Tammy Wynette, 1968
|Birth name||Virginia Wynette Pugh|
May 5, 1942|
Itawamba County, Mississippi
|Died||April 6, 1998
|Genres||Country, Nashville Sound|
|Years active||1966 –1998|
|Labels||Epic (1966–1994), (1996–1998)
MCA Nashville (1995)
|Associated acts||George Jones, Georgette Jones, David Houston, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Wynonna Judd, Barbara Mandrell, Randy Travis|
Virginia Wynette Pugh, known professionally by her stage name as Tammy Wynette, (May 5, 1942 – April 6, 1998) was an American country music singer-songwriter and one of the Country music's best-known artists and biggest-selling female singers. She was an icon to country music.
Wynette was sometimes called the "First Lady of Country Music", and her best-known song, "Stand by Your Man", was one of the best-selling hit singles by a woman in the history of the country music genre. Many of Wynette's hits dealt with classic themes of loneliness, divorce, and the difficulties of man-woman relationships. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette charted 23 No. 1 songs. Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Wynette defined the role of women in country music during the 1970s.
Wynette's marriage to country music singer George Jones in 1969, which ended in divorce in 1975, created a country music "couple", following the earlier success of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Jones and Wynette recorded a sequence of duet albums and single records that hit the charts throughout the 1970s and early eighties, respectively.
Early years 
Childhood & teen years 
Wynette's father was a farmer and local musician who died of a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months of age. Her mother worked in an office, as a substitute school teacher, as well as on the family farm. After her husband's death, Mildred Pugh left her daughter in the care of her parents, Thomas Chester and Flora Russell, and moved to Memphis to work in a defense plant during World War II. In 1946, Mildred Pugh married, Foy Lee, a farmer.
Wynette grew up with her aunt, Carolyn Russell, who was only five years older than she, as more of a sister than an aunt and as a girl, Wynette taught herself to play a variety of musical instruments that had been left by her deceased father. Born and raised on a farm in Itawamba County, Mississippi that belonged to her maternal grandparents. She said it was located so close to the border with Alabama and joked that the state line ran right through their farm, laughing that "my top half came from Alabama and my bottom half came from Mississippi." As a girl, she worked in the fields picking cotton along with the crews of hired hands to harvest the crops.
Rise to fame 
Wynette attended Tremont High School, where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before graduation, she married her first husband, Euple Byrd. He was a construction worker, but he had trouble keeping a job, and they moved from place to place several times. Wynette worked as a waitress, a receptionist, and a barmaid, and also in a shoe factory. In 1963, she attended beauty school in Tupelo, Mississippi, where she learned to be a hairdresser. She continued to renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life—just in case she ever had to go back to a daily job.
She left Euple, her first husband, before the birth of their third daughter. He did not support her ambition to become a country singer, and, according to Wynette, as she drove away he told her "Dream on, Baby". Years later he appeared as she was signing autographs and asked for one. She signed "Dream on, baby." That baby developed spinal meningitis, and Wynette tried to earn extra money by performing at night. In 1965, Wynette sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, and this led to performances with Porter Wagoner.
In 1966, Wynette moved with her three daughters from Birmingham to Nashville, where she attempted to get a recording contract. After being turned down repeatedly by all of the other record companies, she auditioned for the producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill was originally reluctant to sign her up, but decided to do so after finding himself in need of a singer for Apartment No. 9. When Sherrill heard Wynette sing it, he was impressed and decided to sign her up to Epic Records in 1966.
Musical career 
1966–79: Breakthrough 
Once she was signed to Epic, Sherrill suggested she change her name to make more of an impression. According to her 1979 memoir, Stand by Your Man, during their meeting, Wynette was wearing her long, blonde hair in a ponytail, and Sherill noted that she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film Tammy and the Bachelor. He suggested "Tammy" as a possible name, so she became Tammy Wynette.
Her first single, Apartment No. 9 (written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck), was released in December 1966, and just missed the Top 40 on the Country charts, peaking at No. 44. It was followed by "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," which became a big hit, peaking at number three. The song launched a string of Top Ten hits that ran through the end of the '70s, interrupted only by three singles that didn't crack the Top Ten. After "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" was a success, "My Elusive Dreams", a duet with David Houston, became her first number one in the summer of 1967, followed by "I Don't Wanna Play House" later that year. "I Don't Wanna Play House" won Wynette a Grammy award in 1967 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, one of two wins for Wynette in that category.
