Passages

Skeeter Davis

(12/30/31, Dry Ridge, KY - 9/19/04, Nashville, TN)

 

 

     

     

 

 

     


GRAND OLE OPRY'S SKEETER DAVIS DIES


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Skeeter Davis, who hit the top of the pop charts with "The End of the World" in 1963 and sang on the Grand Ole Opry radio show for more than 40 years, died Sunday of cancer. She was 72.

Davis died at a Nashville hospice, said Grand Ole Opry publicist Jessie Schmidt. Davis had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 and had a recurrence in 1996.

Davis, nicknamed Skeeter by her grandfather who said she was so active she buzzed around like a mosquito, had toured with Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.

She became a regular on the Opry, a live radio show, in 1959, and continued to perform as late as this year.

In 1973, she was suspended from the Opry for more than a year for protesting the arrest of "Jesus freaks" in Nashville.

"I felt like a child without a home," she said after her reinstatement.

Besides "The End of the World," her hits included "I'm Saving My Love" and "I Can't Stay Mad at You."

A native of Dry Ridge, Ky., Davis was born Mary Frances Penick. She took the name Skeeter Davis in the 1950s when she became half of the Davis Sisters duet.

She began a solo career after her duet partner, Betty Jack Davis, was killed in a 1953 car wreck. Skeeter Davis was critically injured in the same accident.

Her autobiography, "Bus Fare to Kentucky," was published in 1993.

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Skeeter Davis, 72, died Sunday, Sept. 19, 2004 at Alive Hospice in Nashville, after a lengthy battle with cancer. Ms. Davis was born in Dry Ridge, Ky., to the late William Lee and Sarah Rachel Roberts Penick and made her home in Brentwood. She was a member of The Grand Ole Opry since 1959 and was named as one of the five women called “The Grand Ladies of the Grand Ole Opry.” Known around the work for her hit song “End of the World,” this song was recognized as a crossover with the country, pop and rhythm and blues industries. In addition to the song, she had many other top 10 hits, five Grammy nominations and several other accolades in the music industry.

She authored two books, one including “Bus Fare To Kentucky” which was an autobiography of her life. She was recently honored with the naming of “The Skeeter Davis Highway” in Dry Ridge, Ky., and was a Colonel of the Kentucky Commonwealth. Ms. Davis was preceded in death by brother, Meryl “Dean” Penick, and sister, Suzan Christopher Marley.

Survivors include her sisters, Shirley Katherine Elfers of Ormond By The Sea, Fla., and Carolyn Sue Penick of Fairview; brothers, James William Penick of Dry Ridge, Ky., and Harold Lee Penick of College Grove; and special friends, Linda Palmer and members of The Grand Ole Opry.

Funeral services will be conducted 1 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 22, at the Ryman Auditorium. Burial will follow in Williamson Memorial Gardens. Active pallbearers will be family and friends. Honorary pallbearers will be members of the Grand Ole Opry, Dr. Robert Hollister, Dr. Allen Cohen, Charlie Beauchamp and Donna Frost. Visitation 3-8 p.m. Tuesday at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home and two hours prior to service at the Ryman Auditorium. Memorials may be made to Alive Hospice or Opry Trust Fund, 2804 Opryland Drive, Nashville, TN 37214.

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A funeral service for Grand Ole Opry star Skeeter Davis will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Ryman Auditorium, with visitation for the public two hours prior to the service.

Visitation for the public will be from 3-8 p.m. today at Williamson Memorial Funeral Home, 3009 Columbia Ave., Franklin.

Davis, 72, who was best-known for the 1962 international crossover hit, The End Of The World, died Sunday at Alive Hospice after a long battle with cancer.

She was born in Dry Ridge, Ky., to the late William Lee and Sarah Roberts Penick. A member of the Grand Ole Opry cast since 1959, she was a resident of Brentwood.

She began her singing career recording with a high school friend, Betty Jack Davis, as The Davis Sisters. Their first record, I Forgot More than You'll Ever Know, was a hit in 1953. After Betty Jack Davis died in a highway accident, Skeeter Davis continued as a solo artist and received five Grammy nominations.

Her autobiography was called Bus Fare to Kentucky.

Survivors include two sisters, Katherine Elfers of Ormond By the Sea, Fla., and Carolyn Sue Penick, Fairview; brothers James William Penick, Dry Ridge, Ky., and Harold Lee Penick, College Grove, and special friends Linda Palmer and members of the Grand Ole Opry.

The family has requested that memorials be made to the Opry Trust Fund or Alive Hospice.

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Skeeter Davis, a veteran of the Grand Ole Opry, died yesterday (Sept. 19), at Nashville's St. Thomas Hospital. She was 73. The artist, born Mary Frances Penick in Dry Ridge, Ky., had battled breast cancer since 1988.

