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Kitty Wells Dead at 92

Kitty Wells
Michael Ochs Archive, Getty Images

Kitty Wells, a woman who paved a trail for legends like Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, has died. Nashville’s WTVF television reports that the ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ singer passed away in her home on Monday morning (July 16).

‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ was the first song by a female country singer to top the country music charts when it did so in 1952. Prior to that, Wells had performed and recorded some, but spent many years on the road with her husband Johnnie Wright. Born Ellen Muriel Deason, it was Wright who gave her the nickname “Kitty” after a song called ‘Sweet Kitty Wells.’

After the success of this single, Wells’ fame eclipsed Wright’s fame with Johnnie and Jack. She went on to record over two dozen songs that would become Top 10 hits before 1965. By that time, women like Lynn and Cline had begun to find success on the radio, and Parton wouldn’t be far behind. Recently, Kellie Pickler listed Wells as a major influence, and hundreds of female performers over the last 50 years would say the same.

“Kitty was the first lady to come out and tell her side of the story about honky-tonking and cheating and those kinds of things,” Tom T. Hall said, according to Variety.com. Other hits from Wells’ catalog include ‘Hey Joe,’ ‘Heartbreak U.S.A.’ and ‘Paying for That Back Street Affair.’

Wright and Wells continued to perform into the ’90s, with her final tour coming just before her retirement in 2000. She released over three dozen albums during her 50-year recording career. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976, and starred in her own television show in 1968. Wells was presented a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1991.

Wright died in 2011. Wells is survived by two of her three children, Carol Sue and Bobby, all of whom spent time in ‘The Kitty Wells-Johnnie Wright Family Show.’ Another daughter, named Ruby, died in 2009.

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