Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942 in Itawamba County, Mississippi; died April 6, 1998 of a pulmonary blood clot.Father, William Hollice Pugh; mother, Mildred Faye (Russell) Pugh; Education: American Beauty College, Birmingham, Alabama; married Euple Byrd at age 17; divorced, 1964, three daughters: Gwendolyn Ignaczak, Jacquelyn Daly, and Tina Jones; married George Jones, singer, 1969; divorced 1975, one daughter, Tamala Georgette, 1970; married Michael Tomlin, real estate executive, 1976; divorced 1976; married George Richey, singer/songwriter, 1978, stepdaughter Deirdre Richardson, stepson Kelly Richey; seven grandchildren.
Throughout her long-standing musical career and turbulent lifetime, Tammy Wynette was known with great fondness as the "first lady of country music." During the course of a career that spanned 32 years, Wynette recorded over 50 albums and sold in excess of 30 million records. Her distinctive voice and singing style was characterized frequently as the ideal of country soul. She was noted and remembered as the embodiment of the Nashville country music sound, both because of her twangy, heart wrenching voice and her memorable musical arrangements which featured the classic country sounds of steel guitars mixed with strings.
Wynette's personal life, too, reflected the country music paradigm of triumph over tragedy. Born Virginia Wynette Pugh in Itawamba County, Mississippi during World War II, she was not yet one year old when her father, William Hollice Pugh, died of a brain tumor. Her mother, Mildred Faye, worked for the war effort in Memphis. In time Mildred Pugh remarried, to Wynette's chagrin. Wynette was persistently at odds with her stepfather and as a result opted to live with her grandparents on their cotton farm. In the tradition of country music cliches, Wynette grew up picking cotton as a youngster, in order to survive. She also learned to play several instruments including guitar and piano, at the bidding of her father to her mother before he died. She was an avid basketball player in high school, although she was expelled in 1959, just a few month short of graduation because she married her adolescent sweetheart, Euple Byrd, against the school district rules--which was unfortunate because Wynette's infatuation with Byrd was short-lived. The young couple lived in dire poverty and the marriage collapsed after five years. At the time of their break-up Wynette was pregnant with their third daughter, Tina. The couple divorced legally in 1965.
During the mid-1960s, on her own and with her children to support, Wynette worked as a waitress, a receptionist, and in a shoe factory to survive. Later she attended beauty school and worked as a beautician in Birmingham, Alabama, yet all the while she fostered an intense desire to sing professionally. Whenever time permitted she traveled to Nashville, in an effort to procure work as a singer. She knocked on the doors of major country music record producers with an unending determination. Her persistence paid off, on one of her trips to Nashville she caught the ear of the legendary country music star Porter Wagoner. He hired her to sing backup for him, which ultimately led to her meeting with producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill was impressed with her talent, but he suggested she change her name to Tammy Wynette. She agreed to the change, and with Sherrill's influence she signed with Epic Records in 1966.
During one of her numerous trips to Nashville in 1965 Wynette met Don Chapel, a would-be country star with connections around Nashville. They were married in 1967, but not long afterward Wynette was shocked and repulsed to learn that Chapel had exploited her. She was grateful and relieved later to discover that a legal technicality made the marriage unlawful, and so it was annulled. Ironically it was Chapel who introduced Wynette to her girlhood idol and future husband, the popular country singer George Jones. In time the two singers, Jones and Wynette, developed a professional relationship as well as a close personal friendship. Wynette and Jones performed as a couple and recorded many songs together. They were married in 1969. Their professional collaboration continued until 1978, although their marriage ended in divorce in 1975. Despite the untimely ending to their marriage, the synergy between the two singers was almost legendary, and years later in 1996, they made a reunion album entitled One . It was well received, although it lacked the spark of their musical liaisons of earlier years. Jones and Wynette had one daughter, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970.
Following her breakup with George Jones, Wynette was both married to and divorced from realtor Michael Tomlin during the course of 1976. She was also linked romantically with actor Burt Reynolds briefly in 1977, but it was her marriage to singer/songwriter George Richey in 1978 that finally brought happiness and stability to Wynette's private life.
She published an autobiography, Stand by Your Man, in 1979, and although she continued to work and to perform, her career began to wind down throughout the 1980s. She went on to record with KLF, a dance-rap duo; and she sang with Sting and Elton John. In 1986, she accepted a recurring role on the CBS soap opera Capitol . Wynette played the part of Darlene Stankowsky, a former country singer turned waitress.
Wynette, who suffered many tragedies throughout her life, maintained that she had no complaints and that she felt greatly blessed. Her house was bombed and severely damaged in 1975, and she was also victimized for some time by a stalker. In Nashville, in 1978, she was mysteriously kidnapped from a shopping center and badly beaten. Wynette's health was also a source of suffering for the singer. She developed a chronic inflammation of the bile ducts and was intermittently hospitalized, from 1978 until her death in 1998. As a result she developed a dependency on painkillers in the late 1970s. She became critically ill with a liver infection at the end of 1994. Pamela Lansden of People quoted Wynette's personal spin on life's tribulations as follows: "The sad part about happy endings is there's nothing to write about."
Wynette won three awards from Country Music Association as Female Vocalist of the Year, in 1968, 1969, and 1970; and she won a Grammy award for "I Don't Want to Play House" in 1967. Wynette also won a Living Legend award in 1991. In all she had 27 Country Music Award nominations. As her career wound down in the 1990s Wynette had amassed eleven number one albums and 20 number one singles. Her greatest hit was her signature song, "Stand by your Man," which she wrote along with Billy Sherrill, and which won a Grammy award in 1969."
Tammy Wynette died peacefully, in her sleep, on April 6, 1998 of a pulmonary blood clot. She was 55. Despite her persistent illnesses, she continued to perform until shortly before her death and had other performances scheduled in the offing. Wynette's funeral was held on April 9, 1998 and, at the same time, a public memorial service was underway at Nashville's original Grand Ole Opry building (Ryman Auditorium). Her death solicited commentary such as songwriter Bill Mack's commentary, quoted in the Dallas Morning News , that she was a "class act," and "irreplaceable," and that, "She never knew a flat note." Lee Ann Womack was quoted also; she said of Wynette, whose songs often evoked strength and controlled passion, "You knew she knew what she was singing about. You can put her records on and listen and learn so much." Wynette was survived by her husband George Richey, five daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren. In September of 1998, shortly after her death, Wynette was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
by Gloria Cooksey
Tammy Wynette's Career
Signed with Epic records,1966; released Apartment #9, 1966; released "Stand By Your Man," 1968; released Higher Ground, 1987, released Without Walls, 1994; collaborated with George Jones (husband) until 1978; recurring role on the Capitol soap opera as Darlene Stankowsky.
Tammy Wynette's Awards
Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year (1968, 1969, 1970); Grammy Award, 1969 for "Stand by Your Man," Best Country and Western, 1967; Living Legend Award, 1991; September 23, 1998, inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, 1998.
- Selected discography
- "Apartment #9," 1966.
- "I Don't Wanna Play House," 1967.
- "Stand by Your Man," 1968.
- Higher Ground , 1987.
- Without Walls , 1994.
- (with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn) Honky Tonk Angels , 1993.
- (with George Jones) One , 1996.
- Wynette, Tammy with Joan Dew, Stand by Your Man , Simon and Schuster, New York, 1979.
- Dallas Morning News , April 7, 1998.
- People , September 29, 1986; April 20, 1998, pp. 54-59.
- "Tammy Wynette," Great American Country, http://testpo.jic.com/ countrystars/artists/wynette.html, (October 7, 1998).