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Kitty Wells was 'queen of country music'

Wells broke new ground for female country singers.

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"I worked a lot of her sessions, of course, that Owen produced," said Bradley, the most-recorded guitarist in history. "She was the most sweet, gentle lady. She always knew her songs when she came in and she was very easy to work with."             

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In addition to "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which sold 800,000 copies in its initial release in the summer of 1952, according to the Hall of Fame biography, Wells sang "Release Me," "Making Believe," "I Can't Stop Loving You" among other classic songs.             

She garnered 35 Billboard Top Ten records and 81 charted singles. Michael McCall, writer and editor at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said Wells' importance to the emergence of women singing hit records "cannot be overstated."             

He said Wells proved to the industry that a woman singer could sell and headline big shows.             

"She opened the doors for everybody that came after her," McCall said. "It was just a huge shift in how things were perceived. It was so important that it happened."             

He said Honky Tonk Angels was controversial at the time, and some radio stations wouldn't play it. She wasn't allowed to sing the song on the NBC segment of the Grand Ole Opry when it first came out.             

"The fans rallied around her to prove the record industry wrong," said McCall.             

"She was one of the major recording artists of the 1950s and into the 1960s," said McCall. "She has had so many country classics and so many songs that came from a woman's point of view that were often about wayward and faithless men."             

Her straightforward manner and subject matter was a major influence on the song-writing and singing of Lynn and Dolly Parton, setting the stage for today's female country stars.             

"We live in an age when people over-sing so much and put so much emphasis on the emotion. She showed sometimes it's more emotional by having restraint rather than trying to oversell it," said McCall.             

Among her many honors, she was given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, the same year as Bob Dylan and John Lennon were so honored.             

She was just the third country singer to be get that most prestigious award, after Hank Williams and Roy Acuff.             

She finally gave up touring in 2007 and continued to live a quiet life, so much differently than the subjects of her songs. (Reporting by Timothy Ghianni; Editing by James B. Kelleher, Greg McCune and Todd Eastham)

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