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Stars bid farewell to Tammy Wynette

portrait of Tammy Wynette

Eulogized as legend, lady and friend

April 9, 1998
Web posted at: 10:19 p.m. EDT (0219 GMT)

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- The country music world said goodbye and thank you Thursday to one of its cherished legends, Tammy Wynette, with prayers, tears and, especially, songs.

A who's who of country crowded into the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville -- where Wynette performed many times as a cast member of the Grand Old Opry -- for a memorial service broadcast to friends and fans around the world.

"She'll always be dear to me. She'll always be special. She'll always live in our memories," said Dolly Parton, who dedicated a performance of a song she wrote, "Shine On," to Wynette. "God certainly gave Tammy a great gift. She shined then, she's shining now and she'll shine forever more."

Country music performers remember Tammy Wynette

Randy Travis
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Naomi Judd
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Rudy Gatlin
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Dolly Parton
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"Tammy was an angel. Now I'm sure she is," said Norro Wilson, a longtime friend who eulogized Wynette at the service.

Backed by Wynette's own band, Young Country, singer Lorrie Morgan drew the service to a close with a rendition of Wynette's signature tune, "Stand By Your Man," at the request of her husband, George Richey.

A distraught Richey, who married Wynette in 1978, also took the stage, offering his thanks to the man who discovered her in the mid-1960s, producer Billy Sherrill.

"She was my buddy," Richey said, adding that he and Wynette were alone together in their Nashville house when she died on Monday after a blood clot struck her lungs. Wynette had been in frail health for the past several years.

"I didn't think it would happen the way it did," he said.
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Mourners stretch around block

In the hours before the service began, a line of mourners stretched around the block under gray, windy skies, waiting to get into the auditorium, where giant floral arrangements and portraits of Wynette graced the stage. About 2,000 people were on hand to pay their respects to the woman known as the "first lady of country music."

Those who performed at the service and shared their memories of Wynette included Randy Travis, Wynonna, the Oak Ridge Boys, J.D. Sumner and the Stamps and Rudy Gatlin. Merle Haggard, who couldn't attend in person, sang on a videotape that was played for the audience.

"Tammy was a wonderful lady," said Travis, who was Wynette's opening act for five years and eulogized her with the song, "Precious Memories."

"She was a lady who enjoyed laughing ... I loved her sarcastic sense of humor."

Tammy Wynette memorial
(Part 1)

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  • JD Sumner & The Stamps
  • Randy Travis
  • Naomi Judd
  • Wynnona Judd
Tammy Wynette memorial
(Part 2)

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  • The Oak Ridge Boys
  • Rudy Gatlin
  • Dolly Partin
  • Merle Haggard
Tammy Wynette memorial
(Part 3)

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  • Lorri Morgan
  • George Richie (Wynette's husband)
  • Final prayer

A tearful Naomi Judd, who also toured with Wynette, recalled trading recipes with her and getting advice on how to handle the demands that touring places on the children of country stars.

"We had three queens in country music. And one of them is gone," Judd said. "In memory of Tammy, ask that her records get played."

"Tammy Wynette had more soul in her pinkie than all of us chick wannabe divas," said Judd's daughter, Wynonna. "She paved the way for me. And when I met her, I felt so in awe of her, yet she gave me the time of day -- asked me ... to sing with her in the studio and embraced this punk kid who wanted to be in country music."

Loretta Lynn had been scheduled to speak at the service but was too distraught to attend.

Private funeral held at Baptist church

Naomi Judd and Wynonna remember Wynette
Naomi Judd and Wynonna remember Wynette  

Wynette, who was 55 when she died, is survived by Richey, five daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.

Earlier Thursday, about 450 of her friends and family members attended a private funeral service at Judson Baptist Church, where Parton and Wynonna also performed. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood were among those in attendance.

During the private service, Parton had to cut short a rendition of "Shine On," saying she simply couldn't sing anymore.

Gospel singer Jake Hess performed "Death Ain't No Big Deal," a tune he said was a Wynette favorite.

After the service, she was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville.

Wynette recorded more than 50 albums

Born Virginia Wynette Pugh in Itawamba County, Mississippi, in 1942, the future superstar married at 17 and became a beautician in Birmingham, Alabama. But she made periodic trips to Nashville to pursue her dreams in country music, eventually catching the eye of Sherrill.

It was Sherrill who renamed her Tammy Wynette and co-wrote and produced a string of country classics with her in the late 1960s. Those hits included "I Don't Wanna Play House," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad."

Wynette would go on to record more than 50 albums and score 39 top 10 hits, 20 of which went on to No. 1. She also had success in a string of duets with another country legend, George Jones, to whom she was married from 1969 to 1975.

As one of the pioneering female stars of country music, Wynette had a major influence on an entire generation of Nashville stars who followed her. But in later years, her influence went beyond country circles.

She recorded a duet with Elton John, and Rolling Stone Keith Richards professed to be a fan. She even had a hit as the featured vocalist on a song by a Scottish rap group, KLF, titled, "Justified and Ancient."

Married five times, her turbulent life was often reflected in the plaintive, angst-ridden songs she wrote, which led to her being dubbed the "queen of heartache."

But in a February 1993 interview, she said that with Richey, her life was "very happy, and I don't write any sad songs anymore."


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