Kitty Wells (AKA Ellen Muriel Deason), singer, songwriter, guitarist, 8/30/1919-7/16/2012
“It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”
TV show, c. 1952
TV show, 1955
“Lonely Side of Town”
TV Show, 1950s
“The history of country music can’t be written without calling attention to her great achievements,” John Rumble, senior historian at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, told The Times on Monday. “She really has left an indelible mark on American music history.”
Singer Marty Stuart on Monday called her “the undisputed queen of country music. There’s more to being a queen than just calling yourself a queen — it’s a title that goes with an entire lifetime of service and influence. You check the careers of anyone in [Nashville], and you won’t find anyone with a more spotless career than Kitty Wells.”
Wells laid a template for female singers in country music that started a shift in traditional male-female roles in rural America with “Honky Tonk Angels.” Her recording delivered a strikingly assertive response to Hank Thompson’s massive 1952 hit “The Wild Side of Life,” in which a man laid all blame on a woman he met in a honky tonk for breaking up his marriage and then leaving him to go “where the wine and liquor flows, where you wait to be anybody’s baby.”
Wells, singing a song written by J.D. Miller, shot back, “It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels/As you said in the words of your song/Too many times married men think they’re still single/That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.”
That recording was No. 1 for six weeks in 1952 and began a string of hits that extended to 1979.
The stern resolution in her voice would be echoed in subsequent recordings by Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris on through Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks and still ripples today in assertive songs by Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood.
“Kitty Wells was my hero,” Lynn said Monday in a statement. “If I had never heard Kitty Wells sing, I don’t think I would have been a singer myself.”
—Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times (obituary), 7/17/12