Tragic Facts About Tammy Wynette, The First Lady Of Country

June 18, 2023 | Eli Artman

Tragic Facts About Tammy Wynette, The First Lady Of Country

Few singers in the history of the country genre have ever conveyed as much raw emotion through their songs as the late Tammy Wynette did. Fans the world over loved her music and her unmistakably powerful singing voice. But what they might not have realized was that the woman behind those classic songs lived a highly complicated and difficult life, full of enormous ups and downs. From the impressive to the tragic, here are 50 little-known facts about country music superstar Tammy Wynette.

1. She Came from Humble Origins

From the very beginning, Tammy Wynette’s life was far from an easy one. She was born on a family farm in rural Mississippi in 1942. Her original name was Virginia Wynette Pugh, and she was her parents’ only child. In addition to running the family farm, her father, William, was a local musician. I guess music ran in the family!

Tammy Wynette

2. She Experienced Loss as a Baby

Tragically, Tammy Wynette did not have much of a chance to get to know her father. He passed at the age of 26 back in 1943, when the future star was only nine months old, as the result of a brain tumor. This had a major impact on the rest of Wynette’s childhood, as it forced her to grow up without his love and guidance.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

3. She Was Raised by Her Grandparents

After her father’s untimely passing, the Wynette family structure changed drastically. Her mother, Mildred, decided to move on with her life by leaving the family farm for the big city. She moved to Memphis and ultimately remarried shortly after. This left young Tammy behind to be raised solely by her grandparents—and it wasn’t exactly ideal.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

4. She Had a Difficult Childhood

Growing up on her grandparents’ farm was not easy for the future singer. Being in an extremely rural area, the childhood home that Wynette grew up in lacked many basic necessities, including running water and even indoor toilets. On top of that, her grandparents put her to work picking cotton when she was just seven years old.

Tammy Wynette FactsPikist

5. She Never Forgot Where She Came From

Although having to work long days picking cotton as a child does not sound like fun to most of us, it was a formative experience for Wynette. Her grandparents wanted it to teach her the value of hard work, and the message was definitely received. In fact, even many years later when she had already become a celebrity, Wynette always kept a bowl of cotton in her home as a constant reminder of her origins.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

6. She Discovered Music Through Her Late Father’s Belongings

Although Wynette’s father’s passing was a tragic event, it also may have contributed in a number of ways to the person she eventually became. In fact, her initial interest in music was sparked when she discovered some old instruments of her father’s lying around the house and decided to take a shot at teaching herself to play them—it was a move that would change her life.

Tammy Wynette FactsPixabay

7. She Got Married Very Young

Music came naturally, but Wynette’s lifelong search for love became one of the most complicated—and fascinating—sagas in her life. She ended up getting married five times over the years, and she started out at a very young age. The future country singer married her first husband, Euple Byrd, when she was only 17 years old and still in high school—but it wasn’t exactly happily ever after.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

8. Her Married Life Was Unstable

Married life with Byrd did not go quite the way that Wynette had hoped. He was a construction worker by trade, but could never seem to hold down a single, consistent job for too long. As a result, the couple had to constantly move around from place to place. This hectic and unstable lifestyle could not have helped their relationship...

Clara Bow factsPixabay

9. She Had a Career Before Music

To compensate for her husband’s shortcomings in providing for their family, Tammy Wynette soon found herself taking on a long series of various odd jobs. Waitress, bartender, receptionist, and shoe factory worker were just a few of the positions she took on to try and bring home the bacon. Eventually, though, she became a hairdresser and decided to stick with that job for a while—likely, longer than you think.

Brenda Frazier FactsShutterstock

10. She Never Really Quit

Tammy Wynette settled into her job as a hairdresser after completing beauty school and obtaining her cosmetology license. Not only did she actually work as a hairdresser for some time, but she even continued to renew her license each and every year for the rest of her life, even after she had reached musical stardom. In a way, it was indicative of her darkest feats—this way, she always had a backup option available in case the musical success ever ended.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

11. She Wanted Something More

Although Wynette had settled comfortably into her role as a hairdresser, she still had some pretty big hopes for the future. She began to fantasize about becoming a professional singer and one day devoting her life to music. However, when she confessed her goals to her husband, his reaction was utterly cruel. He didn’t support her and actively discouraged her from pursuing her dreams.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

12. She Was Forced to Choose

The more Wynette began to ponder a possible career as a professional country artist, the more she realized that it was something that she needed to pursue. When her husband continued his refusal to support her endeavors, she made a heartbreaking decision. Wynette picked her ambitions over him. She left him to pursue her dreams and never looked back.

