A legendary country singer who was known as the “Queen of Country Music” died Monday in Madison, Tenn., the Los Angeles Times reports. Kitty Wells, 92, died of complications after suffering a stroke.
Wells’ career goes back to the 1930s, but it wasn’t until 1952 that she recorded her signature song, the No. 1 hit “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” She was one of the first women to make an impact in country music, and is credited with helping to change gender roles not just in music but in rural America.
Wells, the most successful female singer of the 1950s and early 1960s, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1977.
She was ready to give up on her music career and become a stay-at-home mom in 1952 when the opportunity came up to record one more song. “Mostly she was interested in the $125 union scale pay she’d get for the session, at which she recorded ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’ a song that not only turned her career around but also helped upend stereotypical thinking about men who strayed and the women they strayed with,” the story reports.
In a 2001 interview, Wells said: "I had decided I wasn’t going to work anymore. When it started making a hit, it wasn’t too long before I had to go back to work."
The story notes: “Her recording delivered a strikingly assertive response to Hank Thompson’s massive 1952 hit ‘The Wild Side of Life,’ in which a man laid all blame on a woman he met in a honky tonk for breaking up his marriage and then leaving him to go ‘where the wine and liquor flows, where you wait to be anybody’s baby.’
“Wells, singing a song written by J.D. Miller, shot back, ‘It wasn’t God who made honky tonk angels/As you said in the words of your song/Too many times married men think they’re still single/That has caused many a good girl to go wrong.’"
The song went to the top of the country charts, staying at No. 1 for six weeks and kick-starting Wells’ career. She continued to record hits through the 1970s.
She followed her first hit with another answer song, “Paying for That Back Street Affair,” a 1953 response to Webb Pierce’s “Back Street Affair.” Other hits included “One by One,” recorded with Red Foley, “As Long as I Live,” “Release Me” and “Making Believe.”
She was the first female country singer to put out her own album, with the 1956 release “Country Hit Parade.”
Here’s a clip of Wells singing her signature hit, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” at the Grand Ole Opry: