Born Harold Lloyd Jenkins, September 1, 1933, in Friars Point, MS; son of a riverboat pilot; married first wife, Georgia, c. 1955 (divorced, 1985); married Dee Henry (a secretary and record producer), 1987; children: (first marriage) Conway, Jr., Cathy. Singer, songwriter, guitar player, 1951--. Recorded rock songs with Mercury and MGM Records, 1957-65; had first Number One hit, "It's Only Make Believe," 1958. Moved to country music in 1965, signed with Decca Records and released more than 50 Number One country singles between 1968 and 1986. Has made numerous live tours in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has appeared as guest star on television variety shows. Star of syndicated television program, The Conway Twitty Show, 1966. Appeared in films Platinum High, Sex Kittens Go to College, and College Confidential. Address: Record company-- UNI Distribution Corp. (formerly MCA records), 70 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608.
Speaking strictly in terms of Number One hits, Conway Twitty is the most successful recording artist in the history of country music. Twitty has reached the top of the charts with country singles no less than 50 times in a career spanning more than three decades. While other superstars have come and gone, he has maintained solid fan support and shown an almost uncanny ability to choose the most appealing material to record. As Alanna Nash put it in Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, Twitty "staked his claim at the pinnacle of the music business thirty years ago, and one way or another, he's held it ever since."
Twitty's success in country music is all the more remarkable because he came to country from rock 'n' roll. For almost ten years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Twitty was a teen idol who released hit after hit on the pop charts. His switch to country was a dramatic mid-career move, a decision he made against all advice simply because he had always loved country music. The singer-songwriter was quoted in The Country Music Encyclopedia about his dramatic switch in styles: "After I'd been [performing] for about eight years, I felt like I had lived long enough and had experienced enough of the things that a country song is all about to compete with the different country singers that I thought were great. Not taking anything away from the rock thing, but I feel like I started off with rock and worked my way up to country music, and I really feel that way. I don't mean that to put rock-and-roll music down. But I love country music so much and I think it's so much a part of everybody's everyday life that it's like Coke--it's the real thing."
Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in the tiny Mississippi town of Friars Point. His father was a riverboat pilot and the family lived in a houseboat. Twitty told Nash that his early years were "kind of a Huckleberry Finn type of childhood.... My dad was a pilot on a Mississippi River boat. I used to sit up in the pilothouse and practice on the guitar and sing songs. Growing up there really helped make me turn out the way I am." Twitty was picking guitar by the time he was five and had formed his first band at ten.
Twitty loved music, but saw performing strictly as a hobby. He had another profession in mind--baseball. At 18 he was offered a contract by the Philadelphia Phillies, but before he could sign he was drafted into the service. He spent most of his Army years in Japan, where he performed in a country band to entertain the furloughed troops. When he returned to the States, Twitty was astonished by the first music he heard on the radio, Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train." Later he was thrilled by the Carl Perkins hit "Blue Suede Shoes." Twitty said in the Country Music Encyclopedia: "I thought this was a young type of music and I thought I could do this.... So I got a little group together ... and we started playing in nightclubs and on street corners and under shade trees--anywhere they'd let us play down in Arkansas and Tennessee and the Mississippi area."
Twitty auditioned at Sun Records for Sam Phillips--the legendary producer who signed Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison--but Phillips did not offer Twitty a contract. Instead, the singer found himself at Mercury Records with a producer who urged him to change his name. He was reluctant at first, because he wanted the folks in his hometown to see that "Harold Jenkins" had made the big time. Eventually, though, he became convinced that only a distinctive name would assure his singles air time in the competitive pop market. He used maps of the South to come up with his stage name--Conway, from Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, from Twitty, Texas.
A Mercury single, "I Need Your Lovin'," was Twitty's first chart-making song. In 1958 the artist moved to MGM Records and released "It's Only Make Believe," a song he wrote himself. The record--a powerful vocal performance featuring Twitty's trademark growl--became one of the biggest singles of the 1950s, selling in excess of eight million copies and topping record charts in 22 countries. In America "It's Only Make Believe" reached Number One on the country, pop, and blues charts and made a star of its author. From 1958 until 1965 Twitty rode a crest of popularity as a rock 'n' roll performer. He was such a phenomenon that he inspired the character of Conrad Birdie in the Broadway musical Bye Bye, Birdie.
Twitty's young fans, however, were unaware of his discontent with rock music. In his spare time he wrote country songs and sold them to other artists; gradually he became determined to move into country himself. "I was thirty-two years old and still playing the rock shows," he said in the Country Music Encyclopedia. "I wanted to get in the country thing so bad." For a while Twitty was stymied by his contract with MGM and extensive entourage of agents and managers. Finally, he let his MGM deal expire and presented himself to Decca producer Owen Bradley in Nashville. Bradley signed Twitty as strictly a country performer, and the two men worked together for the next 20 years.
