Earlier this year I wrote about country music legend Hank Thompson and how his classic song, “The Wild Side Of Life,” inspired a musical response by another star. But even though Kitty Wells might have found fame — and a little controversy — with her answering song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” she was anything but a one-hit wonder. One of the earliest country superstars, she became known as the Queen of Country Music.
Born Muriel Deason in Nashville, she first began to attract some attention in the pre-war years while singing on local radio, as part of the Deason Sisters and occasionally as a solo. She also became acquainted with a singer named Johnnie Wright and soon married him, a fateful decision.
During the years leading up to and including World War II, Johnnie and his brother-in-law Jack Anglin often performed as Johnnie & Jack, with both wives often part of their backing group, the Tennessee Hillbillies. With occasional interruptions, the group continued to perform through the war years and beyond, eventually making some appearances on the Grand Old Opry and the Louisiana Hayride.
By the start of the Fifties they’d made a few records, and even Muriel — by now using the name Kitty Wells — had come out from behind the group to record a gospel piece or two, but had not really found much success. That changed in 1952 when a record producer suggested she record “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a song with a message that opened a few eyes in those pre-feminism days. It became a smash hit and Kitty Wells became a star.
The song started her on a solo career that would lead to countless best-sellers, with classics like “As Long As I Believe,” “I’ve Kissed You My Last Time,” and one of my all-time favorites, “Makin’ Believe.” As her career continued through the Fifties and Sixties, she placed song after song in the Top Ten. Some of her best-known include “She’s No Angel,” “Mommy For a Day,” and one of her biggest, “Heartbreak USA.”
A Country Music Hall of Fame inductee who has also been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, Kitty Wells has continued to perform through the years — and she’s still with Johnnie, a relationship that has lasted for 70 years. She is a beloved figure who will always be appreciated; not just for her music but also for helping pave the way for later female country stars like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline.