One of country music's most compelling rags-to-riches figures, American singer and songwriter Tammy Wynette (1942–1998) rose from dire poverty to become the first female performer to sell a million albums in her genre. Dubbed the "First Lady of Country Music," she racked up 57 Top 40 country hits between 1967 and 1988 and won dozens of awards from her industry peers. Despite worldwide acclaim and riches, the singer-songwriter did not enjoy a particularly happy life and her 1998 death remains a controversial subject.
First Sang in Church
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh, May 5, 1942, in Itawamba County, Mississippi, she was the daughter of a local musician William Hollice Pugh, who recorded briefly in 1939 and 1940. When Wynette was only eight months old, her father died of a brain tumor. Subsequently her mother, Mildred, left her with grandparents while she took a wartime factory job in Birmingham, Alabama. Chopping cotton and baling hay on her grandfather's farm for spending money, the youngster discovered her musical inclinations at age nine when she began picking out little melodies on her father's old instruments. She first sang publicly in church and liked it so well that she began attending two different churches so she could sing even more. Teaming with high school friend Linda Cayson, she sang gospel tunes at church events, on local radio, and even attempted a little Everly Brothers style rock'n'roll on local television.
As she listened to such stars on the radio as George Jones, Webb Pierce, Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, and Patsy Cline, Wynette dreamed of stardom. However, at age 17, she married Euple Byrd, an itinerant carpenter, and the routine of a housewife and mother temporarily buried her career ambitions. By all accounts, the marriage was a rocky one, heavy on financial burdens and light on luxuries, and it ended five years later in a nasty divorce and an even nastier child custody battle. Supporting children on her salary as a beautician proved tough, especially when her third child developed spinal meningitis. Hoping to raise money to pay doctor bills, she began to sing locally again. A stint on WBRC-TV's Country Boy Eddie Show in Birmingham, Alabama, and a 10-day tour with Porter Wagoner built her confidence sufficiently so she could pack up her kids and move to Nashville.
Discovered by Billy Sherrill
After suffering rejections from United Artists, Hickory, and Kapp, producer Billy Sherrill took pity on the desperate singer-songwriter and signed her to Epic Records. Sherrill is best known today as the architect of the "Countrypolitan" sound, a country music hybrid that employs large dollops of adult contemporary strings and vocal chorus. Sherrill, who had previously recorded hits with pop singer Bobby Vinton and country crooner David Houston, was a gifted songwriter as well as commercial music visionary. The Alabama-born producer and songwriter knew how to pick songs that fit his artist's style and often helped writers hone their material to make it catchier and more direct. He would eventually write or co-write many of Wynette's biggest hits while grooming her to be a fine songwriter in her own right. Moreover, he knew how to craft a singer's image on record and off. Sherrill's first step in that process with Wynette came when he observed that the bottle blonde's ponytail made her look like a Tammy, so he re-christened the singer Tammy Wynette.
Under Sherrill's guidance Wynette made her recording debut with a cover version of Bobby Austin's regional hit "Apartment #9." It so successful that Wynette received hundreds of sympathy letters from fans who thought the song was her true story. The follow-up, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," was shrill sass on the order of Loretta Lynn, but it became Wynette's first of 20 number one records.
Few artists sang about domestic discord as convincingly as Wynette; her confidential vocal tone and the little catch in her voice combined to create the illusion of a woman who's trying hard not to frighten you to death while she's telling you something horrible. This schism gave her work undeniable power and personal credibility. Wynette's great early hits—"I Don't Wanna Play House," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," and "Kids Say the Darndest Things"—resonated with American women, who felt she was singing about their lives. As a result, in a matter of a few months, she became one of the top singing stars in America.
