Known for her powerful, soaring voice and for her often-troubled,
rags-to-riches life story, Tammy Wynette was also a hit writer who conveyed as
much nuance and emotion in her compositions as she did in her singing. A
three-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year and a Country Music Hall of Famer,
Wynette was not a prolific songwriter, but when she put pen to paper she helped
bring to life some of country music's most indelible songs, including "Stand by
Your Man," "'Til I Can Make It on My Own," "These Days I Barely Get By" and
"Two Story House."
Raised on a Mississippi cotton farm, not far from Elvis Presley's hometown of
Tupelo, Wynette worked the fields as a child, but her father passed along his
love of music to her, and he helped her to see music as a way out of a life of
labor. She earned a beautician's license but saw hairdressing as a way to
ensure that her bills were paid while she pursued a singing career, and while
in her early 20s she began traveling to Nashville in hopes of securing a
recording contract. In 1966, after a year of rejections, she moved to Nashville
as a divorced mother of three.
In Nashville, Epic Records producer Billy Sherrill helped transform her life.
He signed her to Epic in 1966, and he persuaded her to adopt the professional
name of Tammy Wynette. He also produced her records, and they co-wrote several
of her hits. In the first four years of Wynette's career, she won two Grammys
and three CMA Female Vocalist crowns. The peak of her stardom coincided with
her tumultuous, six-year marriage to iconic vocalist George Jones. Through a
union marred by arguments and by Jones' hard drinking, Jones and Wynette sang
five Top 20 duet hits during those years and five more afterwards.
Wynette and Sherrill often told the story of writing Wynette's signature song,
"Stand by Your Man," in fewer than 20 minutes, while in the studio. That song
went on to become a monumental and often-covered hit. She often said, "I spent
15 minutes writing 'Stand by Your Man,' and a lifetime defending it." In
addition to Sherrill, Wynette's songwriting collaborators included Norro
Wilson, Earl "Peanut" Montgomery and Wynette's fifth husband, George
She died in her sleep in 1998 at age 55, and her Ryman Auditorium funeral was
televised worldwide on CNN.