I was having dinner at a lakeside restaurant not far from my home last night when I ran into my friend and former Statler Brothers member, Jimmy Fortune. After our cheery hellos, he and his wife asked somberly if I knew that Kitty Wells had passed away. I had not had the radio nor the TV on all day. I had not heard the news.
When you hear something like that, it’s amazing the wide range of memories and emotions that come racing across your mind.
First, of course, is the sadness. There are some people in our lives that we just expect to be there forever. Miss Kitty was one of those.
Then come the career reflections. Wow, what an amazing lifetime of accomplishment this genteel southern lady had: The first major female star in country music history. Hit records. Sold-out tours. Hall of Fame member. Grammy nominee. A Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Recording Academy. The list is virtually endless.
And then the personal reflections take over. The first time I saw Kitty Wells in concert when I was a teenager. Meeting her in person. Being in the recording studio that afternoon in 1959 when she recorded her classic, “Amigo’s Guitar.” Having her record several songs over the years that I had written, and seeing two of those recordings make the national charts. One, “We Missed You,” in 1962, climbed all the way to #7 in Billboard magazine.
And then the tours. I cannot begin to count the number of shows that I played alongside Miss Kitty, her husband, Johnny Wright, and their son, Bobby Wright. We toured across Canada together on more than one occasion, and worked the “package show” circuit from one end of this country to the other.
One of my fondest memories came the day Kitty and Johnny welcomed me and the crew from XM satellite radio into their home to record one of my “Visits With The Legends.” We sat around the dining room table and visited…and recorded that visit for posterity. Before this day is over, I’m going to find my copy of that show, sit and listen to it and reflect. It was a treasured afternoon.
But my number one, all-time favorite memory of Kitty Wells was something that took place far outside the spotlight. Away from the crowds and the microphones and the cameras. It was a very personal moment that nobody shared but us.
We were working a show together somewhere….a matinee and a night show if I remember correctly….and between shows I realized I had not had a chance to speak with Miss Kitty all day. I asked Johnny where she was, and he replied that she was resting on their tour bus.
“Would it be all right if I go by and say hello to her?” I asked. Johnny assured me that it would.
I tapped gingerly on the door of their bus, and partially opened the door. “Miss Kitty?” I called out cautiously, not wanting to wake her should she be asleep. “It’s Bill Anderson,” I said. “I just wanted to say hello.”
“Come on in,” came the reply. I eased up into the stairwell.
I will never forget the sight that greeted me as I peered into the front lounge of the Wright’s home on wheels. There she was….Miss Kitty Wells….the undisputed Queen of Country Music…idol of millions…sitting calmly in her seat, a pair of glasses resting softly on her gentle face. She was reading her Bible.
Outside the bus, fans were coming and going. One show was over and another was yet to come. Vendors were hawking souvenirs. The mood was festive. And just a few feet away sat the lady the fans had all come to see. And she was calmly, serenely sitting alone and reading her Bible.
That scene will stay with me forever. When I think of Kitty Wells that’s what I’ll remember ahead of everything else. A kind, soft-spoken, marvelous lady with her priorities completely in order.
Rest in peace, Miss Kitty. I love you.