Tammy Wynette was born Virginia Wynette Pugh in Bounds, Mississippi, a small town in Itawamba County, Mississippi, the only child of William Hollice Pugh (died February 13, 1943) and Mildred Faye Russell Pugh (1922–1991). Wynette’s father was a farmer and local musician who died of a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months of age. Her mother worked in an office, as a substitute school teacher, as well as on the family farm. After her husband’s death, Mildred Pugh left her daughter in the care of her parents, Thomas Chester and Flora Russell, and moved to Memphis to work in a defense plant during World War II. In 1946, Mildred Pugh married Foy Lee, a farmer. Wynette grew up with her aunt, Carolyn Russell, who was only five years older than she, as more of a sister than an aunt and as a girl, Wynette taught herself to play a variety of musical instruments that had been left by her deceased father. Of her childhood home, she said it was located so close to the border with Alabama and joked that the state line ran right through their farm, laughing that “my top half came from Alabama and my bottom half came from Mississippi.” As a girl, she worked in the fields picking cotton along with the crews of hired hands to harvest the crops.
Wynette attended Tremont High School, where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before graduation, she married her first husband, Euple Byrd. He was a construction worker, but he had trouble keeping a job, and they moved from place to place several times. Wynette worked as a waitress, a receptionist, and a barmaid, and also in a shoe factory. In 1963, she attended American Beauty College in Birmingham, Alabama, where she learned to be a hairdresser. She continued to renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life—just in case she ever had to go back to a daily job. She left Euple, her first husband, before the birth of their third daughter. He did not support her ambition to become a country singer, and, according to Wynette, as she drove away he told her “Dream on, Baby”. Years later he appeared as she was signing autographs and asked for one. She signed “Dream on, baby.” That baby developed spinal meningitis, and Wynette tried to earn extra money by performing at night. In 1965 Wynette sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, and this led to performances with Porter Wagoner. In 1966, Wynette moved with her three daughters from Birmingham to Nashville, where she attempted to get a recording contract. After being turned down repeatedly by all of the other record companies, she auditioned for the producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill was originally reluctant to sign her up, but decided to do so after finding himself in need of a singer for Apartment No. 9. When Sherrill heard Wynette sing it, he was impressed and decided to sign her up to Epic Records in 1966.
Once she was signed to Epic, Sherrill suggested she change her name to make more of an impression. According to her 1979 memoir, Stand by Your Man, during their meeting, Wynette was wearing her long, blonde hair in a ponytail, and Sherrill noted that she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film Tammy and the Bachelor. He suggested “Tammy” as a possible name, so she became Tammy Wynette. Her first single, Apartment No. 9 (written by Bobby Austin and Johnny Paycheck), was released in December 1966, and just missed the Top 40 on the Country charts, peaking at No. 44. It was followed by “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” which became a big hit, peaking at number three. The song launched a string of Top Ten hits that ran through the end of the ’70s, interrupted only by three singles that didn’t crack the Top Ten. After “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” was a success, “My Elusive Dreams”, a duet with David Houston, became her first number one in the summer of 1967, followed by “I Don’t Wanna Play House” later that year. “I Don’t Wanna Play House” won Wynette a Grammy award in 1967 for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, one of two wins for Wynette in that category. During 1968 and 1969, Wynette had five number one hits — “Take Me to Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, “Stand by Your Man” (all 1968), “Singing My Song,” and “The Ways to Love a Man” (both 1969). “Stand by Your Man” was reportedly written in the Epic studio in just 15 minutes by Billy Sherrill and Wynette, and was released at a time when the women’s rights movement was beginning to stir in the U.S. The message in the song stated that a woman should stay with her man, despite his faults and shortcomings. It stirred up controversy and was criticized initially, and it became a lightning rod for feminists. Nevertheless, the song became very successful, reaching the top spot on the Country charts, and was also a Top 20 pop hit, peaking at No. 19 on the Billboard pop charts in 1968, Wynette’s only Top 40 hit as a solo artist on the pop charts. In 1969, Wynette won the Grammy award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Stand by Your Man”, which is now, according to critics, considered a “classic” or Country music “standard”. She earned a Gold record (awarded for albums selling in excess of 500,000 copies) for Tammy’s Greatest Hits which was certified in 1970 by the RIAA. The album would later be awarded Platinum record status (awarded for albums selling in excess of 1,000,000 copies) in June 1989. In 1970, director Bob Rafelson used a number of her songs in the soundtrack of his 1970 film Five Easy Pieces.
