In 1952, Kitty Wells forever transformed the way women would be seen in the country music world. It was shortly after fellow country star Hank Thompson sang about a cheating fiancé (an ungodly “honky tonk angel”) in “The Wild Side of Life” that Wells’ musical response turned the tables on the ever-popular she-done-him-wrong song.
With the same classic country feel, Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” fired back a sassy shot uncommon for its time. “It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women/It’s not true that only you men feel the same/From the start, most every heart that’s ever broken/Was because there always was a man to blame,” she sang, giving a musical hall pass to wives who trade their unfaithful husbands for the “wild side.”
Not only did it outsell Thompson’s single, the track became the first by a solo female artist to reach Number One on Billboard‘s country singles chart. But for all the song’s success, there were also its naysayers. Wells’ eye-for-an-eye message about infidelity (“Too many times married men think they’re still single/That has caused many a good girl to go wrong”) came long before the women’s liberation movement. The song was initially banned by NBC radio and temporarily prohibited at the Grand Ole Opry. However, as seen in the video above, the country trailblazer was eventually able to preform the song on the revered stage.
Wells was one of the first female artists to make her mark in the male-dominated world of country music, paving the road for the likes of Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette — who later started their own group called, appropriately, the Honky Tonk Angels.
Wells passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. She was the eighth woman and third country singer to receive a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.