Kitty Wells’ Funeral Had Standing Ovation

Kitty Wells, “The Queen of Country Music,” received her last standing ovation at her funeral.

Eddie Stubbs, family friend and WSM personality who at one time played fiddle for Wells and her husbandJohnnie Wright, made sure of it.

“Let’s all stand together and give Kitty Wells the biggest round of applause ever given to her,” Stubbs, who officiated the ceremony along with Brother Steve North, told the auditorium of mourners.

Wells’ service was held Friday at the Hendersonville Church of Christ.

After the crowd — which included Wells’ large extended family as well as country singers Marty Stuart andConnie Smith, Bill Anderson, Ricky Skaggs and gospel singers The Whites — sat back down, Stubbs said: “It’s one thing to make a contribution in life; it’s another to make a difference. Kitty did both.”

Wells died Monday, July 16, at her home in Madison following compilations from a stroke at the age of 92.

The Country Music Hall of Famer was born Ellen Muriel Deason on Aug. 30, 1919 and spent a humble childhood growing up with siblings in south Nashville. She married country singer Johnnie Wright Oct. 30, 1937 and changed her name to Kitty Wells in 1943 when a music industry insider told her husband that no one would gravitate to someone named Muriel Wright. Her first record came out in 1949, but when the song didn’t perform well she was dropped from the label and was considering retirement to be a stay-at- home mother and wife.

Wells made her final television appearance on “The Marty Stuart Show” on RFDTV in 2010. She lost her beloved husband of 74 years, Johnnie Wright, last September but during the eulogy Stubbs was careful to point out that his friend, whom he affectionately referred to as a third grandmother, “never gave up the desire to live.”

“She did not grieve herself to death,” he said, dozens of memorial flower arrangements decorating the stage and pathways behind him. “Since Johnnie’s passing, a side of her personality came out (many) had never seen before. She assumed the role of family entertainer.”

Stubbs remembered Wells as a woman of “deep deep faith” who always exhibited ‘poise, professionalism, dignity and class,” but he said he also remembered her as a top-notch cook who could be quick-witted in the right situation.

He told a story of Wells sitting a basket of hello dollies (his personal favorite thing she made) in front of him on the table. He ate one and declined another saying he had to watch his figure. She quipped: “Why don’t you let someone else watch it.” He ate another square of the dessert.

At three separate points in the funeral Ricky Skaggs and the Whites took the stage to perform gospel songs. Early in the ceremony, they performed “Precious Memories,” and returned mid-way through to sing “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” a song they said Wells requested they play at her husband’s funeral but they couldn’t because Skaggs was out of town.

“We get to honor a lot of people at funerals,” said Skaggs, who first met Wells 52 years ago. “But it’s not every day you get to honor a queen. She carried that mantle with dignity, honor and grace. She was very humble and unique.”

North told those assembled that Wells “didn’t consider that voice as her, but an instrument God gave her.”

“It was a tool and a tool is not who you are,” he explained.

He said that “what’s in that casket” wasn’t her either, but “an old house she used to live in and it’s broken.”

“In my mind’s eye I see a young Kitty Wells and a young Johnnie Wright walking down the golden streets (of heaven) forever young,” he said.

Skaggs and the Whites sang “I Saw the Light” and the casket was wheeled from the church, the singer’s tearful family members following behind.

Wells was buried locally at Spring Hill Cemetery following the funeral.

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