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Kitty Wells was 'queen of country music'

Wells broke new ground for female country singers.

By Tim GhianniReuters / July 17, 2012

Kitty Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976.

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NASHVILLE, July 16 (Reuters) - Kitty Wells, the "Queen of Country Music" who opened the door to a host of female country music headliners, died on Monday at her home in Nashville. She was 92.            

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Among those mourning her passing was Loretta Lynn, whose own rise to popularity came after Wells, who paved the way for strong female voices in country music. "Kitty Wells will always be the greatest female country singer of all times," said Lynn in a statement released on her web site.             

"She was my hero. If I had never heard of Kitty Wells, I don't think I would have been a singer myself. 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 truly is the Queen of Country Music."             

Wells, born as Ellen Muriel Deason Wright, actually began performing on local radio in Nashville, but her ascent to stage stardom began in 1937 with husband Johnnie, half of the duo Johnnie & Jack. He died in 2011.

She was the first female singer to reach the top of the country charts with her 1952 song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," an answer to Hank Thompson's "The Wild Side of Life," which made the argument God indeed makes such angels.             

Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976.             

"Kitty Wells was a 33-year-old wife and mother when her immortal recording of 'It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels' suddenly made her a star," according to the Hall of Fame's biography.            

"Other female country singers of her day were trying their hands at hard-living, honky-tonk songs, but it was the intense and piercing style of Kitty Wells, with her gospel-touched vocals and tearful restraint that resonated with country audiences of the time and broke the industry barriers for women," it said.             

Wells was born in Nashville to a musical family. She first began performing on the radio with her two sisters and a cousin, the quartet going by the name of the Deason Sisters.             

She married Wright in 1937 and joined by her husband and his sister, Louise, to perform as Johnnie Wright and the Harmony Girls. Two years later, Wright began performing with Jack Anglin as the duo Johnnie & Jack.             

While she performed with them as a girl singer in the 1940s, her husband began calling her "Kitty Wells," a name taken from a 19th century folk song.             

'SWEET, GENTLE LADY'            

Harold Bradley, 86, the venerable Nashville session guitarist whose brother, Owen Bradley, produced many of Wells' recordings, said there was no better person to work with than Wells.             

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