Margaret Tudor FactsShutterstock

13. It All Came Full Circle

According to Wynette’s own account, on the day she left her first husband to pursue her musical career, his last words to her were "Dream on, baby!" as she drove away from his house for good. Many years later, after Wynette had made it big, her jaw dropped when he showed up at one of her concerts and asked for an autograph. Appropriately, she signed it "Dream on, baby!"

Tammy Wynette FactsFlickr

14. She Cared for Her Kids Alone

Leaving her first marriage wasn’t easy. Although she was still only 20 years old, she already had two children—and when she left Byrd, she made a disturbing discovery. She was pregnant again. Sadly, her new daughter developed spinal meningitis right after she was born. Wynette was now left to fend for these three on her own.

Motherhood factsPixabay

15. The Early Days Were Rough

The beginning of Wynette’s musical career was extremely challenging. While still working a full-time job as a hairdresser, she would wake up at 4 in the morning each day to sing on a local TV show before work. She would also accept whatever singing gigs she could get at night to earn some extra money. Gotta start somewhere, right?

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

16. She Risked Everything for Her Dreams

In 1966, Wynette finally decided to take her dreams to the next level. Without any prospects or plans as to how she would succeed, she took a huge risk and moved to Nashville with her daughters to be closer to the heart of the country music business—leaving her entire former life behind. At this point, it was stardom or bust!

Tammy Wynette FactsGoodFreePhotos

17. She Was Initially Rejected

If Tammy Wynette was hoping for a confidence boost from her move to Nashville, she was immediately disappointed. Record companies rejected her auditions time and time again. At this point, it would have been easy for most people in her shoes to just give up. But Wynette never lost hope—and that would soon pay off.

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18. Her First Record Deal Was a Fluke

After many rejections, Tammy Wynette finally found some luck when she auditioned for Billy Sherrill of Epic Records. Like the others, Sherrill initially had no interest in signing Wynette. However, he had an immediate need for a singer to record a new song that two of his studio’s writers had just composed. Sherrill gave Wynette a shot, liked her rendition of the song, and agreed to have her record it as her first professional record.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

19. She Named Herself After a Movie

Now that she was to be a professional recording artist, Sherrill told Wynette that she needed a new stage name to go by. He soon came up with the name "Tammy," because the singer’s long blonde pony-tailed hair reminded him of a character from a Debbie Reynolds movie called Tammy and the Bachelor. And thus, the name "Tammy Wynette" was born!

Tammy Wynette FactsWikipedia

20. Her Signature Song Was a Massive Hit

The biggest breakthrough in Wynette’s career came in 1968 when she recorded what would become her signature song, "Stand by Your Man". The song was an enormous hit and remains well-known to this day. This song was the only one in Wynette’s career that was a hit not only on the country charts but also on the pop charts. It would later be voted the greatest country song of all time by CMT.

Tammy Wynette FactsFlickr

21. She Spread Country Music Around the Globe

Despite country music traditionally being an exclusively American genre, "Stand by Your Man" completely shattered that norm with its success. The song was a Number One hit in both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. At this point, there was no denying that Wynette’s dreams had come true and that she was now a bona fide country music superstar—but dark twists awaited her.

Tammy Wynette FactsFlickr

22. She Had a Secret Weapon

Not many people are aware that there was another secret to the success of "Stand by Your Man" in addition to Wynette’s incredible singing. For the backup vocals, the studio had brought in a group called the Jordanaires. This was the same group that had sung backup vocals on many of Elvis Presley’s big hits a decade earlier.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

23. She Didn’t Expect Much of the Song

Despite all the success it would reach, "Stand by Your Man" was not initially intended to be anything special. Wynette and Sherrill wrote the song from start to finish in less than 15 minutes, and Wynette didn’t even like it at first! She particularly disliked the high note she had to sing—the very one that would help make the song a timeless classic.

Dolly Parton FactsMax Pixel

24. Not Everyone Liked Her Song

Although "Stand by Your Man" was an enormous hit, it was also the source of some major controversy. The song came out at the height of the feminist movement in the late 1960s, and many people attacked it. They thought that it encouraged women to be subservient to their husbands. Wynette stood up for herself and disputed these attacks, insisting that the song was simply "a pretty little love song.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

25. Her Husband Violated Her Privacy

Around the same time that Wynette reached superstar status, she married her second husband, songwriter Don Chapel. The marriage only lasted about a year, however, after she discovered that he was keeping a disturbing secret. The tipping point was when Wynette found out that her new husband had secretly taken racy photos of her and shared them with other people.

Elizabeth of Russia FactsShutterstock

26. She Paired Up with a Legend

In 1969, a new and fascinating chapter in Wynette’s life began. She married her third husband, country music legend George Jones, after he had declared his love for her while she was still married to Chapel. The couple started recording and releasing a string of duets together, creating one of the most epic partnerships in the genre’s history both on and off the stage—but it would also have a chilling dark side.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

27. Tammy and George Seemed Perfect for Each Other

Jones had a lot in common with Wynette at the time when they agreed to get married. He had also been married twice before and, like Wynette, had just suffered the end of a marriage the previous year. At the time, he had sworn that he would never remarry again until he was at least 69 years old. Little did he realize that within a year, he would meet and fall head over heels for Tammy Wynette!

Tammy Wynette FactsFlickr

28. She Set a Longstanding Record

As the new decade began, Wynette’s immense success in the country music world continued. She set a formidable new record when she won the Country Music Association’s award for "Female Vocalist of the Year" for three years in a row. That record would stand for nearly two decades until it was broken by Reba McEntire in 1987.

Tammy Wynette FactsShutterstock

29. Her Consistency Was Legendary

For the entire decade of the 1970s, every one of the singles that Wynette released reached the top ten on the country charts, with the exception of just three. No matter what else was going on in her life, her musical success never faltered throughout this entire period. Is there any greater marker of true stardom than consistency?

Tammy Wynette FactsFlickr

30. She Developed Serious Health Issues

Although her career was going incredibly well in the 1970s, behind the scenes, she was suffering horribly. Wynette was affected by a slew of health problems that began around this time, and she ended up enduring a whopping 26 major surgeries in the ensuing years. On top of that, complications during some of these procedures created chronic issues for her, requiring her to be in and out of hospitals for the rest of her life.

Frida Kahlo FactsWallpaper Flare

31. She Struggled with Addiction

Sadly, Wynette’s new health problems kept going from bad to worse, and the consequences were chilling. In her efforts to cope with all of her newfound challenges, the country singer became addicted to painkiller medications—a struggle that would tragically plague her for the rest of her life.

Brenda Frazier FactsShutterstock

32. Her Husband Had a Serious Problem

Tammy Wynette’s health problems were not the only challenge that she faced during the 1970s. She also had to deal with the fact that her new husband, George Jones, was a severe alcoholic. Wynette had hoped that getting married would help curb this nasty habit of his, but as she soon came to realize, this was not the case. His drinking became a source of tremendous stress in their lives, and it led to many fights between the couple.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

33. Their House Became Violent

Things got bad in George and Tammy’s marriage. Really bad. On one occasion, Wynette claimed that Jones chased her around the house with a loaded gun and that he even once shot at her. She also made disturbing claims that he had beat her on occasion while they were together. Jones later disputed these claims.

Awkward Job Interviews FactsNeedpix

34. She Tried to Teach Her Husband a Lesson

To try and scare him into changing his ways, Wynette filed for divorce from Jones in 1973, even though she wanted things to still work things out with him. Hopeful that he was finally ready to change after this incident, the pair made up and returned to their life together. Sadly, their problems didn’t come to an end. Instead, the opposite occurred.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

35. They Had an Amicable Split

Even though Wynette and Jones had reconciled, nothing changed in their relationship. He continued to drink and engage in self-destructive behavior, and it took a toll on both of their lives. They divorced for real in 1975, and Jones claims he didn’t even try to fight it at that point. He knew he had screwed up, and said, "I let Tammy have everything—didn’t fight it".

Janet Leigh factsShutterstock

36. They Continued to Work Together

Even though their marriage had been tumultuous, the divorce between Jones and Wynette was fairly amicable and they continued to remain lifelong friends and singing partners even after it was over. Even if fans of the couple found the split devastating, things between them under these circumstances could easily have gone so much worse. Wynette was finally free—but that doesn’t mean that she had it easy.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

37. She Dated a Hollywood Icon

Although moving on from her marriage to Jones was probably a very difficult chapter in Wynette’s life, being single as a celebrity can definitely have its perks. Tabloid papers were ecstatic to learn that the country singer had begun dating Hollywood legend Burt Reynolds in the late 1970s. While the relationship didn’t last, the pair remained friends.

Laura Dern FactsGetty Images

38. She Sued Her Ex-Husband

Despite the generally good terms that Wynette was on with ex-husband George Jones, it was not quite smooth sailing between them at all times. In 1978, a few short years after their very public divorce, Wynette took her famous singing partner to court over allegations of unpaid child support that she felt he owed her.