Twitty took a hefty pay cut when he decided to go country. He soon recouped his losses, though, scoring 36 consecutive Top Five hits between 1968 and 1977. Both as a solo singer and in duet with country superstar Loretta Lynn, Twitty was almost always represented somewhere on the country charts. His biggest hits include "Guess My Eyes Were Bigger Than My Heart," "Next in Line," "Hello Darlin'," "She Needs Someone to Hold Her," "The Games That Daddies Play," and "Play Guitar, Play." Occasionally he released songs featuring suggestive lyrics--"You've Never Been This Far Before" and "Slow Hand"--that sold all the more for the controversy they engendered. Remarkably, Twitty never won an award from the Country Music Association for his solo work, even though he and Lynn won best duo almost constantly throughout the 1970s.
Today Twitty is still one of the most popular country stars and is arguably the most popular in his age group. The duration of his success is a result of his inspired choice of recording material and his extremely wise manipulation of the limelight. Twitty is not uncommonly handsome or vocally dynamic; but he recognizes the fact that country fans want good, meaningful songs, and a fantasy world into which they can slip, however briefly, during concerts. He has shunned interviews and television appearances over the years and does little talking on stage. "There may be ten thousand different people that think Conway Twitty is ten thousand different things," he told Nash. "As long as you don't get on some talk show and blow all that--say things that you shouldn't say, and destroy that fragile little image in that one country music fan's mind--then you can be all things to all people.... I respect that image that each fan out there creates individually. I try to never do anything that will destroy that image."
Twitty knows it is the song, not the singer, that appeals to country fans. Women in particular love his work because his lyrics acknowledge both sensuality and the desire for respect and affection. Twitty feels that his deep love for country music gives him a charmed ear for hit songs; he will listen to as many as 3,000 tunes before choosing ten to record. "If there's any so-called secret to my success and longevity in this business, it is that talent," Twitty told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I can just tell [a hit] when I write one or when I hear one. That's the one thing that's sustained me down through the years."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Conway Twitty's Career
Conway Twitty's Awards
With Loretta Lynn, named vocal duo of the year by the Country Music Association, 1972-78, and 1980.
- Selective Works
- Hello Darlin', MCA, reissue, 1985.
- Chasin' Rainbows, Warner Bros., 1985.
- Fallin' for You for Years, Warner Bros., 1986.
- Borderline, MCA, 1987.
- Number Ones: The Warner Bros. Years, Warner Bros., 1988.
- House on Old Lonesome Road, MCA, 1989.
- Greatest Hits, MCA, 3 Volumes; Volume 3, 1990.
- Crazy in Love, MCA, 1990.
- 25th Silver Anniversary Collection, MCA, 1990.
- Number Ones, Capitol Nashville, 1991.
- Hits of Conway Twitty, MGM.
- Hit the Road, MGM.
- Conway Twitty, MGM.
- Honky Tonk Angels, MCA.
- I'm Not through Loving You, MCA.
- To See My Angel Cry, MCA.
- Shake It Up, Pickwick.
- Linda on My Mind, MCA.
- You've Never Been This Far, MCA.
- High Priest of Country, MCA.
- Now and Then, MCA.
- Twitty, MCA.
- Play Guitar, Play, MCA.
- Cross Winds, MCA.
- Heart and Soul, MCA.
- A Night with Conway Twitty, MCA.
- Number Ones, MCA.
- Songwriter, MCA.
- By Heart, Warner Bros.
- Conway's #1 Classics, 2 Volumes, Warner Bros.
- Don't Call Him a Cowboy, Warner Bros.
- Dream Maker, Warner Bros.
- Lost in the Feeling, Warner Bros.
- Southern Comfort, Warner Bros.
- With Loretta Lynn Twenty Greatest Hits of Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty, MCA, 1987.
- The Very Best of Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn, MCA, 1988.
- Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man, MCA.
- We Only Make Believe, MCA.
- Country Partners, MCA.
- Feelin's, MCA.
- United Talent, MCA.
- Never-Ending Song of Love, Coral.
- Diamond Duet, MCA.
- Dynamic Duo, MCA.
- Lead Me On, MCA.
- Two's a Party, MCA.
- Brown, Charles T., Music U.S.A.: America's Country and Western Tradition, Prentice-Hall, 1986.
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, Harmony, 1977.
- Malone, Bill C., Country Music U.S.A., revised edition, University of Texas Press, 1985.
- Nash, Alanna, Behind Closed Doors: Talking with the Legends of Country Music, Knopf, 1988.
