Wilma Burgess

Singer with a clutch of country hits

Wilma Charlene Burgess, singer: born Orlando, Florida 11 June 1939; died Nashville, Tennessee 26 August 2003.

Wilma Burgess enjoyed a clutch of country hits during the latter part of the 1960s before abruptly retiring from the music business. The possessor of a warm and appealing voice, she was an underrated song stylist who was at her best when handling romantic ballads, most notably her soulful rendition of Bob Montgomery's "Misty Blue" (1967).

A native of Orlando, Florida, she had little interest in country music until, as a student in the 1950s, she attended an Eddy Arnold concert and found herself drawn to the emotional honesty of his performance. In 1960 she completed her studies at Stetson University, in DeLand, Florida, where she had majored in physical education, and travelled to Nashville at the suggestion of a songwriter friend who believed that her vocal talents would help sell his songs to the city's music publishers.

One of these publishers, Charlie Lamb, of Sound Format, was impressed by her voice and introduced her to one of the creators of the famed "Nashville Sound", the producer Owen Bradley. In 1962 she cut a double-sided single, "Confused" / "Something Tells Me", for United Artists, but it made little impact on the charts.

Two years later, Bradley signed her to the Decca label and she recorded a series of minor singles before finally breaking into the Top Ten with a fine version of Ray Griff's "Baby" (1965). She followed this with "Don't Touch Me" (1966) and then made it into the Top Five with "Misty Blue". It became her signature song and was later covered not only by her original inspiration, Eddy Arnold, but also by the soul singer Dorothy Moore who, in 1976, took it into the upper reaches of both the pop and R&B charts.

She enjoyed further hits with "Fifteen Days", "Tear Time" (both 1967) and "Parting (Is Such Sweet Sorrow)" (1969), and released five albums for Decca before then signing with Shannon Records. Operated by Jim Reeves' widow, Mary Reeves Davis, the label proved a supportive if not particularly successful musical home for Burgess. She entered the Top Twenty only once more, scoring with "Wake Me Into Love" (1974), a duet with a former member of Jim Reeves' band, Bud Logan.

Unable to handle the pressures associated with the music business, Wilma Burgess retired during the mid-Seventies and eventually opened Nashville's first women-only bar. In 1993 she returned briefly to the spotlight when, having bought Patsy Cline's former home, she discovered rare tapes of the singer's early television appearances in her attic.

Paul Wadey

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