Kitty Wells, the first woman ever to have a #1 single on the country music chart, died Monday at the age of 92 in her home in Madison, Tennessee. Her trademark song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” topped the chart, which had been in existence for eight years, in 1952. It kicked off a career that lasted more than three decades, although her last chart success was the minor 1979 hit “Thanks for the Roses.”
Wells was one of many legendary country music artists with a claim to Native American ancestry. Indeed, Hank Williams Sr., considered the father of country music, had Choctaw roots, according to the “Did You Know?” page on the official site of the Native American Music Awards. Wells had Cherokee blood, according to the site, as do megastars Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, and Billy Ray Cyrus, and Carrie Underwood is identified as of Muscogee Creek descent.
In her influential book American Indians and Popular Culture, Elizabeth Delaney Hoffman explains that the large Native presence in country music was “in large part, due to the (mainly) Southern and Appalachian origins of most country singers. These regions saw both the historical intermixing of indigenous people, especially Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) peoples, and white populations and the subsequent affinity and pride many people felt toward that ancestry.”