Tammy WynetteTammy Wynette (; born May 5, 1942 – April 6, 1998) was an American country music singer-songwriter and one of country music's best-known artists and biggest-selling female singers.
Wynette was called the "First Lady of Country Music", and her best-known song, "Stand by Your Man", is 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 life and relationships. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette charted 20 number-one songs on the Billboard Country Chart. Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, she is credited with having defined the role of women in country music during the 1970s.
Wynette's marriage to country music singer George Jones in 1969 created a country music "couple", following the earlier success of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Though they divorced in 1975, the couple recorded a sequence of albums and singles together that hit the charts throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.
Early yearsTammy Wynette was born Virginia Wynette Pugh near Tremont, Mississippi, the only child of Mildred Faye (née Russell; September 3, 1921 – June 24, 1991) and William Hollice Pugh (June 2, 1916 – February 13, 1943). Wynette's father was a farmer and local musician who died due to a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months old. Her mother worked in an office, as a substitute school teacher, and on the family farm. At Pugh's death, Mildred left her daughter in the care of her parents, Thomas and Flora Russell, and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, to work in a defense plant during World War II. In 1946, Mildred married Foy Lee, a farmer.
The Russell home had no indoor toilets or running water. Wynette was raised with an aunt, Carolyn Russell, who was only five years older, more like a sister than an aunt. As a girl, Wynette taught herself to play a variety of musical instruments left behind by her father.
Wynette attended Bellflower High School. A month before graduation, several months before her 18th birthday, she wed her first husband, Euple Byrd. He was a construction worker, but had trouble keeping a job, and they moved several times. Wynette worked as a waitress, a receptionist, and a barmaid, and also in a shoe factory. In 1963, she attended beauty college in Tupelo, Mississippi, where she learned to be a hairdresser. She continued to renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life – just in case she ever had to go back to a daily job.
She left Euple before the birth of their third daughter, who developed spinal meningitis. Wynette tried to earn extra money by performing at night. Euple did not support her ambition to become a country singer, and according to Wynette, as she drove away he told her, "Dream on, Baby". Years later, he appeared at one of her concerts as she was signing autographs and asked for one. She signed it "Dream on, Baby."
1965–66: A startWhile working as a hairdresser in Midfield, Alabama, in 1965, Wynette sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, which led to performances with country music star Porter Wagoner. In 1966, she moved with her three daughters (Gwen, Tina, and Jackie) from Birmingham to Nashville, Tennessee, in hopes of landing a recording deal. After being turned down repeatedly she auditioned for Epic Records producer Billy Sherrill. Initially reluctant to sign her, Sherrill found himself in need of a singer for a Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck penned tune, "Apartment No. 9". Upon hearing Wynette's version he was impressed and put her under contract.
1966–1967: BreakthroughOnce she was signed to Epic, Sherrill suggested she change her name to make more of an impression. According to her 1979 memoir, Stand by Your Man, during their meeting, Wynette was wearing her long, blonde hair in a ponytail, and Sherrill noted that she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film Tammy and the Bachelor. He suggested "Tammy" as a possible name, so she became Tammy Wynette.
Her first single, "Apartment No. 9" , was released in December 1966, and just missed the top 40 on the Country charts, peaking at number 44. It was followed by "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad", which became a big hit, peaking at number three. The song launched a string of top-ten hits that ran through the end of the 1970s, interrupted only by three singles that didn't crack the Top Ten. After "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" was a success, "My Elusive Dreams", a duet with David Houston, became her first number one in the summer of 1967, followed by "I Don't Wanna Play House" later that year. "I Don't Wanna Play House" won Wynette a Grammy award in 1967 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, one of two wins for Wynette in that category.
