NASHVILLE, TN (CelebrityAccess) — Country music pioneer Jean Shepard, a Country Music Hall of Fame member, a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 60 years, died Sunday at the age of 82.
Born Ollie Imogene Shepard in Pauls Valley, Okla., she moved with her family to Visalia, Calif., in 1943 where she formed her fist band The Melody Ranch Girls with some high school friends.
She got her break in 1952 when she performed on stage with Hank Thompson and His Brazos Valley Boys. She impressed him enough that he advocated with nudged producer and label executive Ken Nelson and Shephard was signed to Capitol Records.
“(Nelson) didn’t want to sign me. He wasn’t really sold on female singers,” Shepard told the Tennessean in a 2015 interview. “But Hank Thompson was a very big artist at Capitol Records and he could demand things from (the label), which he did.”
Shepard's first hit for Capitol was “A Dear John Letter,” which she recorded with Ferlin Husky. The record proved to be a smash hit, staying at #1 on the country chart for six weeks, crossing over to the top ten of pop charts and selling more than 1 million copies.
In 1955, Shepard was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry and was one of only three female members of the organization along with Minnie Pearl and Kitty Wells.
In the early 1970s, Shepard moved to United Artists Records and enjoyed a resurgence of her career, recording hits such as “Slippin' Away,” "At the Time", and "I'll Do Anything it Takes (To Stay With You)."
In 2005, Shepard marked 50 years as a member of the Opry and at the time of her death was the longest running living member of the of storied country music alliance.
Shepard was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011.
Shepard is survived by her husband, three sons and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. – Staff Writers