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Sad and Slow

Five divorces, 30 operations--Tammy Wynette's life was anything but easy.

Book Cover The pantheon of chanteuses whose voices and phrasing could jackhammer your buried feelings from the tomb of defenses that life inevitably creates is not especially large—but its members are truly gifted in rising out of harrowing narratives to give unique voice to grief, torment, and tribulation. Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Om Kalsoum, and Tammy Wynette get my votes for membership in this exotic claque.

Most of these ladies have had their stories told—now comes Jimmy McDonough’s (Shakey) with a full-bodied account of Wynette, Tammy Wynette: The Tragic Country Queen (Viking). Certainly her talent and choice of slow ballads—“Stand by Your Man,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Take Me to Your World”—allowed her to break out of ghettoized music charts to become the first country singer to have a platinum record. She went on to chart 20 number-one hit records before her death in 1998.

Along with this unparalleled success came five marriages, and health problems (she had over 30 operations for chronic stomach pain) that also led to painkiller addiction. All of which no doubt contributed to her own personal drama. McDonough notes, “I have a theory that great artists learn how to do one thing great. And that’s Tammy. In terms of a slow, sad song, nobody could rip it up like Tammy. She is just unrelenting.”

So is this gripping story of the “First Lady of Country Music,” Tammy Wynette.
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