On This Day: Tammy Wynette Passes Away in 1998

by Emily Morgan

Country music lost its first lady, Tammy Wynette, on this day, 23 years ago. On April 6, 55-year-old Wynette passed away quietly in her sleep. According to her doctor, the country legend died from a blood clot in the lungs. 

During her lifetime, she claimed the title of country music’s first lady after she released hits such as “Stand By Your man,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and “Take Me To Your World.” 

Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942, she was married to George Richey for 20 years up until her death. She was survived by four daughters: Gwen, Jackie, Tina, Georgette, a step-daughter, a stepson, and nine grandchildren.

Born on her grandparents’ farm in Mississippi, her father, a musician himself, died from a brain tumor before Wynette’s first birthday. During the second World War, her mother worked in an aircraft factory and left her daughter with her grandparents. As a young girl, she took an early interest in music and formed a gospel trio called Wynette, Linda, and Imogene. 

The Life & Times of Country Music’s ‘First Lady,’ Tammy Wynette

Before her high school graduation, she married Euple Bird, but within a few years, Wynette ended the marriage. By then, she had two daughters and a third child on the way. Luckily, after the single mom moved to Nashville, famed record producer Billy Sherrill signed her to Epic Records. Soon after, she released her first chart-topping song, “Apartment #9.” 

After the song entered the country music charts, she followed it up with “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” and “My Elusive Dream.” Later she won her first Grammy when she released “I Don’t Wanna Play House” in 1967. 

Despite her rising success in country music, behind closed doors, her personal life was shattering. After getting married a second time in 1967 to songwriter Don Chapel, it ended within one year. By this time, the late George Jones had entered the picture. A friend of Chapel’s, Jones had recorded some of his songs. After spending so much time at the Chapel household, he quickly formed a relationship with Wynette. The two married in 1969, and the following year Tamela Georgette was born.

During their marriage, they were not only partners in life but partners in music. In 1971, they started recording duets that resulted in hits like “Take Me,” “Golden Ring,” and “We’re Gonna Hold On.” In 1975, after six years of ups and downs, the “first couple” of country music called it quits on their marriage. Despite ending their romantic relationship, they still worked together throughout their lives. 

In 1978, she married her long-time friend and producer George Richey. He had been a co-writer on Jones’ hit, “The Grand Tour.” Later, in the ’90s, Wynette collaborated with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn on the album Honky Tonk Angels. Three years before her death, she reunited with Jones and recorded the album, One.