During 1968 and 1969, Wynette had five number one hits — "Take Me to Your World," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E", "Stand by Your Man" (all 1968), "Singing My Song," and "The Ways to Love a Man" (both 1969). "Stand by Your Man" was reportedly written in the Epic studio in just 15 minutes by Billy Sherrill and Wynette, and was released at a time when the women's rights movement was beginning to stir in the U.S. The message in the song stated that a woman should stay with her man, despite his faults and shortcomings. It stirred up controversy and was criticized initially, and it became a lightning rod for feminists. Nevertheless, the song became very successful, reaching the top spot on the Country charts, and was also a Top 20 pop hit, peaking at No. 19 on the Billboard pop charts in 1968, Wynette's only Top 40 hit as a solo artist on the pop charts. In 1969, Wynette won the Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for "Stand by Your Man", which is now, according to critics, considered a "classic" or Country music "standard". She earned a Gold record (awarded for albums selling in excess of 500,000 copies) for Tammy's Greatest Hits which was certified in 1970 by the RIAA. The album would later be awarded Platinum record status (awarded for albums selling in excess of 1,000,000 copies) in June 1989. In 1970, director Bob Rafelson used a number of her songs in the soundtrack of his 1970 film Five Easy Pieces.
During the early 1970s, Wynette, along with singer Loretta Lynn, ruled the country charts and was one of the most successful female vocalists of the genre. During the early 1970s, number one singles included "He Loves Me All the Way" "Run Woman, Run" and "The Wonders You Perform" (all from 1970), "Good Lovin' (Makes it Right)", "Bedtime Story" (both 1971) "My Man (Understands)", "'Til I Get it Right" (1972), and "Kids Say the Darndest Things" (1973). One of them, "The Wonders You Perform", was a hit in Italy in 1971, thanks to Ornella Vanoni, who recorded the song in an Italian version, "Domani è un altro giorno" ("Tomorrow is another day"). Concurrent to her solo success, a number of her duets with Jones reached the top ten on the U.S. country singles charts during this time, including "The Ceremony" (1972), "We're Gonna Hold On" (1973), and "Golden Ring" (1975). In 1968, Wynette became the second female vocalist to win the Country Music Association Awards' "Female Vocalist of the Year" award, later winning an additional two other times (1969, 1970). For nearly two decades, Wynette held the record for most consecutive wins, until 1987 when Reba McEntire won the award for the fourth consecutive time.
Wynette was married to George Jones from 1969–75 (she had divorced her second husband in 1968). Even after their 1975 divorce (due largely to Jones' alcoholism), their professional collaboration continued with regularity through 1980; years later in 1995, they made a reunion album entitled One. It was well received, although it didn't achieve their earlier chart success. Jones and Wynette had one daughter together, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970. Georgette Jones has, in recent years, become a pretty successful country music artist who frequently pays tribute to her mother at her shows. 
In 1976, after having her public divorce from Jones the previous year, Wynette recorded, "'Til I Can Make It on My Own". Often said by music critics to be about her break-up from Jones and moving on with her life, the song reached No. 1 on the U.S. country singles charts, and No. 84 on the pop singles charts, becoming her first single in eight years to enter the pop charts. Often considered to be one of her signature songs, it more or less helped Wynette's career after her divorce, showing she could remain popular. It was recorded two years later as a duet by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, whose version reached No. 3 on the country singles charts in 1979. In 1976, Wynette had another No. 1 as a solo artist, "You and Me", which became her final No. 1 as a solo artist. Her last No. 1 came as a duet with George Jones in early 1977 titled, "Near You".
Following 1976, Wynette's popularity slightly slowed, however, she continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, with such hits as "Let's Get Together (One Last Time), "One of a Kind" (both 1977), "Womanhood" (1978) "No One Else in this World" and "They Call It Makin' Love" (both 1979). She had a total of 21 number one hits on the U.S. country singles charts (17 solo, three with Jones, and one with Houston). Along with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Dottie West, and Lynn Anderson, she helped redefine the role and place of female country singers.
1980–1990: Career in the 1980s 
In 1981, a TV movie about Wynette's life was aired called Stand by Your Man, which was based on her memoir of the same title. Actress Annette O'Toole portrayed Wynette in the film. Beginning in the early 1980s, however, her chart success began to wane, though, she did continue to have top-20 hits during this period, including "Starting Over" and "He Was There (When I Needed You)" (both 1980), a cover of the Everly Brothers' hit "Crying in the Rain" (1981), "Another Chance", "You Still Get to Me in My Dreams" (both 1982) and "A Good Night's Love" (1983). A 1985 cover of the '70s Dan Hill hit "Sometimes When We Touch", performed with Mark Grey, reached No. 6 in 1985.
