As far as I can tell (and I admit that I’m a fan, but no authority), Kitty Wells never dipped into the rockabilly well during her career. She was already a well-established country superstar by the time rockabilly started heating up. While many, many country stars of the day jumped on the rockabilly band wagon either because they liked the new music or figured it was a good move for their careers, Miss Kitty stayed true to her honky tonk style.
Today the lovely Miss Kitty passed away at the age of 92 years and what a loss it is to not only the country world, but to the world of music as a whole. She was truly one of music’s brightest stars.
And although I can’t stretch any song of hers that I know into a rockabilly genre, she was definitely an influence on rockabilly music and especially female rockabilly musicians. Wells was the first woman to score a #1 country hit when she did it in 1952 with the classic “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.” But the song was more than just a first for women in country music. It was a song in which women everywhere put their collective foot down and said, “Enough of your cheatin’ and blamin’ it on us!”
The song was a direct response to Hank Thompson’s 1952 Hit “Wild Side of Life” where Thompson blamed the woman for a failed relationship. Miss Kitty said, “Not so fast Mr.!” and “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” made the point loud and clear in a way no woman had done before. Many brash, young rockabilly women–Wanda Jackson, Lorrie Collins, Janis Martin, and others–took things up a notch with attitude and energy, but it was Miss Kitty who opened the door first.
Kitty was also a founding member of the Louisiana Hayride radio and later television show that featured so many country legends but also helped launch the careers of many rockabilly stars, not the least of which is Elvis himself.
Another first for Miss Kitty is that she released the first full-length album by a female country star with her 1956 release Kitty Wells’ Hit Parade. And I don’t know this for sure, but she had to be among the first women to accompany themselves on guitar as they were singing–a trait picked up on by many rockabilly women later.
Kitty charted 81 songs with 35 top 10 hits in her long career. She was unquestionably an amazing talent. To some people, Kitty Wells’ voice is an acquired taste. These days it does sound pretty “hick” and certainly not full of the kind of vocal gymnastics that have become the trademark among so many female pop singers of the past 20 or so years. But to me that voice was as beautiful as any I ever heard. This was a woman with honky tonk in her soul and every note she sang proved it.
RIP Miss Kitty.