The singer's most enduring classic, "Stand by Your Man," was written at the tail end of a session when Sherrill and Wynette realized they needed one more song. The resulting recording vaulted to the number one spot for three weeks in the fall of 1968, and it angered members of the feminist movement along the way. Sherrill was quoted in The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits as saying that critics of the song can "like it or lump it," before clarifying, "'Stand by Your Man' is just another way of saying 'I love you—without reservations.'" Wynette herself has famously quipped, "I spent 15 minutes writing ['Stand by Your Man'], and a lifetime defending it." As late as 1992, President Clinton's spouse Hillary Rodham Clinton caused a rift with her husband's southern base when she declared on TV's 60 Minutes that she wasn't "like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." (Mrs. Clinton later apologized.)
Married to George Jones
More out of convenience than love, Wynette married Don Chapel in 1967. Best known for writing the hit "When the Grass Grows Over Me" for George Jones, the singer-songwriter tried to cash in on his wife's newfound fame by making himself a prominent addition to her stage show. When a dispute with David Houston's manager left her without an on-stage partner for their hit duet "My Elusive Dreams," Wynette first sang with her childhood hero George Jones. Jones, who had been a highly regarded country hit-maker since the mid-1950s, was instantly smitten. Their infatuation grew as Wynette's marriage to Chapel began disintegrating. When Wynette divorced Chapel in 1968, the two stars married in 1969. Two years later they welcomed their only child, Tamala Georgette Jones.
Jones paid the Musicor label $300,000 to terminate his contract with them so he could sign with Epic in 1971. Taking the place of his former singing partner Melba Montgomery, Wynette recorded an immensely popular string of duet hits with her new husband including, "We're Gonna Hold On," "Golden Ring," and "We're Not the Jet Set." Dubbed Mr. & Mrs. Country Music, their harmony was spirited yet tender, and together they presented the perfect sonic image of a couple who sang their way through life's troubles.
As a solo artist, such singles like "There Are So Many Ways to Love a Man," "My Man," and "Singing My Song" perpetuated Wynette's mythology as a woman triumphing over adversity because, presumably, she was well loved. In truth, her marriage to Jones began falling apart almost from the start due to his lengthy, drunken absences and abusive behavior. In the book he wrote with Tom Carter, I Lived to Tell It All, Jones disputed many of his ex-wife's claims, adding, "A lot of folks think that if it hadn't been for my drinking Tammy and I would have had a storybook marriage. But that isn't true. We argued about other things than the bottle."
When they finally divorced in 1974, the media laid the blame on Wynette, crowing that the woman who wrote "Stand by Your Man" was getting a "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." Meanwhile, her personal life seemed to be in free fall. Her third marriage, to real estate broker Michael Tomlin, lasted only 44 days. A much publicized relationship with actor Burt Reynolds fizzled. More sinister, a botched kidnapping, a series of vindictive burglaries, and mysterious assaults were seen by a cynical press, and some friends, as a cry for attention. Her 1977 hit "Til I Can Make It on My Own" became her personal anthem of survival. She sought to deflect the unflattering media attention with her 1979 autobiography Stand by Your Man, but the book only seemed to exacerbate the bad press she was getting. (The book was later made into a 1981 TV movie starring Annette O'Toole as Wynette and Tim McIntyre as Jones.)
Despite the acrimony that led up to it, Jones and Wynette enjoyed a reasonably happy aftermath to their divorce; Wynette wrote the hit "These Days I Barely Get By" for her ex-husband, and Jones gave her his touring band. In 1982 they reunited to record Wynette's "Two-Story House," which reached number one on the charts. To the delight of their legions of fans, they made well-publicized appearances together both on and off record into the mid-1980s.
Plagued By Poor Health
However, the eventual departure of the overbooked Billy Sherrill from her creative team and changing trends in country music resulted in Wynette's hits tapering off during the late 1980s. But there were bright spots. Her 1978 marriage to songwriter and producer George Richey (also known as George Richardson), turned out to be the lasting one. She even tried her hand at acting in a recurring role as a singing waitress on the daytime drama Capitol in 1986. In 1987, her LP Higher Ground was critically acclaimed. And just when everyone figured her days as a chart presence were over, she teamed up with British synth-pop group KLF and recorded the 1992 international disco smash "Justified & Ancient."
Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton teamed up for 1993's Honky Tonk Angels, which achieved instant gold record status. As Wynette was enjoying her commercial resurgence, a bile duct infection nearly took her life; the national media, which had previously treated her with scorn, provided vigilant coverage of her condition. Eventually Wynette recovered and went on tour to more favorable publicity than she had enjoyed in decades.
That was not the first time the singer had been hospitalized. Starting in 1972, she had endured 30 surgical procedures to correct various medical problems and subsequently found herself increasingly relying on higher doses of medication to manage her pain. Still, no one was prepared for her 1998 death, least of all her daughters, who were suspicious about the events surrounding Wynette's demise. They sued their stepfather, a Nashville pharmacy, and the singer's doctor for wrongful death. (Richey was eventually dropped from the suit.) Daughter Jackie Daly wrote about the controversy in great detail in her book with Tom Carter, Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death.
Although her life was a soap opera right up to the end, none of the lurid accusations or personal controversies could ever dampen Wynette's achievements. She won two Grammy Awards, three Country Music Association awards, eight Billboard awards, and 16 BMI songwriter awards. Wynette was posthumously inducted into Country Music Association Hall of Fame in 1998.
The Billboard Book of Number One Country Hits, edited by Tom Roland, Billboard, 1991.
Country Music: The Encyclopedia, edited by Irwin Stambler and Grelun Landon, St. Martin's Griffin, 1997.
Daly, Jackie with Tom Carter, Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death, G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2000.
Definitive Country: The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Country Music and Its Performer, edited by Barry McCloud, Perigree, 1995.
Jones, George with Tom Carter, I Lived to Tell It All, Villard, 1996.
MusicHound Country: The Essential Album Guide, edited by Brian Mansfield and Gary Graff, Visible Ink, 1997.
"Tammy Wynette," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (December 13, 2006).
"Tammy Wynette," http://www.tammywynette.com./ (December 13, 2006).
"Tammy Wynette," Internet Movie Database, http://imdb.com/ (December 13, 2006).
"Wynette, Tammy." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy
"Wynette, Tammy." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy
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Throughout her long-standing musical career and turbulent lifetime, Tammy Wynette was known with great fondness as the “first lady of country music.” During the course of a career that spanned 32 years, Wynette recorded over 50 albums and sold in excess of 30 million records. Her distinctive voice and singing style was characterized frequently as the ideal of country soul. She was noted and remembered as the embodiment of the Nashville country music sound, both because of her twangy, heart wrenching voice and her memorable musical arrangements which featured the classic country sounds of steel guitars mixed with strings.
Wynette’s personal life, too, reflected the country music paradigm of triumph over tragedy. Born Virginia Wynette Pugh in Itawamba County, Mississippi during World War II, she was not yet one year old when her father, William Hollice Pugh, died of a brain tumor. Her mother, Mildred Faye, worked for the war effort in Memphis. In time Mildred Pugh remarried, to Wynette’s chagrin. Wynette was persistently at odds with her stepfather
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942 in Itawamba County, Mississippi; father, William Hollice Pugh; mother, Mildred Faye (Russell) Pugh; Education: American Beauty College, Birmingham, Alabama; married Euple Byrd at age 17; divorced, 1964, three daughters: Gwendolyn Ignaczak, Jacquelyn Daly, and Tina Jones; married George Jones, singer, 1969; divorced 1975, one daughter, Tamala Georgette, 1970; married Michael Tomlin, real estate executive, 1976; divorced 1976; married George Richey, singer/songwriter, 1978, stepdaughter Deirdre Richardson, stepson Kelly Richey; seven grandchildren; died April 6, 1998 of a pulmonary blood clot.
Career: Signed with Epic records, 1966; released Apartment #9, 1966; released “Stand By Your Man,” 1968; released Higher Ground, 1987, released Without Walls, 1994; collaborated with George Jones (husband) until 1978; recurring role on the Capitol soap opera as Darlene Stankowsky.