In 1982 she recorded a track with The Ray Conniff Singers, a rendition of "Delta Dawn", in order to be included in the Conniff's duets album "The Nashville Connection," but ultimately the track didn't enter. Meanwhile her medical problems continued, including inflammations of her bile duct. In 1986, she acted on the CBS TV soap opera Capitol, playing beautician/singer Darlene Stankowski. In 1988, she filed for bankruptcy as a result of a bad investment in two Florida shopping centers.
Wynette's 1987 album Higher Ground featured a neotraditional country sound and was both a critical and relative commercial success. The album featured contributions from Vince Gill, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and The O'Kanes. Two of the singles released from the album, "Your Love" and "Talkin' to Myself Again", reached the top 20 on the U.S. country singles charts; a third single, "Beneath a Painted Sky" (featuring duet vocals from Emmylou Harris) reached No. 25 in early 1988 (it would ultimately be Tammy Wynette's final top-40 country single).
1990–1998: Final years 
She recorded a song with the British electronica group The KLF in late 1991 titled "Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs)", which became a No. 1 hit in eighteen countries the following year, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song gave Wynette a new following, and was her highest-charting single on the Billboard Pop charts. In the video, scrolling electronic titles said that "Miss Tammy Wynette is the first lady of country music" and listed a number of her accomplishments in the recording industry. Wynette appeared in the video wearing a crown and seated on a throne.
In 1992, future First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a 60 Minutes interview either “I'm not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette”. or "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette". (The end of this quotation has also appeared as "some little woman, standing by my man and baking cookies, like Tammy Wynette.") However, the reference to cookie baking more likely comes from an unrelated remark by Hillary Clinton: "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life." Either way, the remark set off a firestorm of controversy. Wynette wrote to Clinton saying, "With all that is in me, I resent your caustic remark. I believe you have offended every true country-music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to the White House." Clinton went into damage control and called to apologize after she saw the huge negative reaction she received from many and asked Wynette to perform at a fundraiser as an olive branch. Wynette who had had several years of bad luck and whose popularity had waned, was swayed by Clinton's sweet words and did so.
In 1990, Heart Over Mind was released and showed that Wynette's popularity on radio was declining. The album yielded no Top 40 Country hits, although numerous singles were released between 1990 and 1991, including a duet with Randy Travis titled, "We're Strangers Again".
The 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels gave her a chance to record with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the first time; though yielding no hit singles (mainstream country radio had long since stopped playing artists approaching or over 50), the album did well on the country charts and even reached number 42 on the Billboard Pop Charts. The one single that was released from the album, a cover of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" peaked outside the Country Top 40 in 1993. The following year, she released Without Walls, a collection of duets with a number of country, pop and rock and roll performers, including Wynonna Judd, Elton John, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Smokey Robinson, Sting and a number of others. An album cut titled, "Girl Thang", a duet with Wynonna Judd, reached No. 64 in 1994, but no singles were released from this album. She also appeared as a celebrity contestant on Wheel of Fortune during that same year.
Wynette also designed and sold her own line of jewelry in the 1990s. In 1995, she and George Jones recorded their first new duet album in fifteen years titled, One, which spawned a single of the same name. The single was the duo's first music video together. They last performed together in 1997 at Lanierland Music Park.
She recorded a cover version of The Beach Boys' "In My Room", a duet with Brian Wilson, for the group's 1996 comeback album Stars and Stripes Vol.1. The track was held back for a proposed second volume, which never appeared, but Wynette's performance is included in the TV documentary Beach Boys: Nashville Sounds. Wynette lent her vocals on the UK No. 1 hit Perfect Day in 1997, which was written by Lou Reed.
She appeared as herself in the Married... with Children episode 1108 (243) "The Juggs Have Left The Building", original air date December 1, 1996.
Personal life 
Wynette was married five times: to Euple Byrd (married 1959 – divorced 1966); Don Chapel, born Lloyd Franklin Amburgey (m. 1967 – annulled 1968); George Jones (m. 1969 – d. 1975); Michael Tomlin (m. 1976 – a. 1976); and singer/songwriter George Richey (m. 1978 – her death 1998). Wynette was linked romantically with actor Burt Reynolds and musician Rudy Gatlin in the mid to late 1970s but said Richey was her "true love" when she met him, and theirs was her longest marriage. Richey was her manager throughout much of the 1980s.
