WHITTLE: Kitty Wells Blazed Global Trails

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Smyrna resident Jennifer Stuart, sister to Country Music star Marty Stuart, co-authored this column with Dan Whittle about Kitty Wells and the folks who nurtured her to become Music City's first internationally-acclaimed female recording artist back in the 1950s…)

Muriel Deason meant to be a "house wife."

Instead, as "Kitty Wells," she became an internationally-acclaimed country music icon…so famous, the industry, plus Nashville and Tennessee political leaders, crowned her with "The Queen of Country Music" title in 2010.

It was a regal crown she wore until her death due to health complications on July 16, 2012, following a stroke and the on-set of pneumonia. She died at her home in Nashville with family and loved ones at her side.

To close non-music industry friends, she was simply "Muriel."

"It's with a heavy heart I advise you of the death of Muriel Deason, a charter member of General Francis Nash Chapter of the DAR, and mother of DAR members Sue and Stephanie Sturdivant," noted longtime Nashville DAR officer Andrea Lawrence. "Muriel was the famous Country Music star, Kitty Wells. Because we all called her Muriel, she knew she could be herself without worry and attention of the news media."

Her global acclaim was evident during one of her last nationally-televised public appearances.

At age 90 in 2010, while appearing on the nationally-televised "Marty Stuart Show" on cable RFD-TV, the host also acknowledged Miss Kitty's title: "Queen of Country Music."

"I was to be a homemaker, and stay with my children," noted the internationally-acclaimed vocalist in a brief interview after the RFD Network appearance.

Her first "hit"  - "It wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" – changed her direction in life in 1952.

"It was hard for a gal to get started in the country music world at that time," Kitty acknowledged.

Many female star performers in her wake credit Kitty with being the "trail-blazer" for present and future female artists.

Although frail, Miss Kitty brought the in-studio RFD-Network audience to a standing ovation when she joined Connie Smith in a stirring rendition of a song in front of network cameras.

Legendary WSM Radio/Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs assessed her personal stature after her 2010 TV appearance: "Professionalism, headlined by poise, dignity and class… whether on stage or at home, she was poised with dignity and class…"

Kitty credited husband Johnny Wright, her help-mate of more than 70 years who died in 2010, with steering her toward a country music career.

"My husband was already a performer, a duo known as 'Johnnie & Jack,'" Kitty recalled. "It was in 1943, that Johnnie suggested the name 'Kitty Wells' as my stage name. I give credit to God and Johnnie for leading me into country music."

The name was taken from a folk song entitled "Sweet Kitty Wells."

Her "break" into recording came one late night in 1952, when a producer for Decca Records heard her sing at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

"Decca Records' Paul Cohen handed me a song that night…a song that didn't really grab my attention, but because it meant union wage while recording it in a studio, I agreed to record it…" Kitty graciously recalled back across the decades of making recording history.

Emotions bubbled over for present-day (2012) Ernest Tubb Record Shop owner David McCormick.

"We all  fought back  tears when the "Country Music Family" came together to help celebrate her 90th birthday, plus local and national political leaders, including present-day Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander," McCormick recalled.

Audrey Williams, the widow of legendary Hank Willliams Sr., regularly travelled between Nashville and Montgomery, Ala., in the 1950s, and called Kitty on the phone, advising radio stations outside of Nashville were playing her hit record.

"I recall that phone call very well," Kitty confirmed.

"Dew" Lynn, the late husband of Loretta Lynn, in the beginning of promoting his wife's career, regularly bragged around Nashville that Loretta "sounded just like Kitty Wells."

"We love you dearly," Nashville Mayor Karl Dean echoed the praises at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop. "Lets do it again on your hundredth."

"I will if I can," Miss Kitty chorused in response.

(Writer Whittle's Note: I was an 8-year-old farm boy, when first hearing Kitty Wells' 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' hit song over Sikeston, Mo., KSIM Radio Station. I recall that we often sang that song, to help pass the time and ease the pain during the back-breaking hard work in cotton fields of our youth in the "Bootheel" farming region of Southeast Missouri.)
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