During the early 1970s, Wynette, along with singer Loretta Lynn, ruled the country charts and was one of the most successful female vocalists of the genre. During the early 1970s, number one singles included “He Loves Me All the Way” “Run Woman, Run” and “The Wonders You Perform” (all from 1970), “Good Lovin’ (Makes it Right)”, “Bedtime Story” (both 1971) “My Man (Understands)”, “‘Til I Get it Right” (1972), and “Kids Say the Darndest Things” (1973). One of them, “The Wonders You Perform”, was a hit in Italy in 1971, thanks to Ornella Vanoni, who recorded the song in an Italian version, “Domani è un altro giorno” (“Tomorrow is another day”). Concurrent to her solo success, a number of her duets with Jones reached the top ten on the U.S. country singles charts during this time, including “The Ceremony” (1972), “We’re Gonna Hold On” (1973), and “Golden Ring” (1975). In 1968, Wynette became the second female vocalist to win the Country Music Association Awards’ “Female Vocalist of the Year” award, later winning an additional two other times (1969, 1970). For nearly two decades, Wynette held the record for most consecutive wins, until 1987 when Reba McEntire won the award for the fourth consecutive time. Tammy Wynette divorced her second husband, Don Chapel in 1968. Tammy married George Jones on February 16, 1969 in Ringgold, Georgia. They were married for six years, until their divorce, which was finalized on March 21, 1975. Even after their 1975 divorce (due largely to Jones’ alcoholism), their professional collaboration continued with regularity through 1980; years later in 1995, they made a reunion album entitled One. It was well received, although it didn’t achieve their earlier chart success. Jones and Wynette had one daughter together, Tamala Georgette, born in 1970. Georgette Jones has, in recent years, become a successful country music artist who frequently pays tribute to her mother at her shows. In 1976, after having her public divorce from Jones the previous year, Wynette recorded, “‘Til I Can Make It on My Own”. Often said by music critics to be about her break-up from Jones and moving on with her life, the song reached No. 1 on the U.S. country singles charts, and No. 84 on the pop singles charts, becoming her first single in eight years to enter the pop charts. Often considered to be one of her signature songs, it more or less helped Wynette’s career after her divorce, showing she could remain popular. It was recorded two years later as a duet by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, whose version reached No. 3 on the country singles charts in 1979. In 1976, Wynette had another No. 1 as a solo artist, “You and Me”, which became her final No. 1 as a solo artist. Her last No. 1 came as a duet with George Jones in early 1977 titled, “Near You”. Following 1976, Wynette’s popularity slightly slowed, however, she continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, with such hits as “Let’s Get Together (One Last Time), “One of a Kind” (both 1977), “Womanhood” (1978) “No One Else in this World” and “They Call It Makin’ Love” (both 1979). She had a total of 21 number one hits on the U.S. country singles charts (17 solo, three with Jones, and one with Houston). Along with Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Dottie West, and Lynn Anderson, she helped redefine the role and place of female country singers.