Awards: Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year (1968, 1969, 1970); Grammy Award, 1969 for “Stand by Your Man,” Best Country and Western, 1967; Living Legend Award, 1991; September 23, 1998, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1998.
and as a result opted to live with her grandparents on their cotton farm. In the tradition of country music cliches, Wynette grew up picking cotton as a youngster, in order to survive. She also learned to play several instruments including guitar and piano, atthe bidding of her father to her mother before he died. She was an avid basketball player in high school, although she was expelled in 1959, just a few month short of graduation because she married her adolescent sweetheart, Euple Byrd, against the school district rules—which was unfortunate because Wynette’s infatuation with Byrd was short-lived. The young couple lived in dire poverty and the marriage collapsed after five years. At the time of their break-up Wynette was pregnant with their third daughter, Tina. The couple divorced in 1965.
During the mid-1960s, on her own and with her children to support, Wynette worked as a waitress, a receptionist, and in a shoe factory to survive. Later she attended beauty school and worked as a beautician in Birmingham, Alabama, yet all the while she fostered an intense desire to sing professionally. Whenever time permitted she traveled to Nashville, in an effort to procure work as a singer. She knocked on the doors of major country music record producers with an unending determination. Her persistence paid off, on one of her trips to Nashville she caught the ear of the legendary country music star Porter Wagoner. He hired her to sing backup for him, which ultimately led to her meeting with producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill was impressed with her talent, but he suggested she change her name to Tammy Wynette. She agreed to the change, and with Sherrill’s influence she signed with Epic Records in 1966.
During one of her numerous trips to Nashville in 1965 Wynette met Don Chapel, a would-be country star with connections around Nashville. They were married in 1967, but not long afterward Wynette was shocked and repulsed to learn that Chapel had exploited her. She was grateful and relieved later to discover that a legal technicality made the marriage unlawful, and so it was annulled. Ironically itwas Chapel who introduced Wynette to her girlhood idol and future husband, the popular country singer George Jones. In time the two singers, Jones and Wynette, developed a professional relationship as well as a close personal friendship. Wynette and Jones performed as a couple and recorded many songs together. They were married in 1969. Their professional collaboration continued until 1978, although their marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Despite the untimely ending to their marriage, the synergy between the two singers was almost legendary, and years later in 1996, they made a reunion album entitled One. It was well received, although it lacked the spark of their musical liaisons of earlier years. Jones and Wynette had one daughter, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970.
Following her breakup with George Jones, Wynette was both married to and divorced from realtor Michael Tomlin during the course of 1976. She was also linked romantically with actor Burt Reynolds briefly in 1977, but it was her marriage to singer/songwriter George Richey in 1978 that finally brought happiness and stability to Wynette’s private life.
She published an autobiography, Stand by Your Man, in 1979, and although she continued to work and to perform, her career began to wind down throughout the 1980s. She wenton to record with KLF, a dance-rap duo; and she sang with Sting and Elton John. In 1986, she accepted a recurring role on the CBS soap opera Capitol. Wynette played the part of Darlene Stankowsky, a former country singer turned waitress. Wynette, who suffered many tragedies throughout her life, maintained that she had no complaints and that she felt greatly blessed. Her house was bombed and severely damaged in 1975, and she was also victimized for some time by a stalker. In Nashville, in 1978, she was mysteriously kidnapped from a shopping center and badly beaten. Wynette’s health was also a source of suffering for the singer. She developed a chronic inflammation of the bile ducts and was intermittently hospitalized, from 1978 until her death in 1998. As a result she developed a dependency on painkillers in the late 1970s. She became critically ill with a liver infection at the end of 1994. Pamela Lansden of People quoted Wynette’s personal spin on life’s tribulations as follows: “The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.”
