. Furthermore, Kitty’s tune reigned at No. 1 for six weeks.

“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was added to the National Recording Registry in 2007.

Honky Tonk Angel

Kitty was born Ellen Muriel Deason on Aug. 30, 1919, in Nashville. She married aspiring country star Johnny Wright in 1937. He formed the duo Johnnie & Jack with Jack Anglin, and Muriel performed as the “girl singer” with the duo on radio shows in the early 1940s. Soon after, Muriel adopted her stage name, Kitty Wells.

By 1952, Kitty was disenchanted with her career and contemplating retirement. However, an executive at Decca Records approach her about recording “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” Miller—with Kitty’s vocals—turned the tables with the song’s lyrics: “Too many times married men think they’re still single / That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.”

Kitty released the controversial single in June 1952. On August 23, 1952, the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard country charts, making Kitty the first solo female to score a country chart-topper.

Kitty Takes Off

The Grand Ole Opry welcomed Kitty in 1952. She followed up her chart-topper with a string of Top 10 hits in the 1950s, including “Making Believe,” “Searching (For Someone Like You),” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” among others. In addition, she teamed with Red Foley on the 1954 No. 1 hit, “One by One.”

In 1956, at a time when labels were reluctant to allow female artists to release albums, Kitty dropped Kitty Wells’ Country Hit Parade, which featured her biggest hits. Kitty released her first studio album, Winner of Your Heart, in 1957. In 1964, Kitty scored her second solo No. 1 hit with “Heartbreak U.S.A.” Over the course of her career, she charted more than 30 Top 10 hits.

The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Kitty in 1976. She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. Kitty, 92, died on July 16, 2012.