In 1981, a TV movie about Wynette’s life was aired called Stand by Your Man, which was based on her memoir of the same title. Actress Annette O’Toole portrayed Wynette in the film. Beginning in the early 1980s, however, her chart success began to wane, though, she did continue to have top-20 hits during this period, including “Starting Over” and “He Was There (When I Needed You)” (both 1980), a cover of the Everly Brothers’ hit “Crying in the Rain” (1981), “Another Chance”, “You Still Get to Me in My Dreams” (both 1982) and “A Good Night’s Love” (1983). A 1985 cover of the ’70s Dan Hill hit “Sometimes When We Touch”, performed with Mark Grey, reached No. 6 in 1985. In 1982 she recorded a track with The Ray Conniff Singers, a rendition of “Delta Dawn”, in order to be included in the Conniff’s duets album “The Nashville Connection,” but ultimately the track didn’t enter. Meanwhile her medical problems continued, including inflammations of her bile duct. In 1986, she acted on the CBS TV soap opera Capitol, playing beautician/singer Darlene Stankowski. In 1988, she filed for bankruptcy as a result of a bad investment in two Florida shopping centers. Wynette’s 1987 album Higher Ground featured a neotraditional country sound and was both a critical and relative commercial success. The album featured contributions from Vince Gill, Ricky Van Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Emmylou Harris and The O’Kanes. Two of the singles released from the album, “Your Love” and “Talkin’ to Myself Again”, reached the top 20 on the U.S. country singles charts; a third single, “Beneath a Painted Sky” (featuring duet vocals from Emmylou Harris) reached No. 25 in early 1988 (it would ultimately be Tammy Wynette’s final top-40 country single).
In 1990, Heart Over Mind was released and showed that Wynette’s popularity on radio was declining. The album yielded no Top 40 Country hits, although numerous singles were released between 1990 and 1991, including a duet with Randy Travis titled, “We’re Strangers Again”. She recorded a song with the British electronica group The KLF in late 1991 titled “Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs)”, which became a No. 1 hit in eighteen countries the following year, and reached No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song gave Wynette a new following, and was her highest-charting single on the Billboard Pop charts. In the video, scrolling electronic titles said that “Miss Tammy Wynette is the first lady of country music” and listed a number of her accomplishments in the recording industry. Wynette appeared in the video wearing a crown and seated on a throne.
In 1992, future First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a 60 Minutes interview either “I’m not sitting here as some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette”. or “I’m not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette”. (The end of this quotation has also appeared as “some little woman, standing by my man and baking cookies, like Tammy Wynette.”) However, the reference to cookie baking more likely comes from an unrelated remark by Hillary Clinton: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.” Either way, the remark set off a firestorm of controversy. Wynette wrote to Clinton saying, “With all that is in me, I resent your caustic remark. I believe you have offended every true country-music fan and every person who has made it on their own with no one to take them to the White House.” Clinton went into damage control and called to apologize after she saw the huge negative reaction she received from many and asked Wynette to perform at a fundraiser as an olive branch. Wynette who had had several years of bad luck and whose popularity had waned, was swayed by Clinton’s words and did so. The 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels gave her a chance to record with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the first time; though yielding no hit singles (mainstream country radio had long since stopped playing artists approaching or over 50), the album did well on the country charts and even reached number 42 on the Billboard Pop Charts. The one single that was released from the album, a cover of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” peaked outside the Country Top 40 in 1993. The following year, she released Without Walls, a collection of duets with a number of country, pop and rock and roll performers, including Wynonna Judd, Elton John, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Smokey Robinson, Sting and a number of others. An album cut titled, “Girl Thang”, a duet with Wynonna Judd, reached No. 64 in 1994, but no singles were released from this album. She also appeared as a celebrity contestant on Wheel of Fortune during that same year.
