Tammy Wynette, Country Music’s First Lady

By the age of 20, Tammy Wynette was divorced with three children, and working two jobs. At the time, the singer performed just to pay her daughter’s medical bills. But her unyielding determination and natural gift for music led to her first record deal; the rest is music history.

Tammy Wynette’s Early Days

Virginia Wynette Pugh was born in Itawamba County, Mississippi, on May 5, 1942. Her father William, a part-time musician, died when she was still an infant, forcing her mother Mildred to relocate to Alabama to make a living. Wynette remained in Mississippi under the care of her maternal grandparents, and grew up working on their farm. In her spare time, she taught herself how to play guitar and piano.

Wynette married Euple Byrd when she was 17 years old, just before graduating from high school. Although the marriage only lasted for three short years, the couple had three children together before divorcing.

Tina, the third of Wynette’s children, had spinal meningitis. To pay for Tina’s medical expenses, Wynette sang in nightclubs while working as a beautician during the day. Her popularity on stage led to appearances on local television shows. In 1966, Wynette moved to Nashville to devote herself to a full-time musical career.

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Wynette’s Notable Accomplishments

After an impromptu audition for producer Billy Sherrill in 1966, Wynette signed with Epic records and changed her stage name to Tammy. Her first single, “Apartment #9,” was released to moderate success. The singer then went on to hit number one on the country music charts twice in 1967 with “My Elusive Dreams” and “I Don’t Wanna Play House.”

Wynette stayed at the top of the charts with her 1968 single “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and her all-time classic “Stand By Your Man.” The overwhelming popularity of the song earned Wynette her first Grammy in 1969. The song regained its popularity during the 1990s, featured in movies such as “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Poetic Justice.”

During the 1970s, Wynette released eleven number-one singles, as well as numerous duet hits performed with then-husband George Jones. In 1979, she released her autobiography “Stand By Your Man,” which exposed the singer’s turbulent past and current troubles that included bankruptcy and drug addictions.

Wynette collaborated with artists outside of the country genre during the 1990s, performing the single “Justified and Ancient” with British electronic group The KLF, and releasing the 1994 album “Without Walls,” which included duets with Elton John, Sting and Smokey Robinson.

The Woman and Her Work

The Rest of the Story

Wynette died on April 6, 1998, at the age of 55. Though she was said to have died due to complications from a blood clot, an autopsy later revealed that she died of heart failure. Physicians were not able to determine whether Wynette’s death was induced by drug use, a problem she faced throughout most of her adult life.

It was “virtually impossible to determine the exact drug levels at the time of Wynette’s death or to what extent, if any, these drugs contributed to her heart failure and death,” Dr. Bruce Levy, a medical examiner, told CNN in 1999.

In September 1998, Wynette was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame after recording 50 albums and winning multiple awards. She became known in the industry as “The First Lady of Country Music.”