Tammy Wynette: The Life of The Tragic First Lady of Country Music

Tammy Wynette

A successful career does not necessarily lead to a successful and happy private life. One of the greatest hits by a woman in the history of country music ‘Stand By Your Man’ singer Tammy Wynette’s story is somewhat similar to that too. Widely known as the first lady of country music, Tammy Wynette had a whirlwind of a personal life including complicated childhood, 5 marriages, an alleged kidnapping, and many health problems. So, let’s know a little more about her life in detail.

Early Life and Education

Tammy Wynette was born on May 5, 1942, in Tremont, Mississippi, the USA as Virginia Wynette Pugh. She was the only child of William Hollice Pugh and Mildred Faye. Tammy’s father was a farmer who died due to a brain tumor when she was only 9 months old. Her mother who was a substitute teacher left Tammy to work in a defense plant during World War II. 

Tammy Early Life

Tammy’s early home life was far from a normal childhood. She was raised along with her five years older aunt in her maternal grandparents’ home. Their home had no indoor toilets or running water. Since her early days, Tammy Wynette has always been interested in music. She even taught herself to play various musical instruments that her father left behind.

She had attended Tremont High School where she was an all-star basketball player. In 1963, she attended a beauty college in Tupelo, Mississippi and took the course of hairdressing. She got her license on cosmetology and continued renewing for the rest of her life.

Career: Rags to Riches

While working as a hairdresser, Wynette sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham in 1965 and ended up performing with country star Peter Wagnor. She then moved to Nashville in hopes of pursuing a career in music. At first, she struggled a lot to make a name for herself. 

Her big break came after she changed her name and released the single ‘Apartment No. 9’ in December 1966. Her second single ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ peaked at no. 3 which was much higher than her debut single. She had other hits like ‘My Elusive Dreams’ a duet with David Houston and ‘I don’t wanna play house’. She also won a Grammy award in 1967 for Best Country Female Vocal Performance.

From 1968 to 1979, Wynnete found even greater success in her career. She had five number 1 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 the most successful song in her career. The song however stirred up controversy due to its the message of women staying with her man despite his shortcoming that went against the ongoing Women’s Rights movement. Wynette won a Grammy award for the song too. 

Wynette dominance in the chart continued in the early 1970s too. She had many hits like ‘He loves me all the way’, ‘Run Woman Run’, ‘The Wonders You Perform’, ‘Till I Get It Right’ and many more. She had a very successful decade but in the end, her dominance had started to wane a little.

After the 1980s, Wynette’s fame started to slow down. Her songs started to chart low and some didn’t even enter the chart. In 1990, she released her album ‘Heart Over Mind’ but she was unable to gain the success her earlier works did. She did collaborate with many artists but nothing of chart-topping material came out of it. Her last concert was on March 5, 1998. 

Her Five Marriages

Although Tammy Wynette was known for her song ‘Stand By Your Man’, she herself had a very hard time staying beside her man. Only a month before her high school graduation, Tammy Wynette married her first husband Euple Byrd who was a construction worker. The couple had three daughters. Before the birth of their third daughter in 1966, the couple split up.

Tammy Wynette with husband Euple
Tammy Wynette with husband Euple Byrd

Wynette then was briefly married to Don Chapel in 1967 but after only a year, they annulled their marriage. She then went on to marry fellow country singer George Jones on February 16, 1969. The couple was blessed with a daughter Tamala Georgette Jones in 1970. Although the couple looked very happy, internally it was plagued with various problems, many stemming from Jones’s alcoholism. The couple had a very public divorce in 1975 but both of them continued to work together.

Tammy with George Jones

After a year after getting divorced from George Jones, Wynette got married again to Michael Tomlin on July 18, 1976. Sadly, her married life came to stop only after 44 days when the couple decided to split. 

On July 6, 1978, Tammy Wynette married another fellow singer-songwriter, George Richey. Her husband also acted as her manager throughout much of the 1980s. The couple was together for 20 years until Wynette’s sudden death in 1998.

Alleged Kidnapping

On October 4, 1978, Tammy Wynette was reported kidnapped at gunpoint at Nashville Shopping Mall. She showed visible signs of assault in her body which she claimed to be caused by the alleged kidnapping. Later on one of her daughters, Jackie Daly revealed that her mother made up the kidnapping story as a cover-up for the domestic violence caused by her then-husband George Richey. He although denied all the accusations. 

Health Problems and Eventual Death

From the beginning of 1970, Tammy Wynette started having serious health problems. She would suffer from severe stomach pains and it was revealed that she had undergone more than 30 operations, more than 15 being major surgeries. She continued to tour and perform only with the aid of painkillers due to which she developed a serious addiction towards the painkillers. In 1993, after waking up from severe pain in the middle of the night, Wynette was rushed to the hospital. Due to the bile duct infection, she was comatose for five days. She then proceeded to undergo intestine bypass surgery after waking up from the five days coma.

On April 6, 1998, Tammy Wynette died in her sleep due to blood clots in her lungs. While she was plagued with severe health issues in later years of life, surprisingly she had been in good health in recent years leading up to her death. A public memorial was held at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium on April 9, 1998, and was attended by about 1500 people. Following their mother’s sudden death, Wynette’s daughters later sued both Richey and the doctor. Richey was subsequently dropped from the case and the doctor reached for settlement.

Tammy Wynette lived her life as a proud woman who had a very successful career. Although her life had all sorts of tragedy, it did not stop her from being one of the greatest artists and an icon on her own rights.

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