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Skeeter Davis

Skeeter Davis (born Mary Frances Penick December 30, 1931September 19, 2004) was an American country music singer, who was best known for crossover pop music songs of the early 1960s. She started out as part of The Davis Sisters in the early 1950s. In the late '50s and early '60s, she became a solo star. Her best known hit was the song "The End of the World" in 1963.

One of the first women to achieve major stardom in the country music field as a solo vocalist, she was an acknowledged influence on Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton and has been hailed as an "extraordinary country/pop singer" by The New York Times music critic Robert Palmer.

Early life and rise to fame

Skeeter Davis was one of country music's first crossover pop stars. The legacy that she left behind helped other stars in country music cross over to the pop charts. Her upbringing, however, was very different from that of most pop singers.

Skeeter was the first of seven children born to William and Punzie Penick. Because her grandfather thought that she had a lot of energy for a young child, he nicknamed Mary Frances "Skeeter" (slang for mosquito). In 1947, the Penick family moved to Erlanger, Kentucky, where Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis at Dixie Heights High School, becoming instant friends. They sang together through much of high school. They formed a group known as The Davis Sisters (although they were unrelated), and started singing on Detroit radio station WJR's program Barnyard Frolics.

Career

RCA Records producer Steve Sholes liked The Davis Sisters' harmonies and offered the duo a recording contract in 1953. The two recorded a lot of material, including "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," which went to number 1 on the country charts, as well as making the top 20 on the pop charts. The Davis Sisters were the first harmonic girl group to reach #1 . Thanks to Kitty Wells the previous year, the Davis Sisters were able to become stars in country music.

However, while "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" was climbing the charts, The Davis Sisters were involved in a major car accident on August 2, 1953. The crash killed Betty Jack Davis and left Skeeter with broken arms and legs. However, Betty Jack Davis' mother insisted that Skeeter Davis sing with Betty Jack's sister, Georgia, in her dead sister's place . Together, Georgia and Skeeter sang as the Davis Sisters until 1956.

The height of her career in the 1960s

Skeeter Davis decided to go back into country music as a solo star. She hooked up again with RCA Records in 1958, this time working with guitarist and record producer Chet Atkins. That year, Davis recorded "Lost to a Geisha Girl," which went all the way to the Country Top 20 and became her first solo hit. Atkins worked with Davis as a guitarist on all of these sessions. Atkins also multitracked Skeeter's voice to resemble the sound of The Davis Sisters. This echo can be found on several of her early solo hits, such as "Lost to a Geisha Girl" and "Am I That Easy to Forget." "Lost to a Geisha Girl" was an "answer song" to Hank Locklin's hit "Geisha Girl."

Another answer song that Skeeter recorded "in reply" to Hank Locklin was "I Can't Help You, I'm Falling Too." This was an answer song to Locklin's "Please Help Me, I'm Falling."

It was not until 1959 that Davis really broke the mold with Top 5 country hit "Set Him Free." That same year, she had another Top 20 hit called "Homebreaker." She also joined the Grand Ole Opry that year, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Set Him Free," becoming the first female Country singer to ever be nominated for a Grammy.

Skeeter Davis from 1960 up until 1962 remained on top of her game, with songs "My Last Date (With You)," "Where I Ought to Be" and "Optimistic," all hits for Davis during this time. Her 1960 hit "(I Can't Help You) I'm Falling Too" was Skeeter's first entrance onto the pop charts. The song went all the way to the Top 40 there, which was unheard of for a country singer at the time. In 1961, she scored a second pop hit with a lyric version (written by Skeeter) of Floyd Cramer's instrumental country pop smash "Last Date" called "My Last Date (With You)" which did even better making the Top 30 on the pop charts. Both of these songs did very well on the Country charts peaking at number 2 and number 5, respectively.

In 1963, Skeeter achieved her biggest success with country pop crossover hit "The End of the World." The song just missed topping the country and pop charts that year. However, the song did top the adult contemporary charts. The song soon became Skeeter's signature song. Only one other woman besides Skeeter was achieving the kind of crossover success that she was achieving. That woman was Patsy Cline, who had a few pop hits around the same time as Skeeter did. However, Cline died in an air-crash in 1963, so Skeeter remained the only country music female artist to achieve pop music crossover success. Skeeter Davis' soft voice appeal was well liked by the teenage crowd at the time, making her a teen star for the era, similar to the kind of teen idol success that Lesley Gore was achieving too; however, Gore was a pop singer. Her crossover success did not end, though. Skeeter achieved one other country pop hit with the Carole King-penned song "I Can't Stay Mad At You," which became a Top 10 pop hit for her, peaking at #7 in 1963.

Skeeter Davis received five Grammy nominations including four for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1964 ("He Says the Same Things to Me"), 1965 ("Sunglasses"), 1967 ("What Does It Take"), and 1972 ("One Tin Soldier"). Davis was also an accomplished songwriter, penning almost 70 songs and earning two BMI awards for "Set Him Free" and "My Last Date With You," the latter of which was also recorded by Ann-Margret, Pat Boone, Kay Starr, Joni James, and several others in addition to Davis' original hit version. Also, it was remade into two number 1 country hits as "Lost Her/His Love(On Our Last Date), one by Conway Twitty (who wrote a new version of the song) in 1972 and another by Emmylou Harris in 1983.

Skeeter's success continued after 1963. Her next follow-up came in late 1963 with "I'm Saving My Love" and another song in 1964 called Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now (which was an updated cover of the song, made a hit in 1956 by Patience and Prudence). While both of these songs made it onto the pop charts, they were not very successful, only reaching the Top 50 on the pop charts, but they were Top 10 hits on the Country charts.

In 1965, Skeeter recorded a duet that became a hit with Bobby Bare called "A Dear John Letter." The best-known version of the song, however, was recorded originally by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky back in 1953. Skeeter also recorded quite a few albums during this time. One of them was a tribute album to Buddy Holly entitled Skeeter Davis Sings Buddy Holly. In 1967, Skeeter had her first Top 10 hit in a while with "What Does It Take (To Keep A Man Like You Satisfied)." An album was also released by the same name, which of course featured the hit single. Skeeter only achieved two other major country hits the rest of the decade, called "Fuel to the Flame" (written by Dolly Parton, whom Skeeter paid tribute to with an album called Skeeter Sings Dolly in 1972) and "There's a Fool Born Every Minute." Other singles were minor hits, but she released many albums.

Decline and controversy

In 1970, Skeeter had another Top Ten hit with "I'm a Lover (Not a Fighter)" and another duet with Bobby Bare with "Your Husband, My Wife", and in 1971, she also had a hit with the autobiographical "Bus Fare To Kentucky". Her chart success began to slowly fade away in the beginning of the decade. Other singles, such as "It's Hard to Be a Woman" and "Love Takes a Lot of My Time" failed to make hits for Skeeter. "One Tin Soldier" did not get much attention from country radio, and failed to make the Top 40, but was nominated for Grammy as Best Female Country Vocal. Skeeter remained an avid member of the Opry. In 1973, she had a brief comeback with her Top 20 hit "I Can't Believe That It's All Over". In 1973 also during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Skeeter dedicated a gospel song to arrested evangelists which some felt was using the Opry stage for "political" commentary. This led to a 15-month suspension from the Grand Ole Opry and created quite a controversy for her. During much of the '70s, she became somewhat of a flower child on the Grand Ole Opry. By now her chart success faded away, and Davis gave up making singles. Her last song to make the national charts was 1976's "I Love Us".

Personal life and death

In the 1970s, she began regularly touring foreign countries such as Barbados, Singapore, and Sweden where she was among the most popular entertainers of any field. Davis was married three times, the first being to Kenneth Depew. She later married Ralph Emery in 1960 and divorced him in 1964. In 1985, Skeeter made a solid comeback with the album She Sings, They Play, with the band NRBQ. A few years later, she married NRBQ's bassist Joey Spampinato. Davis and Spampinato were divorced in 1996. She continued to perform frequently throughout much of the 1990s and into 2000. In 2001 she became incapacitated by the breast cancer that would ultimately claim her life. She died in a hospice in 2004. She remained a Grand Ole Opry member until the end of her life.

Skeeter lived in Brentwood, Tennessee, from the early 1960s until the time of her death in 2004. Her autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky (named after a 1971 Davis hit), was published in 1993. In 1998 she authored a children's book The Christmas Note (with Cathie Pelletier) based on her childhood that received praise from a number of authors including Lee Smith (author), Rebecca Wells, and Terry Kay.

Davis developed breast cancer in 1988, and died of it in a Nashville, Tennessee, hospice, aged 72 on September 19, 2004.

Discography

References

  • The Associated Press. "Skeeter Davis, Country Singer, 72". The New York Times. September 22, 2004. A28.
  • Loesch, Pete. "Skeeter Davis." In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. (1998). Paul Kingsbury, Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 137-138.
  • Weathers, William A. "Skeeter Davis a star on the Grand Ole Opry: Dry Ridge native had hit with 'End of the World'". The Cincinnati Enquirer. September 20, 2004. B4.

External links

[[Category:American pop singers]

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