Wynette also designed and sold her own line of jewelry in the 1990s. In 1995, she and George Jones recorded their first new duet album in fifteen years titled, One, which spawned a single of the same name. The single was the duo’s first music video together. They last performed together in 1997 at Lanierland Music Park. She recorded a cover version of The Beach Boys’ “In My Room”, a duet with Brian Wilson, for the group’s 1996 comeback album Stars and Stripes Vol.1. The track was held back for a proposed second volume, which never appeared, but Wynette’s performance is included in the TV documentary Beach Boys: Nashville Sounds. Wynette lent her vocals on the UK No. 1 hit Perfect Day in 1997, which was written by Lou Reed. Wynette was also the voice for the character Tilly Hill (Hank Hill’s mother) on the animated series King of the Hill until her death. Actress K Callan took over the voice role. She appeared as herself in the Married… with Children episode 1108 “The Juggs Have Left The Building”, original air date December 1, 1996.
Wynette was married five times: to Euple Byrd (married April 1960– divorced 1966) Three Daughters; Don Chapel, born Lloyd Franklin Amburgey (m. 1967 – annulled 1968); George Jones (m. February 16, 1969 – d. March 21, 1975); Michael Tomlin (m. July 18, 1976 – a. September 1976) 44 days; and singer/songwriter George Richey (m. July 6, 1978 – her death April 6, 1998). Wynette was once linked romantically with actor Burt Reynolds and they were good friends up to Wynette’s sudden death. Richey was her manager throughout much of the 1980s. As a result of numerous health ailments and operations, Wynette became dependent on painkillers in the mid 1970s. She became critically ill with a bile duct infection at the end of 1993. Just after Christmas Wynette woke up in the middle of the night with severe pains and was rushed to the Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee where Wynette spent five days in a coma and afterwards underwent an intestinal bypass after she miracously came out of the five day coma. Pamela Lansden of People quoted Wynette’s personal spin on life’s tribulations as “The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.”
She had three children with Byrd; She gave birth to two daughters by the time she was 20. Gwendolyn Lee (“Gwen”) Byrd (born April 15, 1961), Jacquelyn Faye (“Jackie”) Byrd (b. August 2, 1962) and Tina Denise Byrd (b. March 27, 1965) According to Tammy’s New York Times Best Selling Autobiography “Stand By Your Man” Tina was born three months prematurely. Having spent her first three months in an incubator. Tina weighed an estimated two pounds at birth. She was not quite five pounds when she arrived home at just three months old, Tina was home for only three weeks when a relative whom Tammy lived with at the time said “Every time I try to pick her up she screams in pain and I think it’s her back.” Tammy found out Tina was diagnosed with Spinal Meningitis, and was given a slim chance to live through it. Tina spent two and a half weeks in an isolation room and finally after seventeen days was taken off the quarantine list. Tina spent seven weeks in the hospital overcoming all odds. All the doctors, nurses everyone in the hospital called her the “Miracle Baby.” Tina, in 1975, is featured on one of Jones and Wynette’s duet albums, “George and Tammy and Tina.” She appeared on two songs “The Telephone Call” with George and “No Charge” with her mom, Tammy. She had a daughter with George Jones, Tamala Georgette Jones (b. October 5, 1970), who is also a talented country and western singer; Georgette worked as a registered nurse for 17 years. She currently keeps her Nurses license renewed yearly just as her mom did with her Beauty Operator’s license. Georgette has released a few successful albums. Georgette’s 2010 debut album “Slightly Used Woman”, “Strong Enough To Cry” and most recently she released a tribute album to her mom in April 2013; “Til I Can Make It On My Own” the tribute album features some of her mom’s biggest songs “Til I Can Make It On My Own” which Wynette, Billy Sherrill, and Richey wrote, and “Stand By Your Man” written by Wynette and Sherrill that became Tammy’s signature song. George Jones legally adopted Tammy’s oldest daughters Gwen, Jackie and Tina shortly after Jones and Wynette got married.