As a result of numerous health ailments and operations, Wynette became dependent on painkillers in the late 1970s. She became critically ill with a liver infection at the end of 1993. Pamela Lansden of People quoted Wynette's personal spin on life's tribulations as "The sad part about happy endings is there's nothing to write about."
She had three children with Byrd, Gwendolyn Lee ("Gwen") Byrd (born 1961), Jacquelyn Faye ("Jackie") Byrd (b. 1962) and Tina Denise Byrd (b. 1965, she is featured on one of Jones and Wynette's duet albums, George and Tammy and Tina), She had a daughter with George Jones, Tamala Georgette Jones (b. 1970), who is also a country singer and works as a registered nurse.
Health problems 
Wynette had many serious physical ailments beginning in the 1970s, including operations on her gallbladder, kidney and on the nodules on her throat. In 1994, she suffered an abdominal infection that almost killed her. She was in a coma for six days. She developed a chronic inflammation of the bile ducts and was intermittently hospitalized, from 1970 until her death in 1998. She had 26 major surgeries during her lifetime. Although some of these problems were often very serious, Wynette was still able to pursue her singing career and regularly tour to promote her work.
Wynette also developed a serious addiction to painkiller medication in the 1980s, which became quite a problem in her life during that time. However, in 1986, she sought help entering the Betty Ford Center for drug treatment that year. In spite of the time away for treatment, she joined the cast of the CBS defunct soap opera “Capitol” on March 25, 1986. Tammy played the role of a hair-stylist turned singer, Darlene Stankowski.
After years of medical problems, numerous hospitalizations, approximately 15 major operations and an addiction to large doses of pain medication, Wynette died while sleeping on her couch on April 6, 1998, at age 55. Wynette's doctor from Pennsylvania said she died of a blood clot in her lung. Despite her persistent illnesses, she continued to perform until shortly before her death and had other performances scheduled.
A public memorial service, attended by about 1,500 people, was held at Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium on April 9, 1998. A private grave-side service had been held earlier with a crypt entombment at Nashville's Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery. Her death solicited commentary such as that of songwriter Bill Mack, quoted in the Dallas Morning News that she was a "class act" and "irreplaceable" and that "She never knew a flat note." Lee Ann Womack was quoted also; she said of Wynette, whose songs often evoked strength and controlled passion, "You knew she knew what she was singing about. You can put her records on and listen and learn so much." Wynette was survived by her husband George Richey, four daughters and eight grandchildren.
In April 1999, her body was exhumed from her crypt in an attempt to settle a dispute over how the country music legend died. A new autopsy was conducted on her a week after three of her daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor and her husband/manager, George Richey, claiming they were responsible for her death 12 months earlier. The coroner declared that she died of a cardiac arrhythmia. In May 1999, George Richey was dropped from the wrongful death lawsuit. Wynette was reinterred in the Woodlawn Cross Mausoleum, at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville, Tenn. She rests in the same Nashville cemetery as other country music luminaries as Webb Pierce, Jerry Reed, Marty Robbins, Bobby Russell, Porter Wagoner, Red Foley and Eddy Arnold, among many others.
In March 2012, the name on Wynette's tomb was changed from "Tammy Wynette" to "Virginia W Richardson", her final legal married name.
Tammy Wynette is considered by numerous music critics from Allmusic and Rolling Stone to be one of the greatest and most influential female singers in country music history. Many other female country singers have been influenced by Wynette, including Sara Evans, Faith Hill, and Lee Ann Womack. In 1998, following Wynette's death, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, one of the highest honors of her career. A special CD collection titled Tammy Wynette: Collector's Edition was released in 1998, that included Wynette's signature "Stand By Your Man", which even charted outside the Top 40 on the Country charts that year.
Wynette's signature song "Stand by Your Man" has been covered by both men and women alike. Fellow country singers, including Lynn Anderson, Dottie West, Loretta Lynn and Lyle Lovett have covered the song, as well as Rock bands, including Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Martina McBride covered Wynette's 1976, "'Til I Can Make It on My Own" for her 2005, Timeless album, which was a cover album of Country music standards. "Stand by Your Man" placed at No. 48 on RIAA's 1997 list of Songs of the Century, which consisted of the 300 of their considered-to-be greatest and best-known songs of the twentieth century.