1968–1979: On topDuring 1968 and 1969, Wynette had five number-one hits – "Take Me to Your World", "D-I-V-O-R-C-E", "Stand by Your Man" (all 1968), "Singing My Song", and "The Ways to Love a Man" (both 1969). "Stand by Your Man" was reportedly written in the Epic studio in just 15 minutes by Billy Sherrill and Wynette, and was released at a time when the women's-rights movement was beginning to stir in the U.S. The message in the song stated a woman should stay with her man, despite his faults and shortcomings. It stirred up controversy and was criticized initially, and it became a lightning rod for feminists. Nevertheless, the song became very successful, reaching the top spot on the Country charts, and was also a top-20 pop hit, peaking at number 19 on the Billboard pop charts in 1968, Wynette's only top-40 hit as a solo artist on the pop charts. In 1969, Wynette won the Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for "Stand by Your Man", which is now, according to critics, considered a "classic" or country music "standard". She earned a gold record (awarded for albums selling in excess of 500,000 copies) for Tammy's Greatest Hits which was certified in 1970 by the RIAA. The album was awarded platinum record status (awarded for albums selling in excess of 1,000,000 copies) in June 1989. In 1970, director Bob Rafelson used a number of her songs in the soundtrack of his 1970 film Five Easy Pieces.During the early 1970s, Wynette, along with singer Loretta Lynn, ruled the country charts and was one of the most successful female vocalists of the genre. During the early 1970s, number-one singles included "He Loves Me All the Way", "Run Woman Run" and "The Wonders You Perform" (all from 1970), "Good Lovin' (Makes it Right)", "Bedtime Story" (both 1971) "My Man (Understands)", "'Til I Get it Right" (1972), and "Kids Say the Darndest Things" (1973). One of them, "The Wonders You Perform", was a hit in Italy in 1971, thanks to Ornella Vanoni, who recorded the song in an Italian version, "Domani è un altro giorno" ("Tomorrow is another day"). Concurrent to her solo success, a number of her duets with Jones reached the top ten on the U.S. country singles charts during this time, including "The Ceremony" (1972), "We're Gonna Hold On" (1973), and "Golden Ring" (1976). In 1968, Wynette became the second female vocalist to win the Country Music Association Awards' "Female Vocalist of the Year" award, later winning an additional two other times (1969, 1970). For nearly two decades, Wynette held the record for most consecutive wins, until 1987 when Reba McEntire won the award for the fourth consecutive time.
Tammy Wynette divorced her second husband, Don Chapel (1931–2015) in 1968. Tammy married George Jones on February 16, 1969, in Ringgold, Georgia. They were married for six years, residing in south Lakeland, Florida, until their divorce, which was finalized on March 21, 1975. Even after their 1975 divorce (due largely to Jones' alcoholism), their professional collaboration continued with regularity through 1980; years later in 1995, they made a reunion album entitled One. It was well received, although it didn't achieve their earlier chart success. Jones and Wynette had one daughter together, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970. Georgette Jones has, in recent years, become a successful country music artist who frequently pays tribute to her mother at her shows.
In 1976, after having her public divorce from Jones the previous year, Wynette recorded, "'Til I Can Make It on My Own". Often said by music critics to be about her break-up from Jones and moving on with her life, the song reached No. 1 on the U.S. country singles charts, and No. 84 on the pop singles charts, becoming her first single in three years to enter the pop charts. Often considered to be one of her signature songs, it more or less helped Wynette's career after her divorce, showing she could remain popular. It was recorded two years later as a duet by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, whose version reached No. 3 on the country singles charts in 1979. In 1976, Wynette had another No. 1 as a solo artist, "You and Me", which became her final No. 1 as a solo artist. Her last No. 1 came as a duet with George Jones in early 1977 titled, "Near You".
Following 1976, Wynette's popularity slightly slowed, however, she continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, with such hits as "Let's Get Together (One Last Time), "One of a Kind" (both 1977), "Womanhood" (1978) "No One Else in this World" and "They Call It Makin' Love" (both 1979). She had a total of 20 number one hits on the U.S. country singles charts (16 solo, three with Jones, and one with Houston). Along with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Dottie West, and Lynn Anderson, she helped redefine the role and place of female country singers.
1980–1990: A fading icon in the 1980sIn 1981, a TV movie about Wynette's life was aired called Stand by Your Man, which was based on her memoir of the same title. Actress Annette O'Toole portrayed Wynette in the film.
Beginning in the early 1980s, however, her chart success began to wane, though, she did continue to have top-20 hits during this period, including "Starting Over" and "He Was There (When I Needed You)" (both 1980), a cover of the Everly Brothers' hit "Crying in the Rain" (1981), "Another Chance", "You Still Get to Me in My Dreams" (both 1982) and "A Good Night's Love" (1983). A 1985 cover of the '70s Dan Hill hit "Sometimes When We Touch", performed with Mark Gray, reached No. 6 in 1985.
In 1982 she recorded a track with The Ray Conniff Singers, a rendition of "Delta Dawn", to be included in the Conniff's duets album "The Nashville Connection", but ultimately the track didn't enter. Meanwhile, her medical problems continued, including inflammations of her bile duct. In 1986, she acted on the CBS TV soap opera Capitol, playing beautician/singer Darlene Stankowski. In 1988, she filed for bankruptcy as a result of a bad investment in two Florida shopping centers.