Wynette won three awards from Country Music Association as Female Vocalist of the Year, in 1968, 1969, and 1970; and she won a Grammy award for “I Don’t Want to Play House” in 1967. Wynette also won a Living Legend award in 1991. In all she had 27 Country Music Award nominations. As her career wound down in the 1990s Wynette had amassed eleven number one albums and 20 number one singles. Her greatest hit was her signature song, “Stand by your Man,” which she wrote along with Billy Sherrill, and which won a Grammy award in 1969.
Tammy Wynette died peacefully, in her sleep, on April 6, 1998 of a pulmonary blood clot. She was 55. Despite her persistent illnesses, she continued to perform until shortly before her death and had other performances scheduled in the offing. Wynette’s funeral was held on April 9, 1998 and, at the same time, a public memorial service was underway at Nashville’s original Grand Ole Opry building (Ryman Auditorium). Her death solicited commentary such as songwriter Bill Mack’s commentary, quoted in the Dallas Morning News, that she was a “class act,” and “irreplaceable,” and that, “She never knew a flat note.” Lee Ann Womack was quoted also; she said of Wynette, whose songs often evoked strength and controlled passion, “You knew she knew what she was singing about. You can put her records on and listen and learn so much.” Wynette was survived by her husband George Richey, five daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren. In September of 1998, shortly after her death, Wynette was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“Apartment #9,” 1966.
“I Don’t Wanna Play House,” 1967.
“Stand-by Your Man,” 1968.
Higher Ground, 1987.
Without Walls, 1994.
(with George Jones) One, 1996.
Wynette, Tammy with Joan Dew, Stand by Your Man, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1979.
Dallas Morning News, 7 April 1998.
People, 29 September 1986; 20 April 1998, pp. 54-59.
“Tammy Wynette,” Great American Country, http://testpo.jic.com/countrystars/artists/wynette.html, (October 7, 1998).
"Wynette, Tammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wynette-tammy
"Wynette, Tammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wynette-tammy
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Tammy Wynette (wīnĕt´), 1942–98, American singer and songwriter, often called
"the first lady of country music,"
b. Itawamba, Co., Miss., as Virginia Wynette Pugh. She began singing on television in Birmingham, Ala., in 1965, and signed a recording contract after moving to Nashville in 1966. Her plaintive voice and melodic songs of life, love, and sorrow proved extremely popular, and she soon scored several hits including
"Stand by Your Man"
(both: 1968), the latter a chart-topping blockbuster which she cowrote that became her signature tune. A major country artist from the 1960s to the 90s, Wynette achieved success as a single performer and in duets with a number of male country stars, notably George Jones, who was (1969–75) the third of her five husbands. During her career she racked up more than 20 number-one hits, made more than 50 albums, and sold more than $30 million worth of recordings. Her outstanding late albums include Honky Tonk Angels (1993), with fellow superstars Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, and One (1995), her last recording with Jones.
See her autobiography (1979); biography by J. McDonough (2010).
"Wynette, Tammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy
"Wynette, Tammy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy
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Tammy Wynette, the “Heroine of Heartbreak,” became a country music superstar almost overnight in 1967. At a time when traditional values were being challenged and overthrown, the wholesome-looking blonde Wynette sang of the perils of divorce and urged listeners to “Stand By Your Man.” With a string of twenty-one number one songs and a host of personal appearances, Wynette established herself in the early 1970s as the one country star that most non-country fans could name. Rural women especially seemed drawn to the performer who, according to Alanna Nash in Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, epitomized the image of “a long-suffering, somewhat masochistic housewife, feigning complacency, but aching for release—though certainly not for divorce.”
Observers have likened Wynette’s life to a soap opera, and the star herself hardly cares to disagree. Her ascent in the country music business has the elements of drama, as does her personal life, with five marriages, a kidnapping attempt, and numerous hospitalizations. Tammy Wynette was born Virginia Wynette Pugh, the daughter of guitarist William Hollis Pugh. Her father died when she was only eight months old, so she was turned over to her maternal grandparents while her mother did wartime factory work in Birmingham, Alabama. Young “Wynette” grew up calling her grandparents Mommy and Daddy. She earned money by picking and chopping cotton on her grandfather’s farm and thus was able to afford music lessons for five years. The instruments she favored were those her father had played—piano, mandolin, guitar, accordion, and bass fiddle.