The musical Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story, which premiered at the Ryman Auditorium in 2001 and later toured, is a biographical treatment of Wynette's life and music, and features several songs recorded by Wynette and/or George Jones.
In 2002, she was ranked No. 2 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music. Patsy Cline was ranked No. 1 (one of Wynette's biggest inspirations) and at No. 3 was fellow Country star, Loretta Lynn. Wynette's former husband, George Jones was ranked No. 3 on CMT's special 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003.
In 2003, a survey of country music writers, producers and stars listed "Stand By Your Man" as the top country song of all time. Country Music Television broadcast a special for the top 100 songs, with the No. 1 song performed by Martina McBride.
Judson Baptist Church, which neighbors Wynette's house, purchased the house and land, which belonged to Hank Williams before he died, for a little over a million dollars. The Wynette house is used as a Youth Center as well as a guest house.
In April 2008, the CD "Stand By Your Man — The Best of Tammy Wynette," released by Sony BMG to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, entered the UK Official Top 75 Album chart at number 23.
In April 2011, Wynette's 1968 original recording of "Stand By Your Man" was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress to be preserved as one of that year's 25 recordings chosen for their cultural significance.
Awards & honors 
In popular culture 
- Country singer Kellie Pickler has a song called "Where's Tammy Wynette" on her third album, 100 Proof.
- The television show Sordid Lives: The Series featured two episodes surrounding Tammy Wynette's death, including her ghost's appearance (played by her daughter, Georgette Jones) to Brother Boy, who is instructed to carry on Tammy's legacy as a drag queen.
See also 
- Academy of Country Music
- Country Music Association
- Country Music Hall of Fame
- List of country music performers
- Starlight Express – a musical in which a character, Dinah the Dining Car, sings a number based on her song, "D.I.V.O.R.C.E."
- Wynette, Tammy with Joan Dew. Stand By Your Man. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. p.18.
- Ibid, pp.13–14.
- Ibid, p. 34
- Tammy Wynette at All Music.com
- Stand By Your Man, p.83.
- Stand By Your Man, p.102.
- In her 1979 autobiography, Stand By Your Man, p. 189, she wrote that it was written in "about fifteen minutes." In an interview with Tammy Wynette shown on the BBC 2 Television documentary "Tammy Wynette: 'till I Can Make It on My Own" she said it took 20 minutes to compose the words for "Stand By Your Man." 2010-06-07
- Musician Guide.com profile
- Joan Dew. Singers and Sweethearts: The Women of Country Music. Dolphin, 1977. Also Roy Blount, Jr., "Country's Angels," Esquire, March 1977, pp. 62–66+.
- The New York Times report on her memorial service reports her bankruptcy, April 10, 1998, p. D–19.
- Tammy Wynette chronology
- New York Times, April 7, 1998, p. A–24.
- http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/9804/07/wynette.reax[dead link]
- Hillary Rodham Clinton comment
- Quotation from a combination of partial quotations reported in Newsweek, vol. 131, No. 16, April 20, 1998, p. 59, and in the New York Times, Apr. 7, 1998, p. A–24.
- Tammy Wynette profile at Musician Guide.com
- Georgette Jones (home World Wide Web site).
- Jimmy McDonough (2011-02-22). Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen. Penguin Group USA. ISBN 978-0-14-311888-6.
- See above, "Health Problems." Also, Yahlin Chang, "Country Music Mystery," Newsweek, April 19, 1999, p. 62.
- New York Times, April 10, 1998, p. D–19.
- The lawsuit and request for exhumation was reported by Yahlin Chang, "Country Music Mystery," Newsweek,April 19, 1999, p. 62.
- Neil Cossar (May 4, 2011). "This Day In Music, May 5: Tammy Wynette and Elvis Presley". The Morton Report. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Edward Morris (May 9, 2012). "Tammy Wynette's Stepdaughter Says Singer's Children Agreed on Name Switch". CMT News. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Edward Morris (March 5, 2012). "Tammy Wynette's Name Removed From Her Nashville Tomb". CMT News. Retrieved October 20, 2012.
- Bufwack, Mary A. (1998). "Tammy Wynette". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 602–3.
- Tammy Wynette; Joan Dew (1979-10). Stand by your man. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-22884-2.
- Tammy Wynette Official Website
- Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum — Tammy Wynette
- Tammy Wynette at Rolling Stone
- Tammy Wynette at the Internet Movie Database