Hall of famer Jean Shepard dies

Sunday, September 25, 2016 – Country Music Hall of Famer Jean Shepard, who was a member of the Grand Ole Opry for six decades, died Sunday at 82.

Shepard was an American honky tonk singer-songwriter who became the first female country artist to sell more than a million copies with her 1953 duet with Ferlin Huskey, "A Dear John Letter." Shepard released 24 albums between 1956 and 1981.

Ollie Imogene Shepard was born Nov. 21,1933 in Pauls Valley, Okla. and raised in Visalia, Cal. She played bass in the Melody Ranch Girls, an all-female band formed in 1948, as a teenager.

Hank Thompson discovered Shepard several years later, leading to Shepard signing with Capitol Records in 1952.

Shepard cut four songs at her first session with Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West, Cliffie Stone and Billy Strange. Shepard's first single for the label, "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz," failed to chart.

"A Dear John Letter" topped the country charts the following year and also hit number four on the pop charts. The duo's follow-up, "Forgive Me John," reached the top 10 on the country chart and the top 25 on the pop chart.

In 1955, Shepard joined ABC TV's Ozark Jubilee and recorded her first studio album, "Songs of a Love Affair," written by Shepard. "A Satisfied Mind" became her first solo top 10 single, reaching number 4. She also had hits that year with "Take Possession"and "Beautiful Lies." Its flip side, "I Thought of You," also reached the top 10.

That led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1955. The only other females were Kitty Wells and Minnie Pearl.

Shepard's popularity waned with the emergence of the more mainstream Nashville Sound. Shepard charted twice on the singles charts between 1956 and 1963.

In 1960, Shepard married fellow Opry star Hawkshaw Hawkins. Hawkins, who met Shepard on Ozark Jubilee, died 1963 in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. Shepard gave birth to their son, Hawkshaw Jr., one mont later. She later married country musician Benny Birchfield, who survives.

Shepard enjoyed a resurgence. She hit the top 10 in 1964 with "Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar)." In 1966, Shepard recorded a duet with Ray Pillow, "I'll Take the Dog," which went as high as number 9 on the Billboard country chart. Later that year, "If the Teardrops Were Silver" hit the top 10, and "Many Happy Hangovers to You" went top 15..

Shepard continued recording and having hit singles.

In the early 1970s, Shepard switched to United Artists Records.Her first single for the label in 1973, Bill Anderson's "Slippin' Away," reached fourth on the Billboard country chart. In 1975, Shepard recorded songs written by Bill Anderson, "Poor Sweet Baby (And Ten More Bill Anderson Songs)."

Shepard went with smaller labels, continuing to release albums and singles.

In 2011, Shepard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. On NOv. 21, 2015, Shepard became the first female performer at the Opry for 60 years. She retired that night.

CD reviews for Jean Shepard

Classic Capitol Recordings, 1952-1964
Jean Shepard is one of the all-time greats and certainly one of the most significant girl singers to come out of Bakersfield or anywhere. With this collection, Shepard is introduced to a whole new generation of listeners. Shepard is a woman with strength and character, relying on substance, rather than fluff to get her music across. Discovered by Hank Thompson in Bakersfield as a teen where she played bass and sang with the Melody Ranch Girls, Shepard spent her first years on the West Coast, an »»»