‘Stand by Your Man’ may have been one of the most contentious songs of her career, but it would also become the most successful record of Tammy Wynette’s career and one of the most recorded songs in country music history.
Much like the career defining song, Wynette’s own life experience was tumultuous and fraught with heartache and pain. There was no doubt of the talent she possessed, but her load was a heavy one to bear.
Here are five things you may not have known about ‘the first lady of country music.’
1. Her name isn’t Tammy
When she first walked through the doors into record producer, Billy Sherrill’s office in Nashville, her name was Virginia Wynette Pugh and she was desperate, yet determined to cut a deal.
On that day in 1966, Sherrill saw something beyond her “beaten type of appearance.”
She had a kind of beaten type of appearance, you know, just like, `OK, you know, I’ve been kicked in the teeth so many times, one more time’s not going to kill me,’ that type thing. But we changed all that.”
He started with her name. Gone was Virginia Pew, and Tammy Wynette was born.
She sang this hit song for five presidents, but only one of them was bold enough to kiss her…
2. She sat on President Ronald Reagan’s lap
On September 30, 1982, Wynette was invited to The White House to perform at a barbecue for President Ronald Reagan.
Barefoot, Wynette strolls over to the president and parks herself right down on his lap before breaking into rendition of ‘Stand by Your Man.’
Unaware that it was hugely against protocol, Wynette was only doing what she had done at countless live shows before: pick out someone’s hapless husband and sing him into swoon-town. Thankfully, the president didn’t seem to mind.
She later made headlines with President Reagan after he kissed her at a Republican Fundraising Dinner in June 1983.
3. She didn’t like ‘Stand By Your Man’
In fact, after writing it, she begged her co-writer and producer Billy Sherrill not to release the song.
Although to the rest of us, she sounds like a powerhouse, Wynette thought she sounded like a squealing pig. Sherrill recalled: “And I remember after the first take, she said, `God, if this is a hit, you know what?’ I said, `What?’ She said, `I’m going to have to hit that God-awful high note the rest of my life.'”
Not everyone was a fan of her hit song and many people protested its message…
4. Women’s Lib hated it
“It’s unbelievable to me that a song that took me 20 minutes to write, I’ve spent 20 or 30 years defending.” – Wynette
Whatever you think of it, Tammy’s song was released in 1968 at the perfect moment in history. As the women’s liberation movement began to get traction, Wynette’s record company – Epic Records – took full advantage and released the “controversial” song.
A full-page ad was taken out in the Billboard magazine promoting the new release: `Tammy Wynette’s Answer to Women’s Lib, “Stand By Your Man.”
She predicted Wynette would spend the next 20-30 years defending her song against those who believed it was an anthem that supported the disenfranchisement of women.
5. She didn’t stand by all of her men
Even though many pointed out that she did the contrary to what her song suggested all women ought to do, critics often overlooked one very key phrase “but if you love him, you’ll forgive him.”
At the time of recording, Wynette was actually in the process of divorcing her husband and fellow country singer, George Jones. She would later describe the relationship as tumultuous – fraught with abuse.
Wynette had more sense than to for forgive him at all costs.