April 6, 1998 was a sad day in country music. On that day, Tammy Wynette, who had become known as the “First Lady of Country Music” passed away in her home at the age of 55.
After a legendary career that produced hit songs such as “Stand by Your Man” and “Golden Ring,” which was a duet with her then-husband George Jones, the last years of Wynette’s life were plagued with medical problems. She was constantly in and out of the hospital, and ended up undergoing 15 major surgeries in a short amount of time.
Despite her poor health, Wynette remained dedicated to performing up until the day she died, and she even had several shows lined up for the future.
But Wynette never got to sing at those shows, after she passed away while sleeping on her couch at home on April 6, 1998. It was eventually determined by a coroner that Wynette’s death was the result of a cardiac arrhythmia.
Following Wynette’s death, the entire country music community went into mourning. A large memorial service was held for her at the iconic Ryman Auditorium, which many of country’s biggest stars attended to pay their respects.
In the months and years since Wynette’s death, countless country artists have stepped forward to pay tribute to the legendary “First Lady of Country Music.” We’ve gathered together some of the top tributes in her honor below.
Merle Haggard wasn’t able to attend Wynette’s memorial service in Nashville, but he still wanted to perform a song in her honor. Haggard filmed himself singing one of his most emotional songs, “If I Could Only Fly,” and sent the tape to Wynette’s family to play at the memorial.
Haggard sat down with his guitar and performed a stripped down, acoustic version of the song, which gave his message a sincere, personal touch. He kept his eyes closed during most of the performance, feeling the emotion in the moment.
More than anything, Haggard’s sense of mourning showed through in his voice. On a few occasions his voice nearly broke due to all of the emotion he was experiencing, but he always regained composure.
This is simply a beautiful tribute to Wynette.
So when Wynette passed away, Parton was understandably heartbroken. She chose to express her feelings in the best way she knew how…through song. Parton ended up writing a brand new song in Wynette’s honor, which she then performed for the first time at her memorial service.
The song, called “Shine On,” is about Wynette’s talent as a singer. Parton introduced the song at the memorial, saying “God certainly gave Tammy a great gift. She shined then, she’s shining now, and she’ll shine forevermore.“
After her introduction, Parton moved into the song, which she sang along with a small group of background vocalists, who harmonized with her perfectly. Above all else, Parton’s love for her dear friend is clear in this touching tribute performance.
As the “First Lady of Country Music,” Wynette was one of the main trailblazers for female artists in the genre. During the CMA Awards following Wynette’s death, five of country music’s greatest female vocalists came together for a powerful performance in tribute to her.
Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, Wynonna and Naomi Judd, and once again, Dolly Parton, performed Wynette’s signature song “Stand by Your Man.” Each artist took their turn singing a part of the song, before all five of them finally came together in a breathtaking showcase of talent.
Although the ladies’ performance was a bit more upbeat than some of the other tributes to Wynette, the most emotional part came at the end of the song.
When a large picture of Wynette appeared behind the stage, all of the other artists stopped singing except for Parton, who sang “Tammy, we will always love you.“ We’ve seen this performance many times, but Parton always manages to move us to tears with the way she sings that single line.
Even 18 years after her death, Wynette is still dearly missed by the country music community. She may be gone, but she will never be forgotten.
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