Tammy had many serious physical ailments beginning in the 1970s. In October 1970 after giving birth to Georgette, Tammy had an appendectomy and a hysterectomy. Complications from the hysterectomy included adhesions which later formed into keloids would give Wynette more than 26 operations and dozens of hospital stays. During her brief marriage to Michael Tomlin, she was in hospital for half of their time together as a couple, including operations on her gallbladder, kidney and on the nodules on her throat. Just after Christmas in 1993, Wynette fell ill in the middle of the night and was rushed to The Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee where she lay five days in a coma. After she survived, she had to undergo yet another operation. She resumed touring not long after. She developed a chronic inflammation of the bile ducts and was intermittently hospitalized, from 1970 until her death on April 6, 1998. She had 26 or more major surgeries during her lifetime. Although some of these problems were often very serious, Wynette was still able to pursue her singing career and regularly toured to promote her work. Wynette’s last concert was given on March 5, 1998 stepping in for Loretta Lynn who was ill at the time. Wynette’s last T.V. Appearance was on Prime Time Country on March 9, 1998, which ran on TNN; Wynette sang “Stand By Your Man” and “Take Me To Your World”. Wynette’s last Grand Ole Opry appearance was on May 17, 1997. Tammy performed “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” which was her first top five hit, and “Stand By Your Man” her #1 song and signature song of her legendary career, and her first single “Apartment #9” which went to #44 on the Billboard Country Charts but became a classic to Tammy’s loyal fan base and to Country Music. Lorrie Morgan and Jan Howard, appeared on there too, helping Tammy out; Tammy was one of Lorrie’s idols growing up (also friends) and Jan, another one of Tammy’s close friends… Jan had a successful career in Country and Western music during the 1960s. Wynette also developed a serious addiction to painkiller medication in the 1980s, which became quite a problem in her life during that time. However, in 1986, she sought help entering the Betty Ford Center for drug treatment that year. In spite of the time away for treatment, she joined the cast of the CBS defunct soap opera “Capitol” on March 25, 1986. Tammy played the role of a hair-stylist turned singer, Darlene Stankowski.
After years of medical problems, numerous hospitalizations, approximately 15 major operations and an addiction to large doses of pain medication, Wynette died while sleeping on her couch on April 6, 1998, at age 55. Wynette’s doctor from Pennsylvania said she died of a blood clot in her lung. Despite her persistent illnesses, she continued to perform until shortly before her death and had other performances scheduled. A public memorial service, attended by about 1,500 people, was held at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on April 9, 1998. A private grave-side service had been held earlier with a crypt entombment at Nashville’s Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery. Her death solicited commentary such as that of songwriter Bill Mack, quoted in the Dallas Morning News that she was a “class act” and “irreplaceable” and that “She never knew a flat note.” Lee Ann Womack was quoted also; she said of Wynette, whose songs often evoked strength and controlled passion, “You knew she knew what she was singing about. You can put her records on and listen and learn so much.” Wynette was survived by her husband George Richey, four daughters and eight grandchildren. In April 1999, her body was exhumed from her crypt in an attempt to settle a dispute over how the country music legend died. A new autopsy was conducted on her a week after three of her daughters filed a wrongful death lawsuit against her doctor and her husband/manager, George Richey, claiming they were responsible for her death 12 months earlier. The coroner declared that she died of a cardiac arrhythmia. In May 1999, George Richey was dropped from the wrongful death lawsuit. Wynette was reinterred in the Woodlawn Cross Mausoleum, at Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville, Tenn. She rests in the same Nashville cemetery as other country music luminaries as former husband, George Jones who died in April 2013, Webb Pierce, Jerry Reed, Marty Robbins, Bobby Russell, Porter Wagoner, Red Foley and Eddy Arnold, among many others. In March 2012, the name on Wynette’s tomb was changed from “Tammy Wynette” to “Virginia W Richardson”, her final legal married name. In March of 2014, the name on Wynette’s tomb was changed from “Virginia W Richardson”, back to “Tammy Wynette”.
- May, 05, 1942
- Bounds Crossroads, Mississippi
- April, 06, 1998
- Nashville, Tennessee
Cause of Death
- Blood Clot (Died in her sleep)
- Woodlawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum
- Nashville, Tennessee