"If I had never heard of Kitty Wells, I don't think I would have been a singer" -- Loretta Lynn
"She was a trailblazer for all the women in country music," Reba McEntire says
Despite being banned by the Grand Ole Opry, her first record sold a million copies
Wells proved women could sell records singing country songs from a woman's point of view
Kitty Wells shocked the country music scene when she first sang about honky tonks and cheating husbands 60 years ago, but it propelled her to stardom and blazed a path for the strong female voices that followed.
Longtime Atlanta radio host Rhubarb Jones connects today’s young female stars directly back to Wells.
“Before Miranda Lambert, there was Reba McEntire,” Jones said. “Before Reba there was Loretta Lynn. Before Loretta, there was Patsy Cline. Before Patsy, there was Kitty Wells.”
“If I had never heard of Kitty Wells, I don’t think I would have been a singer myself,” Lynn said after learning of Wells’ death Monday at age 92. “I wanted to sound just like her, but as far as I am concerned, no one will ever be as great as Kitty Wells.”
“She was a trailblazer for all the women in country music,” McEntire said Tuesday.
Both Lynn and McIntyre called Wells “my hero.”
“Kitty Wells was the first and only Queen of Country Music, no matter what they call the rest of us,” Dolly Parton said. “She was a great inspiration to me as well as every other female singer in the country music business.”
Wells was 32 years old and a mother of three in 1952 when she was asked to record “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a response to Hank Thompson’s No. 1 hit, “The Wild Side Of Life.”
The song was a defense of women, giving cheating men some of the blame for causing women to stray. “Too many times married men think they’re still single, that has caused many a good girl to go wrong,” Wells sang.
Despite the Grand Ole Opry’s refusal to allow her to sing it on the radio broadcast, the record sold a million copies and dominated the country charts in summer 1952. It even crossed over, reaching the 27th spot on Billboard’s pop chart.
Until then, she had toured as the “girl singer” with her husband’s band, singing gospel songs and old folk ballads. She later said the $125 fee was her motivation for recording the song, which made her country music’s first female superstar.
Wells proved women could sell records and fill arenas by singing country songs from a woman’s point of view, according to her Recording Academy biography. Her recording career included 35 Billboard Top 10 records and 81 charted singles.
“Her songs resonated with women in an evolving post-war America, and she unassumingly paved the way for other strong female country singers, including Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette, among others,” said Neil Portnow, president of the Recording Academy. “She performed for seven decades, and she continues to be a model for generations of female country singers.”
Wells was the first female country singer to get a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, which the Recording Academy presented in 1991.
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976.
CNN’s Denise Quan contributed to this report.