Country Music Singer. She was often referred to as the "First Lady of Country Music" and is best remembered for her song "Stand by Your Man," one of the best-selling singles by a woman in the country music industry. She, along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, set the standards for the role of women in country music during the 1970s. Her marriage in 1969 to famed country singer George Jones created a "country couple" and they would record a sequence of albums and singles that topped the charts throughout the 1970s and into the early 1980s. She was born Virginia Wynette Pugh near Tremont, in Itawambia County, Mississippi, the only child of parents who were farmers and her father was also a local musician. When she was only nine months old her father died from a brain tumor and she was left in the care of her parents when her mother moved to Memphis, Tennessee to work in a defense plant during World War II. She grew up with her aunt, who was only five years older, and taught herself to play a variety of musical instruments that were left by her deceased father. She attended Tremont High School where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before her graduation she married her first husband, Euple Byrd, who was a construction worker and had difficulty keeping a job, which caused them to move frequently. She worked a variety of jobs and in 1963 she attended beauty school in Tupelo, Mississippi and obtained a cosmetology license, that she would continue to renew every year for the remainder of her life. She left her first husband, who did not support her dream of becoming a country singer, prior to the birth of their third daughter. To help support her family, she tried to earn extra money by performing at night and in 1965 she appeared on the "Country Boy Eddie Show" on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama which led to performances with famed country singer Porter Wagoner. A year later she moved with her daughters to Nashville, Tennessee to seek a recording contract. After being rejected by several record companies she auditioned for record producer Billy Sherrill, who was originally reluctant to sign her but was in need of a singer for "Apartment No. 9" and upon hearing her sing it, he signed her up to Epic Records in 1966. At Sherrill's suggestion she changed her first name to Tammy and used her middle name as her last, and became Tammy Wynette. "Apartment No. 9" became her first single released in December 1966 and it peaked at number 44 on the Country charts. Her next single, "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," became a big hit, peaking at number 3. It would launch a string of Top Ten hits that would go into the 1970s, that included "My Elusive Dreams" (1967, her first number one hit, a duet with David Houston), "I Don't Wanna Play House' (which won a Grammy award in 1967 for Beat Female Country Vocal Performer), "Take Me to Your World" (1968), "D-I V-O-R-C-E" (1968), "Stand by Your Man" (1968, for which she won the 1969 Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance), "Singing My Song" (1969), and "The Ways to Love a Man" (1969). She would earn a Gold record in 1970 for her album "Tammy's Greatest Hits" which would later be awarded Platinum record status. During the early 1970s she and country singer Loretta Lynn dominated the country charts and became one of the most successful female vocalists in country music. Her number one singles continued with "Loves Me All the Way" (1970), "Run Woman, Run" (1970), ""The Wonders You Perform" (1970), "Good Lovin' (Makes it Right)" (1971). "Bedtime Story" (1971), "My Man (Understands)" (1972), "'Till I Get it Right" (1972), and "Kids Say the Darndest Things" (1973). In 1969 she married country singer George Jones, with whom she had a daughter, and recorded duets with him that became Top Ten hits, including "The Ceremony" (1972), "We're Gonna Hold On" (1973), and "Golden Ring" (1975). Their marriage was stormy at best due largely to his alcoholism and they divorced in 1975 but continued to work together professionally through 1980. She would win the Country Music Association Awards' Female Vocalist of the Year" in 1968 through 1970 and held the record for the most consecutive wins for this category until 1987, when famed singer Reba McEntire won it for the fourth consecutive time. In 1976 she recorded the single ""Til I Can Make It on My Own," which reached number 1 on the Country charts and number 84 on the Pop charts, becoming her first single in eight years to enter the Pop charts. That same year she had another single, You and Me," to reach number 1 and it became her last number 1 hit as a solo artist. Her last number 1 hit came as a duet with George Jones in 1977 titled "Near You." Following 1976 her popularity waned slightly but she continued to record Top 10 hits with "Let's Get Together (One Last Time)" (1977), "One of a Kind" (1977), "Womanhood" (1978), "No One Else in this World" (1979) and "They Call It Makin' Love" (1979). In 1980 her chart success began to falter although her hits reached in the Top 20s like "Starting Over" (1980), "He Was There (When I Needed You)" (1980), the Everly Brothers' hit "Crying in the Rain" (1981), "Another Chance" (1982), "You Still Get to Me in My Dreams" (1982), and "A Good Night's Love" (1983). Her duet with Mark Grey of Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch" reached number 6 on the country charts in 1985. In 1981 a television movie was her life aired called "Stand By Your Man," based on her memoir of the same title. During this time she encountered medical problems, including inflammation of her bile duct. In 1986 she had a part on the CBS television soap opera "Capitol" as beautician/singer Darlene Stankowski and in 1987 she recorded an album "Higher Ground" that featured contributions from notable country artists Ricky Van Shelton, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Rickey Skaggs, and The O'Kanes which received some commercial success. Two singles, "Your Love," and "Talkin' to Myself Again" released from the album reached the Top 20 on the Country charts and a third single "Beneath a Painter Sky," a duet with Emmylou Harris, reached number 25 in early 1988, which would be her final Top 40 country single. In 1988 she was forced to file for bankruptcy due to her bad investments in two Florida shopping centers. She would record four additional albums, "Heart Over Mind" (1990), "Honky Tonk Angels" (1993) "Within Walls" (1994), and "Girl Thang" (1994) but neither would result in any singles being released. During this time she also designed and sold her own line of jewelry. In 1995 she and George Jones recorded a duet album "One" which produced a single by the same name. Afterwards, she collaborated with the Beach Boys for their 1996 comeback album "Stars and Stripes Vol. 1" in which she sang a duet of the tune "In My Room" with Brian Wilson. She became the voice for the character Tilly Hill in the animated television series "King of the Hill" until her death. As a result of her numerous health ailments and surgeries she was dependent on painkillers as early as 1973 and became critically ill with a liver infection at the end of 1993. In 1994 she nearly died as a result of an abdominal infection and was constantly in and out of hospitals for treatment of various ailments. She would undergo 26 major surgeries during her lifetime, some of which were serious. In spite of her health issues, she still managed to pursue her singing career and regularly tour to promote her work. She died at her home in Nashville, Tennessee from a blood clot in her lung at the age of 55. In 1998, following her death, she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. During her lifetime she was married five times, the last being to her manager, singer/songwriter George Richey for 20 years until her death. A year after her death her daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor and husband, claiming they were responsible for her death, and body was exhumed in an attempt to determine how she really died. After a new autopsy was conducted, the coroner ruled that she died of a cardiac arrhythmia. In 2002 she was ranked number 2 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music (Patsy Cline was ranked number 1), and in 2003 a survey of country music writers, producers, and stars listed "Stand By Your Man" as the top country song of all time. In 2011 her original recording of "Stand By Your Man" was selected by the US Library of Congress to be preserved as one of that year's 25 recordings chosen for their cultural significance.
Bio by: William Bjornstad