No. 9: Kitty Wells – Country’s Most Powerful Women of All Time
Kitty Wells was a female trailblazer in country music at a time when being a female trailblazer in country music was brand new territory. Her status as the first real female country star earns her a place in the Top 10 on the list of the most powerful women in country music.
Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason on August 30, 1919, in Nashville, and she learned music as a child. She married Johnnie Wright at the age of 18 and they formed a duo, but she struggled to find anyone in the promotional side of the music business who believed that women could sell tickets or records as a headliner.
An early deal with RCA Victor did not pan out, but Wells struck pay dirt in 1952 after a Decca executive convinced her to sign with the label and record a song titled "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." The song's message of sexually empowered women was scandalous at the time, and the recording caused a furor that resulted in Wells scoring the first No. 1 hit from a female in the history of the Billboard country chart.
Wells was the first female country artist to experience sustained success, posting a series of hits over the '50s and '60s before her commercial popularity finally waned. She broke down many barriers for women in country music, also becoming the first country female to host her own TV variety program. Her empowerment songs influenced younger females including Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, whose influence would echo down through several more generations of country women.
Wells continued to work and tour until her later years. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976, and she won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1991. She retired in 2000. Interestingly, for a woman whose songs sometimes presented such controversy, she remained married to her husband Johnnie until his death in 2011, just over a month before what would have been their 74th wedding anniversary.
Kitty Wells died on July 16, 2012, at the age of 92 after suffering complications from a stroke. Her indelible influence on multiple generations of country music makes her an easy choice for No. 9 on the list of the most powerful country music women of all time.
Female Trailblazers Who Are Changing Modern Country Music
Watch: Country Women Well-Represented in 2017 Taste of Country RISERS