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Country Music Hall of Fame Legend Kitty Wells, 92, Has Died

Kitty Wells/CMA/ Nashville, TN -- Kitty Wells, a pioneer who is credited with shattering the industry barriers for women artists of Country Music, died today at her Nashville home. She was 92. Hailed as “The Queen of Country Music” and a member of CMA’s Country Music Hall of Fame since 1976, Wells enjoyed a 14-year run of Top 10 hits that helped make it possible for women to achieve success as Country artists. Kitty Wells was always a friend of bluegrass music.

She wasn’t the first woman to have success in Country. But she reached new heights in 1952 when she became the first woman to grab a solo No. 1 single on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” The song was an answer to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life,” and it was the catalyst for a lifetime of success and fame.

Wells ranks as the sixth most successful female vocalist in the history of Billboard's country charts, according to historian Joel Whitburn's book The Top 40 Country Hits, behind Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, Tammy Wynette, and Tanya Tucker. In 1976, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 1991, she became the third country music artist, after Roy Acuff and Hank Williams, and the eighth woman to receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Wells' accomplishments earned her the nickname Queen of Country Music.

Wells, a Nashville native born Ellen Muriel Deason, married Country star Johnnie Wright in 1937 when she was 18. Wright gave her the nickname "Kitty Wells" after an old folk ballad "Sweet Kitty Wells,” recorded by the Pickard Family. The couple worked together for more than 60 years in the industry. Wright died Sept. 27, 2011.

According to a family press release, Wells passed away peacefully with family by her side at her home Monday morning following complications from a stroke.

Kitty Wells, the "Queen of Country Music", was born Ellen Muriel Deason, in Nashville, Tennessee on August 30, 1919. She created the role for all other female country singers. "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" recorded in 1952, was her first number one song nand she was the first female to sell a million records and reach number one in the country field. For 14 consecutive years she was voted the nation's number one "Country Female Artist" by all of the trade publications such as: Billboard, Cashbox , Record World and Downbeat Magazine. No other Country female artist has ever topped her achievements.

In 1935, Kitty joined her sisters Mae and Jewel along with her cousin Bessie Choate, forming the group known as the Deason sisters. They appeared on an early morning radio station in Nashville, WSIX in 1936. She learned to play the guitar at around age 14 and learned to love country music from her father, Charles Cary Deason, a brakeman for the Tennessee Central Railroad, who used to play the banjo and guitar. Kitty who is also a fantastic cook, learned this skill from her mom, Myrtle.

1937, Kitty married Johnny Wright , who is also a legend in Country Music. He was part of the famous duo Johnny and Jack. Jack Anglin, Johnny's duet partner was married to Johnny's sister, Louise. They began a career in country entertainment that has spanned over 60 years. Kitty and Johnny have three children, Ruby, Bobby and Sue.

Kitty was given the name Kitty Wells, by her husband Johnny Wright in 1943. Johnny got the name from the old folk ballad recorded by the Pickard Family, entitled "Sweet Kitty Wells". Johnny and Kitty made appearances in the early years on radio stations in Raleigh, North Carolina (WPTF), Knoxville, Tennessee (KNOX), Bluefield, West Virginia (WCHS, Decatur, Georgia (WEAS) and at the Louisana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana (KWKH). Kitty's first recording session was for RCA Records in 1947 when she recorded some gospel songs, such as "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet" and "How Far Is Heaven". Kitty re-recorded "How Far Is Heaven" two more times on Decca Records, once with daughter then age 9, Carol Sue.

Funeral services will be held Friday at 1 PM at the Hendersonville Church of Christ. Burial will follow in Spring Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made to Goodpasture Christian School, C/O Kitty Wells/Johnnie Wright Scholarship Fund.

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