Sunday, August 30, 2009

Kitty Wells Is 91

It may be hard for modern country music fans to imagine, but there was a time when women weren't fixtures on the charts.

Kitty Wells, who celebrates her 91st birthday today, changed that.

In the early 1950s, Wells became the first female country music singer to top the charts with her song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," and she followed it with a string of hits over the next couple of decades that earned her the nickname, "Queen of Country Music."

I think it is fair to say that, without Wells blazing the trail, stars like Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette might still have broken through, but their arrivals might have been delayed considerably. And that, in turn, likely would have postponed the appearances of their successors, like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.

Deservedly, Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. She is the oldest living member of the Hall of Fame.

Would that be the distinction from which she derives the most pride? Perhaps.

She also is one of the few country stars — regardless of gender — who was born in Nashville. That's a distinction that might also be a source of pride for her.

But she might take more pride in the fact that her marriage to Johnnie Wright (who turned 95 in May) has lasted more than 70 years. Few marriages last that long, and my guess would be that even fewer celebrity marriages do.