Wynette's 1987 album Higher Ground featured a neotraditional country sound and was both a critical and relative commercial success. The album featured contributions from Larry Gatlin, Vince Gill, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and The O'Kanes. Two of the singles released from the album, "Your Love" and "Talkin' to Myself Again", reached the top 20 on the U.S. country singles charts; a third single, "Beneath a Painted Sky" (featuring duet vocals from Emmylou Harris) reached No. 25 in early 1988 (it would ultimately be Tammy Wynette's final top-40 country single).
1990–1998: Curtain callsIn 1990, Heart Over Mind was released and showed Wynette's popularity on radio was declining. The album yielded no Top 40 Country hits, although numerous singles were released between 1990 and 1991, including a duet with Randy Travis titled, "We're Strangers Again".
She recorded a song with the British group The KLF in late 1991 titled "Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs)", which became a No. 1 hit in eighteen countries the following year, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song gave Wynette a new following, and was her highest-charting single on the Billboard Pop charts. In the video, scrolling electronic titles said "Miss Tammy Wynette is the first lady of country music" and listed a number of her accomplishments in the recording industry. Wynette appeared in the video wearing a crown and seated on a throne.
In 1992, future First Lady Hillary Clinton said during a 60 Minutes interview "I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette". (The end of this quotation has also appeared as "some little woman, standing by my man and baking cookies, like Tammy Wynette." However, the reference to cookie baking more likely comes from an unrelated remark by Hillary Clinton: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.") The remark set off a firestorm of controversy. Wynette wrote to Clinton, saying, "With all that is in me, I resent your caustic remark. I believe you have offended every true country-music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to the White House." Clinton then called to apologize after she saw the large negative reaction she received, and asked Wynette to perform at a fundraiser. Wynette agreed to do so.
The 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels gave her a chance to record with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the first time; though yielding no hit singles (mainstream country radio had long since stopped playing artists approaching or over 50), the album did well on the country charts and even reached number 42 on the Billboard Pop chart. The one single that was released from the album, a cover of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" peaked outside the Country Top 40 in 1993. The following year, she released Without Walls, a collection of duets with a number of country, pop and rock and roll performers, including Wynonna Judd, Elton John, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Smokey Robinson, Sting and a number of others. An album cut titled "Girl Thang", a duet with Wynonna Judd, reached No. 64 in 1994, but no singles were released from this album. She also appeared as a celebrity contestant on Wheel of Fortune during that same year.
Wynette also designed and sold her own line of jewelry in the 1990s. In 1995, she and George Jones recorded their first new duet album in fifteen years titled, One, which spawned a single of the same name. The single was the duo's first music video together. They last performed together in 1997 at Lanierland Music Park.
She recorded a cover version of The Beach Boys' "In My Room", a duet with Brian Wilson, for the group's 1996 comeback album Stars and Stripes Vol.1. The track was held back for a proposed second volume, which never appeared, but Wynette's performance is included in the TV documentary Beach Boys: Nashville Sounds."In My Room" can be found on the album "Tammy Wynette Remembered"(a posthumous tribute album to Tammy Wynette). It was released on September 8, 1998. Wynette lent her vocals on the UK No. 1 hit Perfect Day in 1997, which was written by Lou Reed.
Wynette was also the voice for the character Tilly Hill (Hank Hill's mother) on the animated series King of the Hill until her death. Actress K Callan took over the voice role.
She appeared as herself in the Married... with Children episode "The Juggs Have Left The Building", which originally aired on December 1, 1996.
Wynette's last concert was given on March 5, 1998, stepping in for Loretta Lynn, who was ill at the time. Wynette's last television appearance was on the TNN series Prime Time Country on March 9, 1998, performing "Stand by Your Man" and "Take Me to Your World". Wynette's last Grand Ole Opry appearance was on May 17, 1997; she performed "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" which was her first top five hit, and "Stand by Your Man" her No. 1 song and signature song, and her first single "Apartment #9" which had gone to No. 44 on the Billboard Country Charts but had become a classic to her loyal fan base and to Country Music. Lorrie Morgan and Jan Howard, appeared on the Opry too, helping Wynette out; she was one of Morgan's idols growing up (also friends) and Jan, another one of Wynette's close friends, also had a successful career in Country and Western music during the 1960s.