- Shestack, Melvin, The Country Music Encyclopedia, Crowell, 1974.
- Stambler, Irwin, and Grelun Landon, The Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music, St. Martin's, 1969.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, July 22, 1990.
Visitor Comments Add a comment…
over 12 years ago
I grew up listening to Conway Twitty. I loved his singing style, his songs and everything he represented. His love of his children is to be admired. I am truly saddened that "Twitty City" was sold because I saw a documentary on why he built the community environment. All his children and mother had homes on the property and his mansion was also on the property in addition as we all know his fans came to a place he built for them as well. It saddens me to think how Ms Dee Henry could be so greedy and demand an Auction of his estate. Conway had a reason why he didn't up date his "WILL". He had everything the way he wanted it. He had 6 years to change his Last Will and Testament but chose not to. Ms. Dee got 1/3 of his estate she should be thankful and grateful she got that much. There will never be anyone alive that can measure up to Mr. Conway Twitty. Nor will there ever be anyone that can touch the heart of so many. I listen to Country music all the time and have yet to find anyone that can sing country music.
about 14 years ago
I feel as if Conway had always had the stigma of being a "former rock and roll star" and it stayed with him throughout his career...almost every write-up or review would cite his former rock days...well into the 1980's. As far as awards...he won plenty of awards from other organizations. He took home several ACM Male Artist of the Year trophies in the mid 1970's and in the fan-voted Music City News awards he took home several as Male Artist of the Year...so he won some awards for his solo success...not many bring this up but he had the most RIAA certified Gold and Platinum albums of any country singer on the MCA label through 1990. Another thing often over-looked is how commercially successful his singles and albums were...many #1 hits and Top-10 albums...in 1990 MCA celebrated Conway's 25,000,000 in music sales. And yes, it's true the CMA never awarded Conway anything for his solo work...but he was nominated quite a lot. He and Loretta dominated the awards in the 1970's. His induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999 was long overdue as many fans would agree. To get into the Opry talk...Conway was never made a member because he never shown any active interest in becoming a member. Also, during Conway's hugely successful career, the Opry had rules that required it's members to appear there a certain amount of days during the year. I think the requirement back then was 45 appearances a year? Whatever it was, an artist of Conway's success couldn't afford to play the Opry 45 Saturday nights a year because it paid only union scale whereas an artist made more money on the concert trail. So, it wasn't like the Opry was against Conway and it wasn't like they hated him or anything...it was a business decision. This is why George Strait isn't a member...neither is Tim McGraw or LeAnn Rimes or mostly everyone currently on country radio...they can make more money out on the road than they can playing the Opry. I feel as if I should come to the defense of the Opry because a lot of people assume he wasn't made a member because of anger or resentment on the Opry's end and it wasn't the case. Conway himself mentioned how much he loved the Opry...he even recorded "The Grandest Lady of Them All" and insisted it be a single...and a lot of radio stations refused to play it because the Opry is owned by a rival radio station, WSM...and he was upset at how the single stalled in the Top-20 in 1978 but years later said that he'd still put the song out as a single if he had the chance to do it all over again because he felt the song was a wonderful tribute no matter how radio insiders felt. So, it wasn't the Opry's fault that Conway wasn't a member. He never shown any outward interest in being a member so the Opry and Conway never connected.
about 14 years ago
Hi, I wish to write about my deception when I became a rock 'n' roll knower. Why didn't Sam Philips release the Harold Jenkins 1956 recordings? He maybe could have been the greatest Sun rock 'n' roller since Elvis. But, fortunately, his star would shine in any place (MGM and others labels). Thank you. Paulo Castelo Branco (March, 5, 2009).
over 14 years ago
conway twitty was surely the greatest country singer in the world i wish that i could have met him like my mom and dad did but he passed away in 1993 before i got to meet him and he was still making the number one hits in the 1990's as well up until he died country music today will never beat out theses country music legends noway the biggest conway twitty fan in the world it is so sad that twitty city and all that he built for his fans had to be sold what a pity that was patricia hardy
over 14 years ago
conway twitty did not get the reconition that he truly deserved and i am very mad that he was not a member of the grand old opry he should of been and to have not won entertainer of the year award or songwriter of the year award or the best male vocalist award neither my mom and dad met him when they were in nashville and my mom and dad said that he was a true genuine country singer then the singers of today are the shits the number one conway twitty fan of all time from dryden ontario canada patricia hardy
over 14 years ago
Twitty was very dynamic. I attended his shows. He was very effective in have each single release significantly new, fresh and unique from previous hits. That made him so effective in variety, excitement, etc. Today's country artist aren't country. Most have no talent and each song sounds the same as their own and the same as others. Great country classic singers and songs no longer are among us. The public is suffering.