The country music icon Amy Wynette, best known for her song “Stand By Your Man” and her heartbreakingly tender singing voice, also had toughness and tenacity. She will be featured in the upcoming drama miniseries George & Tammy because of the way that her tenacity allowed her to survive a lifetime of heartache and turmoil.
Despite experiencing horrible low moments in her personal life, Wynette rose to the top of the country music world. The “First Lady of Country Music” was married five times, including to fellow country legend George Jones, and suffered from health issues that caused her to develop a long-lasting addiction to painkillers. She passed away at the young age of 55.
According to a website devoted to the singer, “No other female country singer portrayed the intensity of heartbreak like Tammy Wynette.” She won over millions of fans by singing about issues that people face every day, such as divorce, loneliness, parenting, and passion. She sang with an emotional delivery that embodied every woman’s experience with heartbreak. Perhaps Tammy was able to express her passion for such serious subjects because she had experienced such turbulent times herself.
Virginia Wynette Pugh gave birth to Tammy Wynette in 1942 in a remote part of Itawamba County, Mississippi. Her mother remarried after her father passed away while she was quite little, leaving her to be raised by her grandparents. She started spending long days picking cotton with her family when she was 7 years old, and she never forgot that lesson of perseverance. Wynette kept a crystal bowl filled with cotton in her house even after she became famous as a singer as a memento of her time working in a cotton field.
At the age of 18, Wynette married Euple Byrd in 1960. Byrd, a construction worker, struggled to maintain employment, thus the couple relocated frequently. Before becoming famous in country music, Wynette worked several professions, such as waitress, shoe factory worker, cocktail waitress, and hair stylist, but she never shied away from hard work. The sensible Wynette continued to renew her cosmetology license every year until her passing, just in case she ever needed to return to work as a beautician for a living.
By the time Wynette was 20 years old, she and Byrd had given birth to two daughters, Gwendolyn and Jacquelyn, before Wynette left him pregnant with their third child, Tina, who shortly after delivery was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Wynette, who was now a resident of Alabama, rose at 4 a.m. every morning to perform on the “Country Boy Eddie” TV show for a nearby station. She then went to work as a hairdresser.
Wynette relocated to Nashville in 1966 with her girls to pursue a recording contract. With three young daughters depending on her, the move was extremely dangerous given Wynette’s lack of prior music industry expertise, but she eventually obtained a record deal with Epic Records and adopted the stage name “Tammy Wynette.” In 1967, she wed musician Don Chapel.
Wynette’s calculated risk-taking paid off with Epic’s support. She started strong with a string of hit singles, according to Rolling Stone, “starting with Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Apartment #9’ in 1967 and peaking with her 1969 number-one hit, ‘Stand By Your Man.”
For Wynette, 1969 was a pivotal year. She released her Greatest Hits, Volume 1, which, according to Rolling Stone, was the first album by a female country artist to receive a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America. Wynette furthered her standing as a country music icon by joining the Grand Ole Opry.
Additionally, she wed fellow country musician George Jones, starting a long singing partnership that persisted even after the pair split up. The No. 1 country singles “Near You” and “Golden Ring” were featured in their duets. The following year after getting married, Wynette and Jones had a daughter named Tamala Georgette. Unfortunately, Jones’ drunkenness and tumultuous marriage led to their divorce in 1975.
Wynette got married a second time in 1978 to singer-songwriter George Richey, who later became her manager in the 1980s. Their first marriage was to businessman Michael Tomlin in 1977, but they divorced after just 44 days. According to Wynette’s daughter Georgette, the marriage, which they had up to Wynette’s passing in 1998, was abusive.
Wynette made a kidnapping story soon after they were married, and she even had a noticeable bruise on her cheek to back it up. However, Georgette Jones stated in her autobiography The Three of Us: Growing Up With Tammy and George that she believed the story was a coverup intended to hide the fact that Richey had battered Wynette. This was written decades after the incident.
Richey “worked very hard to isolate mom from her family and friends so he could be the only person she could turn to,” Georgette stated in her letter. She may have believed she had no other option and that fighting would be too difficult.
Wynette had numerous surgeries throughout much of her life due to several health issues, including severe intestinal pain. Nevertheless, she always found a way to endure the discomfort, despite developing a growing dependency on medications. Georgette Jones thought Richey contributed to Wynette’s passing by promoting her drug use.
According to the Boot, Georgette wrote in her 2011 book: “There are some people who witnessed mom saying she didn’t want any pain medication, to not give her anymore and Richey would continue to inject her regardless.” When she was in pain, there were moments when she did want it, but he wouldn’t give it to her.
She did confess to my sister that she and Richey had fought and that he had assaulted her after all the information regarding her kidnapping in 1978 surfaced. She chose to remain with him despite his threats to ruin her life and publish a book detailing everything. When Wynette grew handicapped and went on stage in her latter years, her band and backup vocalists got used to filling in for her.
Virginia’s in the house was a phrase the band used to let one another know when Tammy was dangerously intoxicated. Tammy’s original name was Virginia Pugh, and whenever her name was spoken, it was a sign of an overmedicated Wynette, according to Jimmy McDonough’s biography Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, published in 2010.
In 1998, Wynette passed away peacefully at her Nashville home. According to reports, a blood clot in her lungs was the cause of death. She wasn’t even 55. After my mother passed away, we learned a lot of things, Georgette wrote. It hurts to think that my mother led such a life while we were ignorant of some aspects of it.
Wynette amassed more than 20 No. 1 singles in all, many of which she co-wrote, and 11 of her albums reached the position. She received three “Female Vocalist of the Year” honors from the Country Music Association in addition to two Grammys for the songs “I Don’t Wanna Play House” and “Stand By Your Man.” Wynette was admitted to the Country Music Hall of Fame later that year.
The Country Music Hall of Fame described Wynette as “assertively working-class and womanly, Wynette emphasized the problems faced by working women: raising children, holding down a job, and fulfilling domestic tasks.” “Her “steel magnolia” reputation enabled her to operate in a male-dominated field where discrimination against women was still pervasive. She has not only been the victim, but also the survivor.