Skeeter Davis

Country diva who sang 'The End of the World'

For nearly 40 years a star of Nashville's
Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter Davis was one of the most popular country divas of her generation. Her voice may have lacked the emotional depth of Patsy Cline or the honky-tonk edge of Jean Shepard, but she nevertheless enjoyed a string of hits, most notably "The End of the World" in 1963.



Mary Frances Penick (Skeeter Davis), singer: born Dry Ridge, Kentucky 30 December 1931; married first Kenneth Depew (marriage dissolved), second 1960 Ralph Emery (marriage dissolved 1964), third 1987 Joey Spampinato (marriage dissolved 1996); died Nashville, Tennessee 19 September 2004.



For nearly 40 years a star of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter Davis was one of the most popular country divas of her generation. Her voice may have lacked the emotional depth of Patsy Cline or the honky-tonk edge of Jean Shepard, but she nevertheless enjoyed a string of hits, most notably "The End of the World" in 1963.

Written by Sylvia Dee and Arthur Kent and produced by Anita Kerr, "The End of the World" featured a highly effective, and in Davis's case typical, double tracking of the vocal part, a possible legacy of her work with her former duet partner Betty Jack Davis. It proved a high point not only of Skeeter Davis's own career, crossing over into both the United States and British pop charts, but also of the famed "Nashville Sound".

Skeeter Davis was born Mary Frances Penick, in Kentucky, in 1931. Her nickname - given to her by a grandfather because she was always buzzing about - derived from the local slang for mosquito. The eldest of seven children, she was exposed to music from an early age and would later cite the legendary Carter Family as a formative influence.

Whilst still at high school Skeeter Penick formed a musical partnership with a friend, Betty Jack Davis, and, as the Davis Sisters, they became a fixture of Lexington's WLAX radio station. Appearances in Detroit, in Cincinnati and on the Wheeling Jamboree in West Virginia followed and in 1952 they landed a recording contract with Fortune Records. Little came of it, however, and in 1953 they signed to RCA; their first cut for the label, "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know", went on to top the country charts.

In August that year, en route to a gig in Cincinnati, a car accident robbed Betty Jack of her life and Skeeter of much of her confidence. Attempts to sustain the duo's momentum with the help of Betty Jack's sister Georgie faltered and it would be several years before Skeeter returned to the recording studio.

Now a solo performer, in 1958 Skeeter Davis charted with "Lost to a Geisha Girl", breaking back into the Top Ten the following year with "Set Him Free". Her subsequent hits included "My Last Date (With You)" (1961) which she co-wrote with Boudleaux Bryant and the pianist Floyd Cramer, "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" (1964), the Grammy-nominated "Sun Glasses" (1965), "What Does It Take" (1967, written by Jim Glaser), "I'm a Lover Not a Fighter" (1969) and "Bus Fare to Kentucky" (1971) - later the title of her autobiography.

Despite strongly held religious beliefs which led her to refuse to perform at venues which sold alcohol, Skeeter Davis's private life was at times tempestuous. Her three marriages did not last and the second, to the Nashville broadcasting personality Ralph Emery, was bitterly recounted by both parties in their respective autobiographies. Her third husband Joey Spampinato was bass-player with the group NRBQ.

Skeeter Davis joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1959 and remained a popular member of its cast for the rest of her life.

Paul Wadey

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