Friday, August 15, 2008

Low-key tribute honors Kitty Wells
Exhibit spotlights singer who revolutionized country music

PETER COOPER, The Tennessean, August 14, 2008

It is unusual, though not difficult, to have a humble exhibit devoted to
someone called "the Queen."

And yet the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum's tribute to the life and
career of Kitty Wells, the Queen of Country Music, is as notable for its lack
of glitz as for its informative and sometimes touching artifacts from a
monumental woman.

Born Muriel Deason in Nashville, the singer known as Kitty Wells built a
legacy of plaintive, unadorned country music that spoke clearly to plaintive,
unadorned listeners. This was, and is, a queen in gingham. This was, and is, a
woman who revolutionized country music without ever looking or acting
anything but humble and thankful. She was the prototype for the solo female country
artist, yet it's safe to say that no one ever called Kitty Wells a diva.

The museum's new exhibit is open for the next 10 months. Here are a few of
the museum pieces to look for, including some artifacts from husband Johnny
Wright, who gave Wells her stage name, managed her and toured with her, and who
was a member of genre-bending country duo Johnnie & Jack.

• Lost In Translation — One of the more intriguing items on display is a
blown-up reproduction of a telegraph from Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, sent to
Wells upon her 1976 induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The
telegraph reads, "From one of your many devoted fans," and is addressed to Wells at
"The Grand Ole Opera" on "Operaland Drive."

• Fit For A Queen — A display case at the front of the exhibit features a
lovely red dress that Wells wore to her Hall of Fame induction, but the most
striking item in that case is also the simplest: a blue gingham dress she wore
onstage in the 1950s. The dress is so anti-show business that it is nearly a
punk rock-ready statement. That same display case houses numerous trophies.
Wells was named country's top female vocalist in trade magazines from 1952 to

• Study Time — The exhibit includes a hand-tooled leather briefcase that
Wells and Wright used to hold song lyrics. Wells would often read over the
lyrics on her way to shows, making sure she knew everything by heart.

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