Though Marijohn Wilkin is often remembered as "the den mother of Music Row," a publisher who nurtured such songwriters as Kris Kristofferson and Ed Bruce, she
had a formidable talent herself, penning classics like "The Long Black Veil" and "One Day at a Time."
Raised near Dallas, Marijohn Melson was a spunky kid who loved to sing and play piano. After high school, she turned down a Hollywood movie contract and went to college, where she sang with a Western band and studied education. After
graduation, she got married, settled in Tulsa and taught music. On the side, she wrote songs.
Her first husband was killed in World War II, and she remarried shortly after. The marriage lasted just long enough for her to have a son, Bucky. By 1955, Wilkin had married again and moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Bucky got a job playing guitar on the Ozark Jubilee, ABC-TV's Saturday-night country music show. While there, she placed a few of her songs in the show. She also toured part-time with Red Foley's band. In 1958, her musical ambitions lured her to Nashville.
Signed by Cedarwood Publishing, she co-wrote two of her biggest hits that year, "Waterloo" and "The Long Black Veil." Over the next few years, Wilkin had success writing for everyone from Stonewall Jackson to Eddie Cochran to Ann-Margret, while singing backgrounds on Nashville Sound-era sessions and cutting solo records for Columbia. In 1964, she formed her own publishing company, Buckhorn Music. Their first hit was "GTO," a Top 5 surfing tune by her son's group Ronny & the Daytonas. A year later, Wilkin signed Kris Kristofferson as a writer.
Despite her success, Wilkin battled depression and alcoholism. When her third marriage failed, she became suicidal. In the early '70s, she found religion and turned her life around. It inspired her most enduring hit, "One Day at a Time" (co-written with Kristofferson). Most of her writing thereafter was devoted to gospel music. In 1978, she wrote her autobiography, Lord Let Me Leave a Song. After selling Buckhorn Music, she co-founded 17th Avenue Music.
Elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975, Marijohn Wilkin ranks alongside Cindy Walker and Dolly Parton as one of the most successful female country songwriters ever.
She died of heart disease in 2006 at age 86. "She was a tough, intelligent and
funny woman making it in a man's world," Kris Kristofferson remembered.