Wynette wanted to become a professional performer even though her family discouraged the idea. At first the possibility seemed highly unlikely—she married at seventeen and had three children and a divorce at twenty. In order to support her children, one of whom had serious spinal meningitis, Wynette worked as a hairdresser in a Birmingham beauty shop. She also won a part-time job as a backup singer on the “Country Boy Eddie Show,” a local television production. The exposure to show business re-awakened her desire to perform as a solo artist. Eventually she made several appearances on the “Porter Wagoner Show,” and she used these as an entree to Nashville’s recording companies.
Each visit Wynette made to Nashville proved slightly more encouraging than the last, but no company was willing to sign her to a contract. Finally, in 1967, she met Billy Sherrill, a shrewd music producer who immediately sensed her potential. Sherrill signed the young singer for Epic Records, changed her name from Virginia
Given name Virginia Wynette Pugh; born May 5, 1942, in Red Bay, Ala.; daughter of William Hollis (a guitar player) and Mildred Pugh; married five times, including George Jones (a singer), September, 1968 (divorced, 1975), and George Richey (a music producer), 1978; children: Gwen, Jackie, Tina, Georgette.
Worked as a hairdresser in Tupelo, Miss., and Alabama, 1960-67, while singing part-time on the “Country Boy Eddie Show,” WBRC-TV, Birmingham. Also made guest appearances on the “Porter Wagoner Show.” Signed with Epic Records, 1967. Had first hit, “Apartment Number Nine,” 1967; had first number one hit, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” 1967. Performed with George Jones, 1968-75. Appeared on the daytime drama “Capitol,” 1986.
Awards: Grammy Awards for best female country vocal performance, 1967, for song, “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” and 1969, for album, Stand By Your Man.
Addresses: Office—c/o Richey, 6 Music Circle N, Nashville, Tenn., 37203.
Wynette Pugh to Tammy Wynette, and set about providing her with top-rate material. To quote Nash, Sherrill knew that if he found the right songs for her, the divorced beautician and mother of three “could move out of a government housing project and into the psyches of millions of frustrated and lonely blue-collar women.”
With Sherrill’s coaching, Wynette quickly made her mark on the country music scene. Her first single, “Apartment Number Nine,” made the charts, and her next one, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” was one of 1967’s best-selling country tunes. She is remembered, however, for two songs that practically became blue-collar anthems: “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” a lament about a broken marriage, and “Stand By Your Man.” The latter number sold more than two million copies and became the biggest single by a woman in the history of country music. Wynette is quoted in The Country Music Encyclopedia as saying that “Stand By Your Man” was such a blockbuster “because country people aren’t attracted to women’s lib. They like to be able to stand by their man. And of course the men liked the idea that their women would stand by them.” She added: “I try to find songs that express down-to-earth, honest feelings.”
In addition to her solo career, Wynette teamed with singer George Jones both professionally and personally. For more than five years Wynette and Jones were a favorite country duo, but their marriage was a trial for both of them. Wynette told Nash that they divorced in 1975 because she was “naggin”’ and Jones was “nippin’,” referring to his drinking. From time to time the two singers reunite to produce music; Wynette told Nash that they have been working together better since they divorced. “Somehow,” she said, “that always seems to happen.” Uncharitable critics claim that Wynette tends to ride on Jones’s coattails when her own career begins to sag, but Wynette counters that she has helped save Jones several times from lawsuits and bankruptcy.
Tammy Wynette has been a favorite target of the national tabloids since she and Jones married in 1968. She has been divorced five times, her home has been vandalized, she has been given shock treatments for depression, and she was even the target of a kidnapping attempt (discredited by some as having been “staged” for publicity). “Tammy Wynette has had her trials,” Nash writes. “And continues to have them, bruises of one kind or another showing up just as the last ones have faded.” Ironically, as Nash points out, these dramatic difficulties only serve to heighten Wynette’s appeal—her listeners like to perceive her as a suffering heroine, unhappy in love and besieged by her fame.
Wynette herself draws upon her tribulations for song material. Though not prolific, she does write some lyrics—and she constantly searches for material that mirrors her own despair. She told Nash that she is not ashamed of the personal nature of her music. “I had rather tell the public what the truth really is than for them to hear somethin’ from somebody else and it be totally untrue,” she said. “Because my life has not been a bed of roses. I have been no saint, and I have not ever tried to imply that I ever was, or ever will be. And I couldn’t have written a book, or song, or anything, had I not been totally honest with myself first.” Wynette describes her voice as “average,” and indeed it is the substance of her material, rather than the sound of it, that draws listeners. Reflecting on her turbulent career, she told Nash that performing has given her a “better life,” but it has also been “more of an escape from the real world. Because I could go out on the road and leave my problems behind me, and sing and enjoy what I was doing. Come home, and the problems were still there, but I’d had a little time to work on ’em.” She concluded that performing “is a great escape, because you’re in another world.”
Another Lonely Song, Epic.
Anniversary: Twenty Years of Hits for the First Lady of Country Music, Epic.
Bedtime Story, Epic.
The Best of Tammy Wynette, Columbia.
Christmas with Tammy, Epic.
The First Songs of the First Lady, Epic.
From the Bottom of My Heart, Epic.
Higher Ground, Epic.
I Still Believe in Fairy Tales, Epic.
It’s Just a Matter of Time, Epic.
Kids Say the Darndest Things, Epic.
My Man, Epic.
No Charge, Embassy.
Sometimes When We Touch, Epic.
Stand By Your Man, Epic.
The Superb Country Sounds of Tammy Wynette, Embassy.
Take Me to Your World, Epic.
Tammy’s Touch, Epic.
Tammy Wynette, Epic.
Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits, Epic.
Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits, Volume 2, Epic.
Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits, Volume 3, Epic.
’Til I Can Make It on My Own, Epic.
We Sure Can Love Each Other, Epic.
Woman to Woman, Epic.
The World of Tammy Wynette, Epic.
You and Me, Epic.
Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad, Epic.
With George Jones
George and Tammy and Tina, Epic.
Greatest Hits, Epic.
Let’s Build a World Together, Epic.
Me and the First Lady, Epic.
Together Again, Epic.
We Go Together, Epic.
We Love To Sing about Jesus, Epic.
We’re Gonna Hold On, Epic.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Harmony Books, 1977.
Nash, Alanna, Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, Knopf, 1988.
Shestack, Melvin, The Country Music Encyclopedia, Crowell, 1974.
Stambler, Irwin and Grelun Landon, Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, St. Martin’s, 1988.
—Anne Janette Johnson
"Wynette, Tammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wynette-tammy-0
"Wynette, Tammy." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wynette-tammy-0
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(b. 5 May 1942 in Itawamba County, Mississippi; d. 6 April 1998 in Nashville, Tennessee), country music singer and songwriter who during the late 1960s and early 1970s was known as the First Lady of Country Music.
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh, on her grandfather's farm, Wynette was the only child of William Hollice Pugh and Mildred Faye Russell. Nine months after her birth, her father, a guitar player, died of a brain tumor; the Wynette part of her name honored the nurse who cared for him. Wynette's mother remarried, and Wynette, at odds with her new stepfather, chose to live for some of the time with her maternal grandparents, Flora and Chester Russell. She had childhood lessons on piano, played the flute in high school, and knew accordion. She learned to play guitar from a one-armed uncle when she was twelve. She attended both the Providence Baptist Church and the Oakgrove Church of God as a child and began playing piano for services at Providence when she was eight years old. While working in the cotton fields, Wynette daydreamed about singing onstage and sang with friends on two local radio programs.
