She became the first woman to succeed in the genre
In the forties and fifties, country music was eminently masculine, conservative and with a macho touch. Running the business were a handful of stars, mostly men, with Hank Williams at the helm. Until Kitty Wells (Nashville, United States, 1919) broke in in 1952, the first woman with a hit song on the market. Wells, who died on Monday, July 16 in her hometown due to a stroke, was in charge of opening the path that other ladies of the genre such as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or Emmylou Harris later walked.
Born Ellen Muriel Deason, she soon inherited a passion for gospel and country music from her father. He began to play the guitar and sing at the age of 14. In 1937, at 18, she married fellow singer Johnnie Wright. The two usually performed together, following the pattern of the time: as a rule, country women were only allowed to accompany male performers, often their romantic partners.
After years of minor successes and unsuccessful record deals, in 1952 Wells is determined to leave the music business and dedicate herself to her home, husband and children. That year, almost accidentally, the single It wasn’t god who made Honky Tonk Angels was born. The song was born in response to another hit of the time, Hank Thompson’s Wild side of life. The protagonist of this song accuses a woman, whom he has just met in a bar, of breaking up his marriage.
The single with which Kitty Wells responds sells 800,000 copies, reaches number one on the genre charts and breaks the schemes of a music industry still in its infancy. It is the first time that a country song has been performed from a woman’s point of view. In verses such as “It is a shame that all the blame falls on women”, Kitty Wells charges against the vestiges of a macho society that is beginning to change: after the war, women enter the labor market, African Americans alternate with whites and the record industry comes up with solutions for everyone on the go.
“I never thought of being a trailblazer. I loved doing what I did, “he said in an interview. Until the end of the 1950s, he alternated his live concerts with stellar appearances on the radio program Grande ole opry, an emblem of country music through which the most representative artists passed. Even in 1956 she became the first singer of the genre to publish an LP. That same year, Elvis Presley recorded his debut as a full-length album.
In the sixties his career began a slow decline, although he maintained some moments of lucidity. One of them was the birth of his own television show, a mixture of varieties and live performances by country stars, much like what Johnny Cash did at the time.
Kitty Wells continued to record records in the 1970s, but with little impact. The rise of southern rock and her interest in North American music almost rescued her from oblivion. She even went on to record with members of The Allman Brothers Band in an attempt to bring her closer to a younger audience. At the end of the decade, he only performed in venues with limited capacity specialized in the genre. He maintained this rhythm until 2000, the year of his retirement, at the age of 81.
In 1976 he entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in his native Nashville, and in 1991 he received an honorary Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. Again, she was the first woman in the country world to do so.
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Kitty Wells, the feminist of ‘country’ music | Culture