February 12

Here Are Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Jean Shepard

In a time when women struggled to have full-blown careers, let alone break into country music, Jean Shepard paved the way. According to Opry announcer and WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs, she pushed doors open – she even kicked her way through if she needed to. So, if you’re curious to know more about this absolute badass of a woman, here are some facts about her. 

Jean Shepard Biography

Jean Shepard was born Ollie Imogene on November 21, 1933, in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, to a big sharecropper family – she was one of ten children. Her arrival happened in the midst of the Great Depression, and so she had to endure a hard life, growing up in a home without electricity or running water, chopping corn, and picking cotton. But Shepard said it didn’t hurt her one bit. And they often looked forward to Saturday night when they had an hour off to listen to Grand Ole Opry on their battery-powered AM radio. Her parents would even save pennies for a whole year so that they could afford a new battery and they could keep on using it. 

While in high school, she and four of her friends started an all-female band called The Melody Ranch Girls. To support her, her parents put up their furniture as collateral so that they could afford to buy her a bass. And their sacrifice was well worth it. 

A few years after the group’s formation, as well as Saturday morning stints on the radio station KNGS, Shepard was discovered by singer-songwriter Hank Thompson. He then helped set her up a record deal at Capitol Records. 

The Making of a Trailblazer

When Jean Shepard entered the country music scene, there was little to no room for women. More often, they were called “girl singers” with bands, or they performed with their husbands. In fact, Capitol Records label executive Ken Nelson didn’t want to sign her because he wasn’t sold on female singers. But Thompson was a big artist, and so he could demand things – and that was what he did. 

Shepard was not yet 20 at the time, and she already proved to be a force to be reckoned with. 

That is, her 1953 duet with Ferlin Husky (with whom she developed a friendship for a lifetime), “A Dear John Letter,” dominated the country charts for six weeks and sold more than a million records. While this would be her only number-one song in her decades-long career, it was more than enough to help put women on the map. People want to hear songs by female country singers

Two years later, on her birthday, she was invited to become officially a part of the Grand Ole Opry, following Kitty Wells and Minnie Pearl. She was only 22, and she would end up serving for 60 years. Then, in 2011, she was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. During the ceremony, she talked about how difficult it was for women like her back in the day. She said, “As you know, there wasn’t none of us. But I was happy to do my part. I hung in there like a hair on a grilled cheese.”

The Married Life

Shepard married her first husband, Hawkshaw Hawkins, in 1960. Less than two and half years later, Hawkins died in a plane crash that also killed Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Randy Hughes. She was eight months pregnant with their second child when the accident happened. 

She remarried twice, and then on the fourth time, it lasted for 50 years. They shared one son together. 

The End of an Era

Shepard was not only known as a trailblazer but also a fierce advocate of traditional country music, releasing her last single in 1981 titled “Too Many Rivers” (though she continued performing). And she wasn’t afraid to express her distaste for the modern pop-inclined sound of country music, saying it wasn’t as genuine as before.

Shepard died of Parkinson’s disease on September 25, 2016. She was 82. 

We hope these facts helped you get to know Jean Shepard a bit better than before. Make sure to check these Jean Shepard songs as well!


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