Wynette picked cotton on the family farm from the age of six, and left school in 1959 at seventeen to marry Euple Byrd, her high school sweetheart; they had one daughter in 1961 and another in 1962. The marriage was troubled by unemployment, and Wynette, pregnant again, filed for divorce while working for her Mississippi beautician's license. She moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and worked to obtain a license there before giving birth to her third child, a daughter, in 1965. Soon after, Wynette began to perform on WBRC's Country Boy Eddie morning television program. Porter Wagoner, a country music superstar and Grand Ole Opry member, included her as a warm-up act for ten dates, but offered no further assistance in the launch of her career.
In 1965 the country singer Patsy Cline was selling big, and the songstress Loretta Lynn was making a start on the charts. Ten years after the release of Kitty Wells's "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," men were still considered the moneymakers in country music. Nevertheless, after many weekend trips that failed to yield a contract, a job, or any other advancement in the music business, Wynette moved with her daughters to Nashville in 1966.
Soon after, Wynette auditioned for Billy Sherrill, a producer/songwriter with Epic Records, who gave her the stage name "Tammy Wynette." With his help, she signed a contract with Epic and recorded "Apartment #9" in August 1966. The song was immediately successful. After "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," her next three songs, "My Elusive Dreams," a duet with David Houston; "I Don't Wanna Play House"; and "Take Me to Your World" all reached number one on the country charts. She won a Grammy for best female country vocal performance in 1967 for "I Don't Wanna Play House." The very popular "D-IV-O-R-C-E" was also released in 1967, and in 1969, "Stand By Your Man" won for her another Grammy for best female country vocal performance. The song, which portrayed the ideal woman as a wife and homemaker who should endure the failings of her husband, drew criticism from feminists, although Wynette had arguably advanced the role of feminism in the country-music community.
After divorcing Byrd in 1965, Wynette married Don Chapel, a would-be country star, in 1967. Her performances brought in several thousand dollars a week, and her fame was escalating, but her marriage was unhappy because of Chapel's failed musical career and his dependency on her. Wynette and Chapel divorced in 1968. Chapel had introduced Wynette to the superstar country singer George Jones, and for more than seven years, Wynette lived and worked with Jones. They married in 1969, and their turbulent relationship included many drunken rages and separations; the construction of "Old Plantation Music Park" in Lakeland, Florida; numerous attempts to overcome Jones's alcoholism; a miscarriage; and the birth of a daughter in 1970. They also recorded an array of successful duets, including the number-one hits "Golden Ring" and "Near You." Jones was unable to resolve his drinking problem, and the couple divorced on 13 March 1975, although they continued to make music together. In 1976 Wynette married Michael Tomlin, a Nashville real estate executive, but they were divorced within a month and a half. Wynette married for the fifth and final time in 1978 to George Richey, a producer, arranger, and song-writer, who also served as her manager.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette dominated the country music charts with seventeen number-one singles. Wynette won the Country Music Association (CMA) award for female vocalist of the year in 1968, 1969, and 1970, and was the Academy of Country Music top female vocalist in 1969. Wynette published her autobiography, Stand by Your Man, in 1979, and continued recording into the two next decades.
She died at her home in Nashville, and is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park. She was survived by her husband, Richey, six children, and seven grandchildren.
Wynette's autobiography is Stand by Your Man (1979), written with Joan Dew. See also Jackie Daly (Wynette's daughter) with Tom Carter, Tammy Wynette: A Daughter Recalls Her Mother's Tragic Life and Death (2000). Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann, Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music (1993), does a wonderful job of examining Wynette's contribution in the context of her fellow performers. An obituary is in the New York Times (8 Apr. 1998).
Courtney S. Danforth
"Wynette, Tammy." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 15, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy
"Wynette, Tammy." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s. . Retrieved November 15, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/wynette-tammy