Though dubbed as the “First Lady of Rockabilly” or “Queen of Rockabilly,” Wanda Lavonne Jackson’s influence and contribution to Country music’s history could not be understated. Born and raised in the little town of Maud, Oklahoma, nineteen-year-old Wanda quickly blazed a trail for female singers to follow.
Rocking in the ’50s with King Elvis
Upon hearing Wanda sing on a radio show back in the early 1950s, country singer Hank Thompson instinctively invited her for a song collaboration. Together with Thompson’s band, Brazos Valley Boys, they recorded “You Can’t Have My Love” which instantly became a hit.
Jackson was still in high school at that time and soon after finishing her studies, she went on a tour with Elvis Presley and other rock stars including Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. The two stars dated for some time with the latter impressing his rockabilly influence over Wanda. In the process, she found and developed her own vocal style in unique delivery of songs from folk, traditional, and ballads. Hers was that signature “grow” but still tinged with country twang and yodel.
Creating Her Own Success
In 1956, she made her debut with Capitol Records and produced “I Gotta Know.” It featured both country and rockabilly recordings, thus, demonstrating her versatility as a singer.
Some of her greatest works include “In the Middle of a Heartache” (1961), “Let’s Have a Party” (1960), and “Right or Wrong” (1961). She was internationally renowned for “Fujiyama Mama” (1957) her rendition of “Santo Domingo” (1965). As for her mark in the mainstream country music, she had a couple of hits from the mid-’60s down to the early ’70s including “Tears Will Be the Chaser for Your Wine”, “A Woman Lives for Love” and “Fancy Satin Pillows”.
Come 1970s,Wanda and husband-manager, Wendell Goodman, decided to go back to their gospel roots. Thus, she focused her energy recording gospel albums in the next twenty-five years beginning with Praise the Lord (1972).
That did not limit her though from singing non-gospel materials. Wanda did tours in Europe including Scandinavia, England, and Germany where she performed and recorded rockabilly songs. With loads of energy to still spend, Wanda released a comeback album in 2011(The Party Ain’t Over) which included her covers of “Thunder on the Mountain” by Bob Dylan and “You Know I’m No Good” by Amy Winehouse. This was followed by another album called “Unfinished Business” released in 2012.
Awards and Accolades
– Oklahoma Native Daughter Award
– inducted in the Oklahoma Country Music Hall of Fame and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame
– inducted in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame
– inducted in the International Gospel Music Hall of Fame
– inducted in the German Country Music Hall of Fame
– inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (April 4, 2009)
– #35 in CMT’s “The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music” (2002)
– presented by the AMA with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance (2010)
-inducted into the Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association (2013)
– “Founder of the Sound” award at the Ameripolitan Music Awards (2016)
Some of the Queen of Rockabilly’s Momentous Works
- Album: “Live and Still Kickin'” (2003)
- Album: “Heart Trouble” (2003)
- Album: “Praise the Lord” (1972/Capitol)
- Album: “I Remember Elvis” (2006)
- Album: “Right or Wrong” (1961/Capitol)
- CD: “Rockin’ in the Country: The Best of Wanda Jackson” (1990/Rhino)
How Wanda Jackson is Faring Now
After a colorful career that spanned for six decades, we wish all the best and good health in her retirement. She’s now at the fruitful age of 81. She has proven her worth both on the rock and country music genres and is a living testimony that real talent, not gender or anything in between, would go a long a way even in a highly-patriarchal music industry.
For hardcore fans,check Wanda Jackson’s published biography called Every Night is Saturday Night: A Country Girl’s Journey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2017). There’s also a film documentary called, The Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice
Some artists influenced by the queen: Rosie Flores, Pam Tillis, Jann Browne, Rosanne Cash, and Cyndi Lauper
Trivia: Did you know that Jackson was also dubbed as ‘Country Music’s First Sex Symbol’ by the CMT for her ” raw sex appeal to both country and rock n’ roll in the ‘50s?” The following performance says it all.