Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Standing Near her Man

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Among some of you In the wild, noisy crowd at the afternoon Elvis show at the Tupelo Fair in 1956 was 14-year-old Virginia Wynette Pugh from Tremont, Mississippi. She was always called Wynette (pronounced Win-net), or Nettie, instead of Virginia. Her father was a farmer and local musician. He died of a brain tumor when Wynette was nine months of age. Her mother worked in an office and as a substitute school teacher as well as on the family farm. Wynette was raised on the Itawamba County farm of her maternal grandparents where she was born. The place was partly on the border with Alabama. As a child and teenager, she found in country music an escape from her hard life. Wynette grew up idolizing Hank Williams, Skeeter Davis, Patsy Cline, and George Jones, and would play their records over and over on the children's record player she owned, dreaming of one day being a star herself.

She attended Tremont High School, where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before graduation, she married her first husband, a construction worker, but he had trouble holding down a job, and they moved several times. One of their homes had no running water. She worked as a waitress, receptionist, a barmaid, and also worked in a shoe factory. In 1963, she attended beauty school in Tupelo and became a hairdresser - she would renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life just in case she should have to go back to a daily job.

After making it in Nashville and once she was signed to Epic Records, manager Billy Sherrill suggested she change her name to make more of an impression. According to her 1979 memoirs Stand by Your Man, during their meeting Wynette was wearing her long blonde hair in a ponytail and Sherill noted that she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film "Tammy and the Bachelor". He suggested "Tammy" as a possible name; thus she became Tammy Wynette.

The photo above shows Wynette and has been verified by the person who brought her to Tupelo that day, and the photographer, Terry Wood. The information is also mentioned in the Peter Guralnick book Last Train to Memphis (1994).

Baldwyn folks can be seen in the photo - Sandra Poole, Rachel Christian, Genelle Grissom, Nancy McCarthy, Brenda Waters, Frieda Rogers, and others. Why so many school children at the fair on Wednesday? It was student's (or children's) day... buses brought them from all over. Admission was $1.50.

Photos of that show by Terry Wood can be purchased at:


  1. She graduated in 1959 same as me so I think I can vaguely remember her and another blond playing that year. Lunelle didn't remember but maybe Rachel might.


  2. I know that is Ms Sam Johnson but the lady on the left: is that Jim Green's mom?

  3. You may be correct, Joe. I remember her by look, but can't recall her name or family.