"Wynette the singer warrants extravagant praise - her unique interpretations fortify every song, taking lyrics ... and transforming them into little odes of devastation...Of all the country balladeers, Wynette ... remains singular in her ability to reach an audience, to present herself as a conduit for our pain."
- The New York Times
"[Tammy sings with] a tear in every word." - Billy Sherrill
NASHVILLE, Tenn., April 9, 2010 - Like her counterparts Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette wrote and sang unflinchingly honest and autobiographical songs about suffering and heartbreak, strength and survival. Her powerful yet plaintive voice provided the soundtrack for a generation of American women struggling to reconcile new freedoms and traditional expectations, and her enduring body of work - including 20 #1 hits - continues to resonate with music fans worldwide. The Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum will pay tribute to this indelible artist with the cameo exhibition Tammy Wynette: First Lady of Country Music, Presented by Great American Country Television Network, which opens in the Museum's East Gallery on August 20, 2010, and runs through June 2011.
"Tammy Wynette was a true steel magnolia, a daughter of the South whose ladylike appearance and slight physical stature belied the magnitude of her grit, determination and talent," said Museum Director Kyle Young. "Throughout her career, her personal and professional lives were indistinguishably interwoven, resulting in achingly honest recordings and performances to which fans could relate. She helped redefine what it means to be a female country singer. Her death at age 55 came far too soon, but Tammy left behind a musical canon that is among the strongest and most influential in American music history."
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942, the Mississippi native was raised by her cotton-farming grandparents. Her father, who died of a brain tumor before Wynette turned one, had once attempted a singing career; Wynette inherited both his collection of musical instruments and his desire to perform. As a child and young teen, Wynette, whose mother had taken a job at a Memphis defense plant, attended school, helped her grandparents pick cotton and in her spare time took music lessons and sang with two friends on a local gospel radio show.
At 17, Wynette married Euple Byrd, with whom she had three daughters. With no steady employment, Byrd moved the family around, and Wynette held various jobs, including a stint as barmaid and singer in Memphis. She also got her beautician's license. (Wynette famously renewed the license every year for the rest of her life and kept it as an economic Plan B.) Wynette's marriage to Byrd was not a happy one, and the couple divorced in 1965. That same year, Wynette was discovered by Birmingham TV host Country Boy Eddie, and she performed on his show several times. After landing a brief tour with Porter Wagoner, Wynette moved to Music City in 1966.
In Nashville, Wynette met singer-songwriter Don Chapel, who recognized her singing and writing talents and helped her develop them. At the same time, she visited the office of Epic Records executive and producer-songwriter Billy Sherrill to pitch him some songs. Sherrill was impressed with Wynette's voice and signed her to Epic. The producer, however, was not enamored of her name and suggested a catchier moniker, 'Tammy.' The Sherrill-Wynette collaboration yielded instant success: Wynette's first single, "Apartment #9," made an impact on the country charts and her follow-up, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," was a Top Five hit. Two #1 hits soon followed: "My Elusive Dreams," a duet with David Houston, and "I Don't Wanna Play House," for which Wynette won a Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy award.
Wynette married Chapel in 1967 and divorced him the following year; the dissolution coincided with another Wynette smash, "D-I-V-O-R-C-E." Also in 1968, Tammy released what would become her signature song: "Stand by Your Man." The anthem, co-written by Wynette and Sherrill, was the most controversial and most enduring song of Wynette's career. Released at the height of the United States' social unrest and upheaval, and as the women's rights movement gained traction, the song - a #1 country smash and a Top 20 hit on the pop charts - was vilified by feminists and progressives. The already twice-divorced Wynette, however, had not intended the lyrics as a call to submission, but instead as an expression of a romantic ideal. On the heels of the song's success, Wynette was awarded the first of three consecutive CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards; "Stand by Your Man" also netted Tammy her second Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy.
Wynette's next marriage, to fellow superstar George Jones, yielded a daughter and a series of now classic duet hits, including "Golden Ring," "We're Gonna Hold On" and "(We're Not) The Jet Set." The tumultuous relationship ended in divorce in 1975 and was followed by a brief six-week marriage to Michael Tomlin in 1976. Wynette married songwriter-producer George Richey in 1978 and she remained with him for the rest of her life.
While Wynette's chart hits waned in the 1980s, she continued to tour successfully; she also began recording with numerous other artists. Her suprising 1992 collaboration with British duo KLF, "Justified and Ancient," became an international hit and put Wynette into rotation on MTV. In 1993, Wynette teamed with Lynn and Parton for the hit album Honky Tonk Angels. Her next release, Without Walls, was a collection of duets featuring Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Sting and others. Wynette reteamed with Jones in 1995 for another album of duets, One.
Wynette was beset by various health problems most of her adult life; she endured more than two dozen major surgeries and suffered an abdominal infection that was nearly fatal. As a result, the singer developed an addiction to painkillers and in the 1980s sought treatment at the Betty Ford Center.
Wynette died at age 55 on April 6, 1998. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame later that year.
Tammy Wynette: First Lady of Country Music will be accompanied by an ongoing series of programs throughout the exhibit's duration.
Accredited by the American Association of Museums, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is operated by the Country Music Foundation, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) educational organization chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964. The Museum's mission is the preservation of the history of country and related vernacular music rooted in southern culture. With the same educational mission, the Foundation also operates CMF Records, the Museum's Frist Library and Archive, CMF Press, Historic RCA Studio B, and Hatch Show Print®.
More information about the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum is available at www.countrymusichalloffame.org or by calling (615) 416-2001.