May 5, 1942 - April 6, 1998
The First lady of Country Music has been on a musical campaign of
presidential proportions in the 1990's.
Nashville superstar Tammy Wynette scored the biggest hit of her life when she teamed up with the British pop act The KLF in 1992 to create the international smash "Justified & Ancient." Her 1993 Honky Tonk Angels trio album with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn was a landmark in the annals of country music. Now, on Without Walls, Tammy reaches higher than ever before.
This time, the living legend joins artists whose styles range all over the musical spectrum: Sting, Wynonna, Elton John, Smokey Robinson, Joe Diffie, Lyle Lovett, Cliff Richard and Aaron Neville all lend their voices to this extraordinary project. Each was hand-picked by Tammy for the same reason.
"I'm a fan," Tammy explains. "I listen to all kinds of music, all the time. George (Richey, her husband) and I have the radio on at home constantly. And he plays it so loud you can hear it from one end to the other."
"I began this project more than a year ago by writing to all of the people who are on this album. And I really wanted to do it right, by being with each one when we recorded. The only two tracks where we couldn't work out the schedules and wound up recording on separate days were Smokey Robinson's and Cliff Richard's."
"The rest of us had a ball together, Elton in Atlanta and the rest of them here in Nashville with me. Everybody had a good time and it turned out great. They're all excellent singers. This is such an exciting project for me. Good Lord, I never dreamed that something like this would ever happen in my life."
Tammy has never been one to rest on her laurels. As the decade began, she's already earned virtually every accolade her industry had to bestow, including two Grammys, 16 BMI songwriting honors and three Country Music Association awards. Her compelling life story has been fashioned into a hit TV movie and a hit autobiography, both titled after her signature song "Stand By Your Man". By 1989 she'd amassed 39 top 10 hits, 20 No. 1 singles, 11 No. 1 albums and more than 30 million in record sales. Dubbed "The First Lady" because she was the first female country act to have a million-selling album, Tammy Wynette was far from
finished as she neared her Silver Anniversary as an Epic Records star.
She kicked off the '90s by starring in a music video directed by her old friend Burt Reynolds, "Let's Call It a Day Today." Country superstar Randy Travis enlisted Tammy for his Heroes and Friends album, launching the series of recent vocal collaborations that reaches its peak with Tammy's new Without Walls collection. She marked her 25th anniversary as a record maker with the top-selling 1991 retrospective Best Loved Hits.
That June during Nashville's famed Fan Fair celebration, Tammy Wynette was stunned on national television when Merle Haggard presented her with the TNN/Music City News Living Legend Award.
"I didn't have any idea, it was really a shock. And a thrill. I can remember that night so well. Merle was laughing and I was crying."
Less than a year later she had the No. 1 single on the planet when "Justified & Ancient" topped the charts in 18 nations. While the cryptic KLF dancers writhed below, Tammy sang atop a Mayan pyramid in the song's equally notable video.
"I did it for the right reasons," she recalls. "I did it for fun. I did it because it was something different and because I really like those guys. Besides, my twin granddaughters loved to dance around to 'Mu-Mu Land.' They said 'Meemaw, Meemaw, sing Mu-Mu Land!' and it's all they wanted to hear. And now I have 18 No. 1 records on that. Can you believe it? I did a show with the KLF and they dressed up as 12-foot ice cream cones, and I had to stand between them. Next, they say they are going to have the Red Army Chorus with them singing 'Que Sera, Sera.' They are so crazy."
In 1993 Tammy became the subject of the lavish boxed-set of commemorative CDs Tears of Fire as well as the centerpiece of the two-hour all-star CBS-TV special The Women of Country. Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan, Tanya Tucker and Kathy Mattea were among the dozens who paid homage to the country queen. In 1994 the program became a PBS special and a home video. "I loved that show; I thought it was so
sweet. And I remember the girls were so wonderful to me. I love them all so much."
That fall, Tammy joined Dolly and Loretta on Honky Tonk Angels. She reports that the studio sessions were hilarious, full of naughty jokes, gossip and high times. Producer Steve Buckingham let the tape run constantly as the three women who changed the face of country music swapped songs and gags.
"That was the neatest thing," Tammy recalls. "Loretta and I went in there together every day. We wound up with 22 songs, enough for two albums. That old Baptist harmony never fails you."
It was Tammy Wynette's distinctive delivery that was the lead voice on the charismatic trio's single release "Silver Threads and Golden Needles," which the women premiered to a standing ovation on the 1993 CMA Awards Show. Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Rodney Crowell, Grandpa Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Carl Perkins, Bill Monroe and Confederate Railroad were among the men who lined up for cameo appearances in the tune's humorous hit video.
But tragedy struck just as she was enjoying this latest show-business triumph. The music world held its breath in January of this year while Tammy fought for her life in a Nashville hospital. A recurring bile duct infection became virulent, poisoning her entire system and putting her in critical condition for nearly a week.
"I have heard people talking about having out-of -body experiences. I didn't have that, but I
do know that I was just that far from being dead. I remember seeing all my girls standing at the foot of my bed with tears in their eyes and thinking, 'That is a pretty picture.' I had no pain. I wasn't scared. It was all just very peaceful. I felt like I was floating somewhere. Maybe this is God's way of telling me that death ain't no big deal."
Tammy pulled through, and the experience left a lasting legacy; After more than 30 years as a smoker, she has quit.
"I couldn't have them in the hospital. And when I came home I simply didn't want one. God took away my craving for cigarettes, I guess. And my voice has gotten so much stronger. I always said that I'm not the best singer in the world, just the loudest. Well now I'm louder than ever."
She went back to work almost immediately. Her duet with Elton John appears on his new album Duets. Her guest-starring role with country star K.T. Oslin recently aired on TV's hit series Evening Shade. In April she reunited in the studio with ex-husband and ex-duet partner George Jones to re-record their immortal harmony classic "Golden Ring" for his upcoming Unplugged album.
During the same month, Tammy appeared as a special guest along with Whitney Houston, Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Branford Marsalis, James Taylor and Aaron Neville at Sting's annual Rainforest Foundation Benefit at Carnegie Hall. The affection afforded Tammy by her peers and fans was illustrated by Rolling Stone Magazine's conclusion that "Tammy received the night's most thunderous applause" and James Taylor's public remarks that it was "the lifelong dream of all of the
performers to share a stage with Tammy Wynette." She resumed touring this spring and performed a series of summer concerts at the world famous Opryland U.S.A. theme park in Nashville.
Tammy Wynette passed away in her sleep on Monday, April 6, 1998. She will be greatly missed by fans around the world.
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