Tammy Wynette was the self-styled First Lady of Country Music, a title that was as much fact as hype. Over the course of a 30-year career, Wynette has reached the peak of country achievement with such signature hits as 'Stand by Your Man," one of the top-selling singles by a woman in country history. With her sultry, sexy image, blonde hairdo, and persona history of stormy relationships (particularly with former husband and musical partner George Jones), Wynette became the symbol of the country female star.
Wynette's love of music began in her childhood. Born Virginia Wynnette Pugh, May 5, 1942, on her grandfather's farm in Itawamba county, Mississippi, she was the daughter of a local musician who died when she was eight months old. "The only legacy he left me was his love of music," she recalled. "He made my mother promise him over and over again that she would encourage me to take an interest in music if I had any talent at all. She kept her promise - until I wanted to make a career of it; then she, along with everyone else in my family, thought I'd lost my mind."
It would be a while, however, before Wynette pursued that career. In 1943 her mother moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to do war work, and Wynette was then raised by her grandparents. While at their farm she taught herself to play her father's instruments and was given singing lessons.
But he musical career was postponed when she got married at age 17 and subsequently had three children. When the marriage broke up in the 1960s, she was forced to work as a beautician to support her family. Her career finally started in 1965 when she began performing on a Birmingham television program, "The Country Boy Eddie Show." In 1966 she moved to Nashville and began auditioning at various labels. She eventually came to the attention of producer Billy Sherrill at Epic Records and was signed to a contract. Her debut recorded, "Apartment #9, was a modest hit in 1966, just the tip of the iceberg for the success that was coming her way. The rise to fame began with her subsequent release, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," that hit number three on the country chart in 1967.
From that point on, the hits flowed, putting Wynette on track to become one of the most successful female vocalists of the time -- and of all time. The Number One records scored over the next nine years would add up to an astounding 17, including such classics as "I Don't Wanna Play House," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," and Wynette's signature song, "Stand By Your Man."
During that period, Wynette hit toe top 10 again and again. And her career hardly diminished even after it peaked in the late 1970s. She remained a major star and a consistent presence on the charts in the 1980s and '90s (although at lower chart rankings than her heyday). All told, Wynette sold nearly 20 million records. Along the way, Wynette gained notoriety for her romantic relationships. She has been married five times, creating the biggest stir with her 1969 marriage to George Jones. During their six years as husband and wife they toured together and recorded a succession of hit duets that included "Were gonna Hold On" and "Golden Ring." While their relationship - which received much attention from the press and public - didn't last, it did add to the stormy imagery that colors their careers as well as a vast number of country songs. And given the media coverage of Wynette's various relationships with others, including Rudy Gatlin of the Gatlin Brothers and actor Burt Reynolds, it sometimes seemed as if Wynette was playing out her music in her life.
That life became the subject of the best-selling autobiography that was subsequently turned into a popular 1982 film, both of which came with the fitting title Stand By Your Man.
Later in life Wynette had complications from earlier botched stomach surgeries and was in constant pain. She took pain-killing medicine for the balance of her life and it was thought that a complications from pain killers and a suspected lung embolism caused her sudden death at her Nashville home on March 5, 1998. Her funeral and memorial service at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville became a nationally televised event.
I Don't Wanna Play Hours (Epic, '67)
D-I-V-O-R-C-E (Epic, '68)
Stand by Your Man (Epic, '68)
He Loves Me All The Way (Epic, '70)
Run, Woman, Run (Epic, '70)
Good Lovin' (Makes it Right) (Epic, '71)