Personalities | Tammy Wynette | Mainstream Country

Labelled the ‘first lady of country music’, Virginia Wynette Pugh was born on 5 May 1942, in Itawamba County, Mississippi. Throughout the early 1960s she worked as a waitress and beautician – among other jobs – and only dreamed of stardom. It was not long coming, but like many of her contemporaries, Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith and Dolly Parton included, Tammy Wynette worked her way up from the bottom.

Nashville’s Number One

When it came to paying her dues, Wynette measured up with the best, combining the duties of a single mother to three daughters, holding down a job and trying to break into the music business. After gaining some exposure on local television while living with relatives in Birmingham, Alabama, she made several trips to Nashville around 1965 and moved there in 1966. She started working as a song plugger, but within a relatively short time she was signed to Epic by producer Billy Sherrill, and it was he who gave Tammy her stage name, signalling the beginning of one of the greatest working relationships in country-music history. During the period of her association with Sherrill, she accumulated 20 chart toppers, three of them duets with her husband, the hell-raising country legend George Jones, whom she married in 1969 and divorced in 1975 (although their final chart-topping duet, ‘Golden Ring’, came out in 1976).

Wynette’s pure but tearful voice was made for emotion-torn country ballads – songs dealing in heartache and pain. Her first success came in early 1967 with the Top 50 country hit ‘Apartment No. 9’, which won Wynette her first Grammy. Her second arrived in 1968 for her fifth US country No. 1/pop Top 20 smash, ‘Stand By Your Man’, which she also co-wrote with Sherrill. This classic, since covered by Lyle Lovett and others, immediately followed the similarly striking ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E.’ Both singles topped Billboard’s country chart for three weeks.

International Success

Wynette swept to the top of the UK pop chart in May, 1975, with ‘Stand By Your Man’, which made it her career song. It resulted in almost annual tours and appearances at the International Festival Of Country Music at Wembley in London. Her career reached its peak with a run of no less than 10 No. 1 hits as a solo act during the 1970s. The last of these was 1976’s ‘You And Me’ (another crossover hit). Her penultimate US country chart-topper, ‘’Til I Can Make It On My Own’, co-written by Sherrill and her manager/ husband, George Richey, was Tammy’s all-time favourite.

Her successful public face belied a troubled personal life. She suffered break-ins, vandalism of her home, and an abduction, followed by financial difficulties, all of which contributed to Wynette’s health problems during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite this, she published her autobiography, Stand By Your Man, in 1979, which was made into a television movie in 1981. Her projects in the 1990s included ‘Justified And Ancient’, a somewhat unlikely US Top 20/UK Top 3 single...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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