Obituary: Tammy Wynette

TAMMY WYNETTE was once dubbed by a French critic "an American Edith Piaf". The blond-haired country singer enjoyed a semi-notorious personal life, which often appeared to merge with her professional singing career: she was married five times and kidnapped in 1978.

Best known for her song "Stand By Your Man", she unwittingly found herself part of the 1992 US presidential campaign after Hillary Clinton stressed that her support for her husband was more substantial than that expressed in the lyrics of Wynette's song. She told an interviewer, "I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette." The remark outraged country music fans and Hillary Clinton ended up apologising. Wynette later appeared at a Clinton fund-raising eent.

Described as "the fabric of legends, but cut from soft cloth", she was regarded as one of the most successful female vocalists in the history of country music. Her record sales made her the first female artist in country music to sell a million albums. She had a career total of over 30 million records; 35 No 1 singles, 11 No 1 albums and over a hundred million dollars in sales.

She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh, in 1942, near Tupelo, Mississippi. Her father, William Hollis Pugh, was a musician (he played guitar in particular) who died when she was eight months old. Sudden widowhood forced her mother to work in an aircraft factory, in Birmingham, Alabama. She was brought up by her grandparents on their farm. As a child she sang in her local church whilst helping out with the farm duties: chopping and picking cotton with the other agricultural workers. She was paid the standard rate of pay by her grandfather, which instilled in her a sense of independence from an early age.

Her mother returned to the farm when the Second World War ended. The young Tammy had started to sing alongside her grandmother in church. They sang a particular type of religious music, a harmony called Sacred Harp - a technique which involved singing notes instead of words. As Tammy acquired a taste, and clearly showed an aptitude for music, her mother allowed her to experiment with her late father's collection of musical instruments. William Pugh had played on a wide range of instruments, including the bass fiddle, accordion and mandolin. She reluctantly arranged for Tammy to take formal music lessons (she did not want her daughter to take up music seriously).

Despite a strong conviction that a musical career was what she wanted, Tammy married before finishing high school and moved to Tupelo with her husband, Euple Byrd. She gave birth to a baby daughter. Shortly afterwards she learnt hairdressing and worked as a beautician; a stint as a receptionist for a chiropractor followed. She was to have two further children with Bird, but, before she gave birth to her third, another daughter, the marriage broke up. The child was premature and developed spinal meningitis. During this period of her daughter's illness, Tammy nursed her back to health, but she had run up large debts because of being unable to work. It was the need to raise extra money which prompted her to return to her interest in becoming a professional singer.

She sang in a number of different southern night-clubs, and was fortunate to be hired by WBRC-TV in Birmingham, on the Country Boy Eddie Show. She began to establish a small following and to co-write songs with Fred Lehner for one of the local Birmingham radio stations - WYAM. She won several appearances on one of Porter Wagoner's syndicated television shows. This gave her the necessary confidence to audition for recording companies. In Nashville, Tennessee, she auditioned for United Artists and Hickory and Kapp (expecting to be offered a contract), but after several months nobody had contacted her.

In 1966 she returned to Nashville, where she met the Epic Records producer Billy Sherrill, who signed her immediately. A few days later he had her recording "Apartment Number Nine", a song he had been having trouble leasing. The record became one of the top hits of 1967. This was followed up with "Your Good Girl's Gonna be Bad", "I Don't Wanna Play House", "D- I-V-O-R-C-E" and "Elusive Dream", which she sang with David Houston. Her success was almost overnight and within three years she had won a Grammy award and she was twice named CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.

Most of her songs were specifically written for her by Billy Sherrill with Glen Sutton, but later she teamed up with Sherrill as a co-writer and together they wrote the biggest-selling country music song ever - "Stand By Your Man".

The singer Patty Smythe once said that Wynette's voice came "from an emotionally honest place that everyone can relate to". She was often touted as a singer who spoke directly to (and on behalf) of women; however, not all women were prepared to accept the claim that she addressed the trials of womanhood. Some feminist observers have maintained that the sympathies of several of her songs were regressive.

Tammy Wynette's recordings continued to be popular, many of her themes being, in fact, more complex than she was given credit for. Although Sherrill's quasi-Phil-Spector production bore an unmistakable hallmark which was not always to the songs' best advantage, some critics declared that they were in danger of becoming formula-ridden. While "Almost Persuaded" received acclaim, her cover of "Gentle On My Mind" was considered by some to be somewhat audacious and "over the top".

Between 1968 and 1975 she was married to the country star George Jones (once described as "the last pure country singer"). Their relationship was a much-publicised emotional rollercoaster ride. Their life and performance blurred into one when Jones joined Wynette on the Epic label: their duet "We're Gonna Hold On" gave him his first No 1 hit since 1967. The partnership produced some of Tammy Wynette's most interesting songs, many of which were written specifically for the couple. Curiously, they documented the progress of their relationship in song till "Golden Ring" and "Near You", released in 1976 - the year Wynette remarried.

During the Eighties Tammy Wynette appeared in the television soap opera Washington, but she did not take this career direction any further, although her 1979 autobiography, Stand By Your Man, was filmed in 1982. She gave performances for three US presidents and on 10 June 1991 she was given the sought-after "Living Legend Award" from Music City News and TNN. Towards the end of her career, Wynette recorded duets with many acclaimed vocalists such as Emmylou Harris, Ricky Van Shelton and Vern Gosdin. In 1992 she was the featured vocalist on the KLF hit "Justified and Ancient". Randy Travis, with whom she undertook a standing-room-only tour of Europe, said of her: "Lots of entertainers have recorded a few good songs - but Tammy's many hits will be around long after the others are forgotten."

In 1978, Wynette was mysteriously abducted at a shopping centre in Nashville, driven 80 miles in her car, beaten and released by a masked assailant. No one was ever arrested for the crime. In 1988 she petitioned for bankruptcy following the failure of two shopping centres in Florida in which she had invested.

In recent years she suffered from ill-health but still pursued a recording and touring schedule. She recorded the album Honky Tonk Angels with her fellow country singers Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn in 1993. She toured with the US vocalist Kenny Rogers in England last year, when she claimed her health had been improving. Wynette was still for many the undisputed "first lady" of country music.

Laurence Staig

Virginia Wynette Pugh (Tammy Wynette), singer: born Itawamba County, Mississippi 5 May 1942; married 1959 Euple Bird (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1965), 1967 Don Chapel (marriage dissolved 1968), 1968 George Jones (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1975), 1976 Michael Tomlin (marriage dissolved 1976), 1978 George Richey; died Nashville, Tennessee 6 April 1998.

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Life and Style
fashionThe supermodel on her career, motherhood and Cara Delevingne
News
i100
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Music Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Maths Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

C# asp.net Developer - West Sussex - permanent - £40k - £50k

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments