Skeeter Davis (born Mary Frances Penick December 30, 1931 – September 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[[Category:American pop singers]