Country music has lost one of its living legends this week as Country Music Hall of Famer Jean Shepard died on Sunday.
Her career spanned decades as she forged a path for female country singers in the 1950s and ‘60s. In 1952 she signed with Capitol Records and began a streak of chart topping hits in both the country and pop markets.
Born in 1933 at Pauls Valley, Oklahoma she experienced the life of an “Okie” firsthand. One of ten children, She spent most of her formative years in Visalia, CA. As music was important to her family, she developed an interest very early in life and by the time she was in her late teens, she was performing professionally with an all-female band called “The Melody Ranch Girls.”
She scored her first smash in a duet with Ferlin Husky in 1953. The song “A dear John Letter” went to number one on the country charts and topped out at number five in the pop charts. She followed soon after with other hit songs such as “A Satisfied Mind” and “Beautiful Lies.”
She joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 and became a staple of country music broadcasting. That same year she also joined the fledgling NBC show “Ozark Jubilee.”
She married a fellow Grand Ole Opry star named Hawkshaw Hawkins in 1960. The marriage was short lived, as he died in the 1963 airplane crash that also killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas.
Her music career continued as she presented new hits throughout the 1960’s including “Second Fiddle (to An Old Guitar)”, released in 1964.
Her final chart appearance occurred in 1970 with the hit “Slipping Away”, which became her calling card for the rest of her career. She continued to perform with the Grand Ole Opry into her 80s.
In 2011 she was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame and celebrated 60 years with the Opry in 2015.
In the forward to her 2011 memoir “Down Through The Years”, Garth Brooks wrote that Jean Shepard always treated him like an equal when he first joined the Opry cast. “She treated me like a family member before they inducted me out there. Then, when I found out the she was an Okie, it all made since. She’s a doll inside and out, and that’s what I love about her.”
Later female singers like Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn followed in the wake of Shepard, and went on to attain even greater heights because of her trailblazing voice and hard work.
Many people have taken to the internet to express their fondness for her and pay their respects at her passing, with people saying such things as:
“Bless her soul. RIP Jean. Wanda Jackson is left to carry on for you.”- Cruisyguy
“We keep losing the good ones.”- Wayne Reynolds
“Jean Shepard will alway be her as I play her song out loud so she hear it too . RIP Jean but here is 1 of ur song Slippin” Away & Dear John Letter.”- Blaine Tibbets
“Never pictured her as yodeler but she is one of the BEST I’ve ever heard.”- Mitchell Austin
“SHE WILL BE MISSED ..R,I,P”- Rolande Powley
What are your favorite memories of Jean Shepard? What is your favorite song she sang? Please share your thoughts with us here.