Tammy Wynette

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Tammy Wynette
Photo by David Redfern/Redferns

Wynette was called the First Lady of Country Music, and her best-known song, “Stand by Your Man”, was one of the best-selling hit singles by a woman in the history of country music. Many of her hits dealt with classic themes of loneliness, divorce, and the difficulties of man-woman relationships. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette charted 23 #1 songs. Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, she is credited with having defined the role of women in country music during the 1970s.

Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942, on a cotton farm in Itawamba County, Mississippi, Tammy spent her youth picking cotton, working as a beautician, a waitress, and a shoe-factory employee before her rise to stardom.

By the age of seven, Tammy was working the cotton fields along with other relatives on the family farm. Her father’s legacy – a piano, a guitar and the dream that his daughter would make music her life. Years later, Tammy would still keep a crystal bowl full of cotton in her home to remind her of these meager beginnings.

As a teenage bride, she found times even harder than she’d known at home. She had two children within three years and her husband, an itinerant construction worker, was unemployed more often than not. They were finally forced to move into an abandoned log house with no indoor plumbing.

Fed up with poverty and worn out from the drudgery of her life, Tammy enrolled in beauty school in nearby Tupelo, funding her schooling with money given to her by her mother. (Never believing her own hype, Tammy kept her beautician’s license up to date regularly noting “she could always go back to hairdressing.”)

After becoming a beautician, Tammy moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where she gave birth to a third daughter, a 1 lb. 8 oz. premature baby who suffered a near-fatal bout with spinal meningitis before she was four months old. Her shaky marriage crumbled, and while getting a divorce she worked 10 hour days as a hairdresser, after getting up at 4 a.m. each day to sing on the local Country Boy Eddie TV show.

Beginning in 1965 she began making regular trips to Nashville meeting producers and trying to attain a recording contract. In 1966, after months of rejections and on the brink of giving up, she made the daring decision to move to Nashville anyway. She had no job, no place to live, and three small children totally dependent on her.

She eventually auditioned for Epic records producer Billy Sherrill who signed her and changed her stage name to Tammy. Her first single, “Apartment #9,” was released within weeks, hitting the charts almost as soon as it hit the record racks. Her next 11 albums went to #1 and within four short years, Tammy had won two Grammys and three CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards.

No other female country singer conveyed the emotion of heartbreak like Tammy Wynette. She endeared herself to millions by singing about topics of everyday life – divorce, loneliness, parenting, passion. Her tearful singing style was the voice of every heartbreak a woman has ever known. Perhaps it’s that Tammy herself lived through such tumultuous times that she could convey the emotion of such weighty topics.

Like her career, Tammy’s personal life filled the papers. In 1968 she married her idol, George Jones, creating a union that captured the imaginations of country music fans like no other couple before them. For the next seven years, they lived, sang, wrote, recorded and performed in a romantic, stormy and much-publicized relationship that ultimately brought Tammy more headlines than happiness. Jones’ drinking sprees were almost as legendary as his music, and it was this problem that eventually destroyed the marriage. They had one child, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970.

On July 6, 1978, she finally found lasting happiness when she married her longtime friend, George Richey. The well-known songwriter had co-written several of Tammy’s chart-toppers and produced hits for Tammy and many other artists.

Throughout the next two decades, Tammy suffered a variety of health problems and underwent several operations. Still, she managed to rise to the top of the international charts once again when she teamed with British pop act KLF to create the dance hit “Justified and Ancient.” She continued her streak when she joined forces with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn on their landmark album, Honky Tonk Angels.

