Every female country singer of the last 60 years owes an enormous debt to the boundary-breaking legacy of Kitty Wells, who passed away on July 16 at the age of 92. Her regal sobriquet, The Queen of Country Music, was not applied idly—Wells broke new ground in country for women, most famously through her milestone 1952 single, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels."
Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason on August 30, 1919, right in the heart of country music, Nashville. After learning guitar from her railroad brakeman father, she joined her two sisters and a cousin in a quartet called The Deason Sisters, who made regular live radio appearances in Nashville in the mid '30s. She married Johnnie Wright of renowned country duo Johnnie and Jack in 1937, and the couple began performing together, with the former Ellen Deason taking the name Kitty Wells after the folk song "Sweet Kitty Wells." Wells began recording as a solo artist in the late '40s, but her career didn't take off until '52, when she released the aforementioned "Honky Tonk Angels," an answer song to Hank Thompson's woman-scorning "Wild Side of Life." It was the closest Nashville had ever come to a female-empowerment anthem, and even though it made her country music's first female million-seller and chart-topper, it was initially banned from being played on The Grand Ole Opry or in her live radio performances. Wells went on to establish herself as the ultimate honky-tonk heroine, scoring hit after hit all the way through the late 1960s. Then and now, whenever a woman speaks her mind in a country song, there will always be a bit of Kitty Wells shining through. – Jim Allen, Google Play