1st female country superstar Kitty Wells dies

Associated Press Modified: July 16, 2012 at 6:04 pm •  Published: July 16, 2012
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"It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" gave the woman's point of view about the wild side of life.

The song was written by J.D. Miller as a retort to Hank Thompson's 1952 hit, "The Wild Side of Life."

The chorus to Thompson's record was:

"I didn't know God made honky-tonk angels

"I might have known you'd never make a wife —

"But you gave up the only one that ever loved you

"And went back to the wild side of life."

In his response, Miller wrote:

"It wasn't God who made honky-tonk angels,

"As you said in the words of your song,

"Too many times married men think they're still single,

"That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.

"It's a shame that all blame is on us women ...."

The song opened the way for women to present their view of life and love in country music. It also encouraged Nashville songwriters to begin writing from a woman's perspective.

The song was controversial enough that the Grand Ole Opry asked Wells not to perform it, and some radio stations were reluctant to play it.

"They get away with a lot more today," Wells told the AP in 1986. "They're more (sexually) suggestive today."

Her solo recording career lasted from 1952 to the late 1970s and she made concert tours from the late 1930s until 2000. That year, she announced she was quitting the road, although she performed occasionally in Nashville and elsewhere afterward.

After her induction into the Hall of Fame, she also received the Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences in 1991.

Born Ellen Muriel Deason in Nashville, the daughter of a railroad brakeman, she was known as a gracious, elegant and family-oriented person.

She began playing the guitar at age 14 and soon was performing at dances in the Nashville area.

Wells married Johnny Wright, half of a duo called Johnny and Jack, in 1938 when she was not yet 20, and soon began touring with the duo. She took her stage name from an old folk song, "Sweet Kitty Wells." Johnny Wright died Sept. 27, 2011.

By the late '40s they were appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. He performed with her throughout her career and their long marriage.

"What I've done has been satisfying," she said in the 1986 AP interview. "I wouldn't change a thing."

Shepard said she was devastated by her friend's passing. She visited with Wells a handful of times since Wright's passing and was supposed to visit last week along with her friend Jan Howard. But she couldn't make it due to medical appointments.

"And I'm just so sorry we didn't get to go see her," Shepard said. "She was just a precious person always."

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Associated Press writer Joe Edwards contributed to this report.

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