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In 1963, Wynette attended beauty school in Tupelo, Mississippi, and became a hairdresser; she would renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life, just in case she should have to go back to a daily job.
Born Virginia Wynette Pugh, Tammy Wynette was one of country music's best-known artists and biggest-selling female vocalists. She was dubbed the First Lady of Country Music, and her best-known song, "Stand by Your Man," was one of the biggest selling hit singles by a woman in the history of the country music genre.
Many of Tammy Wynette's hits dealt with classic themes of loneliness, divorce and the difficulties of male-female relationships. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, she dominated the country charts, scoring 17 number one hits. Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, she defined the role of female country vocalists in the 1970s.
Her 1969 marriage to country singer George Jones - which ended in divorce in 1975 - created a country music "couple," following the prior success of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Jones and Wynette recorded a series of duet albums and singles, which charted throughout the 1970s, concurrent to their respective solo hits.
As a youngster, she worked in the fields picking cotton alongside the hired crews to get in the crop. As a child, Wynette taught herself to play a variety of instruments left behind by her father.
As a child and teenager, she found in country music an escape from her hard life. Wynette grew up idolizing Hank Williams, Skeeter Davis, Patsy Cline, and George Jones, and would play their records over and over on the children's record player she owned, dreaming of one day being a star herself.
She attended Tremont High School, where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before graduation, she married her first husband, Euple Byrd. She worked as a waitress, receptionist, and a barmaid, and also worked in a shoe factory.
She left 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, told her "Dream on, Baby."
When her baby developed spinal meningitis and Wynette tried to make extra money by performing at night. In 1965, Wynette sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, which led to appearances with Porter Wagoner. In 1966, she moved with her three girls from Birmingham to Nashville, Tennessee, where she attempted to get a recording contract.
After being turned down repeatedly by every other record company she'd met with, she auditioned for producer Billy Sherrill who signed her to Epic Records in 1966 with one caveat; that she change her name. According to her 1979 memoir, Stand by Your Man, during their meeting, Wynette was wearing her long, blonde hair in a ponytail, and Sherill noted that she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film Tammy and the Bachelor, and suggested "Tammy" as a possible name; thus 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," "Singing My Song," and "The Ways to Love a Man."
"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. It stirred up controversy and became a lightning rod for feminists. However, 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," and is nowconsidered a "classic" or Country music "standard." She earned a Gold record for Tammy's Greatest Hits which was certified in 1970 by the RIAA. The album would later be awarded Platinum record. 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.
After years of medical problems, numerous hospitalizations, approximately 26 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.