Lawyers Screwed factsPublic Domain Pictures

39. She Had an Extremely Short Fourth Marriage

Wynette’s efforts to move on from Jones romantically continued to prove difficult in the years that followed. She married real estate executive Michael Tomlin in 1976, but this ended up being her shortest relationship yet. The couple’s marriage lasted only 44 days, about half of which Wynette spent hospitalized due to various surgeries.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

40. Her Last Husband Was Awful

Tragically, Wynette’s fifth and final marriage proved to be the worst of all. She married songwriter George Richey in 1978. Immediately after the wedding, he appointed himself as her new manager and became very controlling over her life. Her career declined in the 1980s, and allegations slowly surfaced revealing that Richey likely beat Wynette on a regular basis. Richey later denied these claims.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

41. She Was Violently Kidnapped...

In 1978, fans were shocked to hear reported that an unknown assailant had beaten and kidnapped Wynette while she was shopping at a Nashville mall. Wynette claimed that the abductor had dumped her off outside of the city when he was through with his physical attacks on her. She was left with several bruises on her face, as well as a broken cheekbone. It was a terrifying incident—and then it took a twisted turn.

Catherine Parr FactsShutterstock

42. …Or Was She?

While authorities investigated, the identity of the assailant was never discovered and the case was never officially solved. However, one of Wynette’s kids later revealed the dark truth. Her daughter Jackie Daly long had her suspicions about what happened, and in her memoir, she revealed that she thought Wynette made up the entire kidnapping story to cover up the fact that the bruises on her face were the result of her new husband’s beatings.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

43. She Sang for Some Powerful People

Although Tammy Wynette’s popularity on the charts had declined by the early 1980s, her status as a cultural icon was as secure as ever. She was so beloved by this time that she was invited to the White House on two separate occasions to perform at private events for both President Jimmy Carter and President Ronald Reagan. Apparently indifferent to politics, she even once performed for controversial Southern politician George Wallace—something many fans likely weren’t pleased about.

Tammy Wynette FactsWikipedia

44. She Became an Election Issue

Her White House performances would prove not to be her last brush with power. During the 1992 presidential election, future president Bill Clinton came under fire for an alleged affair. His wife, future First Lady and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, gave an interview in the midst of the controversy and shared her perspective on the matter.

Mrs. Clinton made headlines by derisively invoking Wynette in her interview, claiming "You know, I'm not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette!" This comment sparked a ton of reaction, and even condemnation from Wynette herself. Who knew this innocent little farm girl would one day wind up entangled in presidential politics!

Pete Davidson FactsGetty Images

45. She Almost Lost Her Life

Wynette suffered a severe health scare in 1993 following the Christmas holiday. She woke up in immense pain during the night and was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital. Her condition was so bad that she actually slipped into a coma for several days. Nevertheless, always a trooper, she recovered and continued touring almost immediately afterward.

Scars FactsShutterstock

46. She Reunited with George

When Wynette’s ex-husband George Jones heard about her 1993 health scare, he became extremely concerned. Although they had not spoken in years, something sparked his emotions and he rushed over to the hospital to pay her a visit as soon as he could, fearing the worst. From this point forward, the former couple rekindled their friendship and even recorded a reunion album together.

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

47. She Passed Suddenly and Mysteriously

Tragically, Tammy Wynette suddenly passed in 1998 while at home sleeping on her couch. She was only 55 years old. Her family desperately wanted an explanation as to what had caused her to lose her life. Doctors determined that the tragedy was likely the result of a blood clot in her lung, though many questions remained unanswered.

Jayne Mansfield factsNeedpix

48. Her Children Were Suspicious

Given the mysterious circumstances of Wynette’s passing, her children were not so quick to let their questions go. They sued her husband, George Richey, and claimed that his mistreatment of their mother was the cause of her sudden passing. In 1999, they had Wynette’s body exhumed and reexamined for new information. The authorities determined that cardiac arrhythmia had been the true cause of the tragedy.

Anna May Wong FactsShutterstock

49. Her Gravestone Was Changed Multiple Times

For some reason, many years after the singer’s passing, the name on her grave was abruptly changed from her stage name of "Tammy Wynette" to her official name of "Virginia W. Richardson". Two years later, however, it was changed back to once again to say "Tammy Wynette". Can’t we just let her rest in peace already??

Tammy Wynette FactsWikimedia Commons

50. George Never Lost His Feelings for Her

The man to whom she is forever tied in the public’s mind, George Jones, continued to mourn Wynette’s loss for years. Even though their relationship had been extremely rocky and short-lived, and even though they went years without speaking, he expressed deep sorrow when she passed, as well as gratitude for their renewed friendship in her later years.

If that doesn’t sound like a story straight out of a country song, I don’t know what does!

Tammy Wynette FactsStand by Your Man (1981), Robert Papazian Productions

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

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