Eventually, her poor health caught up to her. Tammy passed away in her sleep at her home in Nashville, Tennessee on Monday, April 6, 1998. Three days later fans and members of the music industry honored her with a world-wide televised memorial service broadcast from Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Later that year, Wynette was elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Important Dates In The Life Of Tammy Wynette:

On this day in music
30 Oct 2016
American songwriter Curly Putman died aged 85. He wrote 'Green, Green Grass of Home' which was covered by many artists including: Elvis Presley, Johnny Darrell, Gram Parsons, Joan Baez, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Porter Wagoner, Merle Haggard, Joe Tex and Tom Jones. He also co-wrote (with Bobby Braddock), 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E' made famous by Tammy Wynette.
4 Aug 2015
Influential country producer Billy Sherrill, who worked with artists like George Jones, Charlie Rich, and Tammy Wynette and is known for pioneering the "countrypolitan" sound, died after a short illness at the age of 78. Sherrill also co-wrote many hit songs, including 'Stand by Your Man' (written with Tammy Wynette).
26 Apr 2013
US country singer George Jones who had a string of No.1 songs between the 1950s and 1990s, died aged 81. Nicknamed Possum, his signature song was He Stopped Loving Her Today, a track about love and death. He was married to Tammy Wynette between 1969 and 1975 and the pair recorded several songs together in the 1970s.
21 Aug 2008
Drummer Buddy Harman died of congestive heart failure, aged 79. Worked with Elvis Presley (‘Little Sister’), Patsy Cline (‘Crazy’), Roy Orbison (‘Pretty Woman’), Johnny Cash (‘Ring Of Fire’), Tammy Wynette (‘Stand By Your Man’). Harman was the first house drummer for The Grand Ole Opry and can be heard on over 18,000 recordings.
15 Apr 1999
The body of Tammy Wynette was exhumed from her grave in an attempt to settle a dispute over how the country music legend died. A new autopsy was conducted on her a week after three of her daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor and her husband and manager, George Richey, claiming they were responsible for her death 12 months ago. Richey said he had requested the autopsy because of the allegations made against him.
6 Apr 1998
American country singer Tammy Wynette died aged 55. She scored 12 hit singles including 'Stand By Your Man', and sold over 30 million records world-wide, married five times and once filed for bankruptcy. Known as the first lady of country music. Wynette had the 1991 hit with The KLF 'Justified and Ancient' which became a No. 1 hit in eighteen countries.
29 Jul 1988
American record producer and pedal steel guitar player Pete Drake died of lung disease. Worked with Elvis Presley, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Played on such hits as Lynn Anderson's ‘Rose Garden’, Charlie Rich's ‘Behind Closed Doors', Bob Dylan's ‘Lay Lady Lay' and Tammy Wynette's ‘Stand by Your Man’.
19 Apr 1980
For the first time ever the Top five artists on the US country chart were all female, Crystal Gayle who was at No.1, with Dottie West, Debbie Boone, Emmylou Harris and Tammy Wynette making up the rest of the Top 5.
4 Oct 1978
Country singer Tammy Wynette was abducted, beaten and held in her car for two hours by a kidnapper wearing a ski mask. He held a gun on her and forced her to drive 90 miles from Nashville, Tennessee. She was later released and the kidnapper escaped.
22 Nov 1975
Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was at No.1 on the UK singles chart with a parody of the Tammy Wynette song D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Connolly's early career as a singer led to him forming a folk-pop duo called The Humblebums in the late 60s, with future rock star Gerry Rafferty.
18 May 1975
Five times married US country singer, Tammy Wynette was at No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'Stand By Your Man.' Originally released as a single in 1968 in the USA. It proved to be the most successful record of Wynette's career and is one of the most covered songs in the history of country music.
28 Aug 1968
Tammy Wynette recorded 'Stand By Your Man' at Epic studios after an idea that came from producer, Billy Sherrill. Wynette and Sherril completed the song in 15 minutes. It proved to be the most successful record of Wynette's career and is one of the most covered songs in the history of country music. The song has appeared in various films, including: Five Easy Pieces, The Blues Brothers, The Crying Game, Sleepless in Seattle, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Golden Eye.
22 Mar 1968
Tammy Wynette recored her version of the Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman song 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E' which went on to top the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart in June of this year. 'D-I-V-O-R-C-E' is a woman's perspective on the impending collapse of her marriage. The lyrics begin with an old parenting trick of spelling out words mothers and fathers hope their young children will not understand.
1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. hipster_reply

    February 2, 2021 at 10:05 am

    After the breakup of her marriage, she settled with her daughters in Birmingham, often working two jobs to keep her young family afloat. By 1965, she was taking club work when she could get it and appearing on the

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