Country music legend Jean Shepard has died.
The matriarch of the "Grand Ladies of the Grand Ole Opry" passed away this morning (9/25), two days after entering hospice care for Parkinson's disease complications.
Born Ollie Imogene Shepard in 1933, Jean Shepard made her mark with the song "A Dear John Letter," the 1953 #1 smash that was the first hit for both her and her duet partner, Ferlin Husky. After the follow-up, "Forgive Me, John," they went on separate music paths that took both to the Hall of Fame.
Shepard was a trailblazing woman singer in country music. Following in the (high) heels of Kitty Wells, she had several hits in the 1950s such as "A Satisfied Mind" (the same song that Porter Wagoner recorded) and "Beautiful Lies."
Her career waned after her marriage to Harold "Hawkshaw" Hawkins in 1960, as she concentrated on raising a family. On March 5, 1963, Shepard, eight months pregnant with her son Harold Franklin Hawkins Jr., had (as she later wrote and recounted) "the most horrible feeling" hit her about the same time that the plane with her husband aboard crashed in Camden, killing him, Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline, and Randy Hughes.
After the tragedy Shepard nearly abandoned the music business completely, but she came back in 1964 with the Betty Amos composition "Second Fiddle (To an Old Guitar)."
More hits followed, including a number of Bill Anderson songs (from her album Poor Sweet Baby [And Ten More Bill Anderson Songs]), including the hits "Slippin' Away" and "At the Time."
In 2011 she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Last year she celebrated her 60th anniversary as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Parkinson's forced her into retirement last November, just after her birthday.
In 1992 I got to interview her for an article I wrote on Bill Anderson. She nearly dragged me into her dressing room and plopped me down on the sofa, then enthusiastically said, "Now, honey, what do you want to know about Bill Anderson? I could talk about him all day!"
Her wonderful song, "A Tear Dropped By," certainly is fitting on this sad day:
A tear dropped by this morning
I found it in my eye
Funny it should be there
I hadn't planned to cry.
Jean Shepard was 82.