She put the blame on men—and that was brazen, back in 1952, even in a song. Demure Kitty Wells sang “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” with sweet dignity but a galvanizing wail: “Too many married men think they’re still single/ This has caused many a good girl to go wrong.” This age-old—and entirely verifiable—lament caused so much flak that, according to Diane Reese in The Washington Post, NBC banned the song from radio play and the Grand Ole Opry asked her not to sing it.
Still, the song (written by Johnny D. Miller) shot to the top of the Billboard country-music chart—and taught a skeptical country-music industry that a female singer could sell 800,000 records in a song’s first release. Needless to say, the Grand Ole Opry then invited Wells to perform: she was its first female soloist.
Kitty Wells (born Muriel Ellen Deason), “the First Queen of Country Music,” died yesterday at 92. She toured into her early eighties. And she kept on singing “scandalous” songs (that is, songs from a woman’s point of view): “Paying for That Back-Street Affair,” “Cheating’s a Sin,” and the rawest, most woeful rendition of “Please Release Me” there could be. It was Wells’s popularity that blasted away the music industry’s bias (“female country singers won’t sell records”)—and showed today’s female country stars that there could be a place for them at the top of the charts.