Alleged kidnappingWynette was reported to be kidnapped at gunpoint at a Nashville shopping mall on October 4, 1978. She claimed the masked attacker physically assaulted and abandoned her 80 miles south of Nashville. Wynette was documented with bruises and a broken cheekbone. One of Wynette's children, Jackie Daly, in her 2000 memoir, published that her mother had confessed to her that the kidnapping was a hoax to cover up domestic violence from her fifth husband, George Richey. He denied the allegation. While the kidnapping's events remained ambiguous, Wynette's children later sued Richey, along with Care Solutions of Nashville and Wynette's doctor, for their mother's wrongful death; however, they subsequently dismissed the suit against Richey, a court dismissed Care Solutions, and they reached a confidential settlement with the doctor.
Wynette had many serious physical ailments beginning in the 1970s. She had at least 26 major surgeries during her lifetime. Although some of these problems were often very serious, Wynette was still able to pursue her singing career and regularly toured to promote her work. In October 1970, after giving birth to Georgette, Wynette had an appendectomy and a hysterectomy. Complications from the hysterectomy included adhesions which later formed into keloids. She developed a chronic inflammation of the bile duct and was intermittently hospitalized, from 1970 until her death on April 6, 1998. During her brief marriage to Michael Tomlin, she was in the hospital for half of their time together as a couple, including surgeries on her gallbladder, kidney and on the nodules on her throat.
Wynette also developed a serious addiction to painkiller medication in the 1980s, which became quite a problem in her life during that time. However, in 1986, she sought help entering the Betty Ford Center for drug treatment that year. In spite of the time away for treatment, she joined the cast of the CBS defunct soap opera Capitol on March 25, 1986, playing the role of a hair stylist-turned-singer, Darlene Stankowski.
Just after Christmas 1993, Wynette woke in the middle of the night with severe pain and was rushed to The Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. She was comatose five days as a result of a bile duct infection. Once she was out of the coma she underwent an intestinal bypass operation. She resumed touring not long afterwards.
Pamela Lansden of People quoted Wynette's personal spin on life's tribulations as "The sad part about happy endings is there's nothing to write about."
Personal lifeWynette was married five times: to Euple Byrd (married April 1960 – divorced 1966), with whom she had three daughters; to Don Chapel, born Lloyd Franklin Amburgey (m. 1967 – annulled 1968); to George Jones (m. February 16, 1969 – divorced March 21, 1975); to Michael Tomlin (m. July 18, 1976 – a. September 1976) 44 days; and to singer-songwriter George Richey (m. July 6, 1978 – her death April 6, 1998). Richey was her manager throughout much of the 1980s. In her autobiography Stand By Your Man, Wynette claimed Jones used to beat her and at one point fired a shotgun at her, allegations he denied. In the mid-1970s Wynette was linked romantically with actor Burt Reynolds and they were good friends up to Wynette's sudden death.
Wynette had three children with Byrd; she gave birth to two daughters by the time she was 20. Gwendolyn Lee ("Gwen") Byrd (born April 15, 1961), Jacquelyn Faye ("Jackie") Byrd (born August 2, 1962) and Tina Denise Byrd (born March 27, 1965). According to Tammy's autobiography Stand by Your Man, Tina was born three months prematurely, and spent her first three months in an incubator. Tina weighed an estimated two pounds at birth. She was not quite five pounds when she arrived home at three months old, and Tina was home for only three weeks when a relative whom Tammy lived with at the time said "Every time I try to pick her up, she screams in pain and I think it's her back." Tina was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, and was given a slim chance to live through it. Tina spent two and a half weeks in an isolation room and finally after 17 days was taken off the quarantine list. Tina spent seven weeks in the hospital overcoming all odds. All the doctors, nurses everyone in the hospital called her the "Miracle Baby". Tina, in 1975, is featured on one of Jones and Wynette's duet albums, George and Tammy and Tina. She appeared on two songs "The Telephone Call" with George and "No Charge" with her mom, Tammy.
Wynette also had a daughter with George Jones, Tamala Georgette Jones (born October 5, 1970), who is also a country singer; Georgette worked as a registered nurse for 17 years. She currently keeps her nursing license renewed yearly just as her mom did with her beauty operator's license. Georgette has released a few successful albums. Georgette's 2010 debut album Slightly Used Woman, Strong Enough To Cry and in 2013, she released a tribute album to her mother, Til I Can Make It on My Own, featuring some of her mother's biggest songs "Til I Can Make It on My Own" which Wynette, Billy Sherrill, and Richey wrote, and "Stand by Your Man" written by Wynette and Sherrill that became Tammy's signature song. George Jones legally adopted Tammy's oldest daughters Gwen, Jackie and Tina shortly after Jones and Wynette got married.
After years of medical problems which resulted in numerous hospitalizations, roughly 15 major operations and an addiction to pain medication, Wynette died on April 6, 1998, at the age of 55 while sleeping on her couch. Wynette's doctor from Pennsylvania said she died of a blood clot in her lung. Despite her persistent illnesses, she continued to perform until shortly before her death and had other performances scheduled.
A public memorial service, attended by about 1,500 people, was held at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium on April 9, 1998. A private, grave-side service had been held earlier with a crypt entombment at Nashville's Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery. Her death solicited reactions such as that of songwriter Bill Mack, quoted in the Dallas Morning News, who said 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, four daughters and eight grandchildren.
In April 1999, her body was exhumed from her crypt in an attempt to settle a dispute over how she 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/manager, George Richey, claiming they were responsible for her death 12 months earlier. The coroner declared she died from cardiac arrhythmia. In May 1999, George Richey was dropped from the wrongful death lawsuit because he was preparing to sue them for frivolous litigation. Wynette's daughter, Jackie Daly, sold her story to Star magazine before asking Richey the "questions" she wanted answered about her mother's death. Richey never was personally asked these questions; the daughters sought solace in the press to garner these intimate personal details of their mother. Wynette was reinterred in the Woodlawn Cross Mausoleum, at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee. She rests in the same Nashville cemetery as other country music luminaries as former husband, George Jones who died in April 2013, Webb Pierce, Jerry Reed, Marty Robbins, Bobby Russell, Porter Wagoner, Red Foley and Eddy Arnold, among many others.
In March 2012, the name on Wynette's tomb was changed from "Tammy Wynette" to "Virginia W. Richardson", her final legal married name. In March 2014, the name on the tomb was changed back.
LegacyTammy Wynette is considered by numerous music critics from Allmusic and Rolling Stone to be one of the greatest and most influential singers in country music history. Many other country singers have been influenced by Wynette, including Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Faith Hill, and Lee Ann Womack. In 1998, following Wynette's death, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors of her career. A special CD collection titled Tammy Wynette: Collector's Edition was released in 1998, that included Wynette's signature "Stand by Your Man", which even charted outside the Top 40 on the Country charts that year.
Wynette's signature song "Stand by Your Man" has been covered by both men and women alike. Fellow country singers, including Lynn Anderson, Dottie West, Loretta Lynn, Elton John and Lyle Lovett have covered the song, as well as rock bands, including Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Lemmy of Motörhead with Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics, Martina McBride covered Wynette's 1976, "'Til I Can Make It on My Own" for her 2005, Timeless album, which was a cover album of Country music standards. It was covered comedically in the 1980 film "The Blues Brothers". "Stand by Your Man" placed at No. 48 on RIAA's 1997 list of Songs of the Century, which consisted of the 300 of their considered-to-be greatest and best-known songs of the 20th century.
The musical Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story, which premiered at the Ryman Auditorium in 2001 and later toured, is a biographical treatment of Wynette's life and music, and features several songs recorded by Wynette and/or George Jones.
In 2002, she was ranked No. 2 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music. Patsy Cline was ranked No. 1 (one of Wynette's biggest inspirations) and at No. 3 was fellow Country star, Loretta Lynn. Wynette's former husband, George Jones was ranked No. 3 on CMT's special 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003.
In 2003, a survey of country music writers, producers and stars listed "Stand by Your Man" as the top country song of all time. Country Music Television broadcast a special for the top 100 songs, with the No. 1 song performed by Martina McBride.
Judson Baptist Church, which neighbors Wynette's house, purchased the house and land, which belonged to Hank Williams before he died, for a little over a million dollars. The Wynette house is used as a Youth Center as well as a guest house.
In April 2008, the CD Stand by Your Man – The Best of Tammy Wynette, released by Sony BMG to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, entered the UK Official Album chart at number 23.
In April 2011, Wynette's 1968 original recording of "Stand by Your Man" was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress to be preserved as one of that year's 25 recordings chosen for their cultural significance.
In 2010, the Germany-based independent record label Bear Family Records released a box set by George Jones, which showcased his recordings for Musicor and included the earliest duets with Wynette.
A group of friends and volunteers are currently planning a Tammy Wynette Museum in Tremont, Mississippi. The State of Mississippi will provide part of the funding. There are also efforts to produce a Tammy Wynette stamp through the US Postal Service.