Jean Shepard, a pioneer for women in country music who recorded what is considered the first hit of the Bakersfield Sound era, died Sept. 25 at 82.
“She’s one of those people who opened doors,” Opry announcer and WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs said in late 2015. “There were some she had to push open and some others she had to kick her way through.”
In 1953, she recorded a duet with Ferlin Husky, “A Dear John Letter,” that shot to No. 1 on the U.S. country charts, the first song by a Bakersfield-based artist to land that high. Fuzzy Owens and Bonnie Owens had recorded it first. “But this little Mar-Vel Records we put it on didn’t have no distribution,” Fuzzy said. “They printed up a hundred copies, maybe.” Then Husky and Shepard, recording for Capitol Records, gave it a shot. “We were happy for them,” said Bonnie Owens. “It told us we were on the right track” in Bakersfield.
Throughout her career, Shepard was an outspoken opponent of pop-country music.
“Today’s country is not country, and I’m very adamant about that,” she told The Tennessean in 2015. “I’ll tell anybody who’ll listen, and some of those who don’t want to listen, I’ll tell them anyway. ... Country music today isn’t genuine.”
Shepard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
— The Nashville Tennessean contributed to this report