After meeting Betty Jack Davis in high school, she adopted the name Skeeter Davis so the duo could perform as the Davis Sisters. Recording for RCA, they scored a hit with "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" in 1953, but faced tragedy when Betty Jack was killed in a car crash in August of that year. Betty Jack's sister Georgie joined to carry on the group until 1956.

Davis scored her first solo hit in 1958 with the Chet Atkins-produced "Lost to a Geisha Girl," which reached No. 15 on Billboard's country singles chart. She joined the Opry in 1959, the same year she earned a Grammy nomination, the first of five in her career, for the song "Set Him Free." The track reached No. 5 on the country tally.

Davis scored a huge crossover hit in 1962 with "The End of the World." Beyond reaching No. 2 on the country chart, the track also hit No. 1 on Billboard's adult contemporary tally, No. 2 on the Hot 100 and No. 4 on the R&B list.

Other country hits included "(I Can't Help You) I'm Falling Too" (No. 2, 1960) and "Gonna Get Along Without You Now" (No. 8, 1964). She also recorded hits with Bobby Bare and George Hamilton IV and collaborated on an 1985 album with NRBQ, "She Sings, They Play."

Davis married and divorced three times, first to Kenneth Depew, then to Ralph Emery, host of the television show "Nashville Now," and later to NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato.

Funeral services will be held Wednesday, September 29, 2004, at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry from 1943 through 1974.

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NASHVILLE -- Country music singer Skeeter Davis, a veteran of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, died on Sunday, according to a family friend. Davis, 73, had battled breast cancer since 1988. She died at St. Thomas Hospital, said friend Linda Palmer.

In a 43-year career, she performed around the world, including at New York's Carnegie Hall and London's Royal Albert Hall. She earned five Grammy nominations, including one for the song "Set Him Free" in 1959, the year she joined the Opry. Other hits were "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," "The End of the World," and "Gonna Get Along Without You Now."

Davis was born Mary Frances Penick in Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and started performing early with singer Betty Jack Davis as The Davis Sisters. She went solo after Davis was killed in a car crash.

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Skeeter Davis, the country and gospel singer who died Sunday at the age of 73, sang one of radio's all-time great heartbreak ballads, "The End of the World."

She also triggered a semifamous radio minidrama at the Grand Ole Opry in 1973.

A 14-year Opry veteran, Davis was headed to Ryman Auditorium on Dec. 15, 1973, when she saw Nashville police arrest 15 long-haired "Jesus people."

Deeply religious herself, Davis told the Ryman crowd and the Opry's national radio audience that the police had acted wrongly and with unnecessary force.

Since Vietnam War protests were still a point of national contention, and since the rare whiffs of politics on the Opry stage almost never involved criticizing institutions like the police, Davis caused quite the Nashville scandal. She was suspended after the show and didn't return to the Opry for 18 months.

Finally, the Opry quietly admitted it might have overreacted, and she sang about Jesus there for many more years.

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Remembering Skeeter Davis...


Mary Frances Penick was born on December 30, 1931 in the small Appalachian town of Dry Ridge, Kentucky. As a child, her grandfather nicknamed her "Skeeter" because she was always active and buzzing around like a mosquito. She got her start in music as part of the duo, The Davis Sisters, along with childhood friend, Betty Jack Davis. Thus, Skeeter Davis was born to the rest of the world.

The Davis Sisters sang in the local Lexington, Kentucky area and appeared on local radio WLAX in 1949. From there, they earned radio and television appearances in Detroit, Cincinnati and Wheeling, WV, where they were part of the WWVA Wheeling Jamboree.

In 1952, Skeeter and Betty Jack recorded for Fortune, but won a recording contract with RCA the following year and achieved their first chart success. "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know" went to number one on the U.S. country chart and number eighteen on the U.S. pop chart.

Sadly, on August 23, 1953, Skeeter and Betty Jack were involved in a serious car accident in which Betty Jack died and Skeeter was critically injured. It took Skeeter more than a year to recover both physically and mentally. With great difficulty and a lot of persuasion, Skeeter returned to singing with Betty Jack's sister, Georgia Davis, to briefly resume the Davis Sisters' act. But, within a year, the duo broke up and Skeeter pursued a solo career.

She continued to record on the RCA label where she worked with Eddy Arnold and Elvis Presley. In 1955, she toured for RCA on the Caravan of the Stars. Davis teamed up with producer, Chet Atkins and scored her first solo country chart hit in 1958 with "Lost To A Geisha Girl." This was during a time when the female acts were surging forward with "response" songs to some of the biggest hits by male artists. As Kitty Wells had answered Hank Thompson's "Honky Tonk Angels," with "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" in 1952, Skeeter Davis put out this answer to Hank Locklin's "Geisha Girl."

A few years later, Davis recorded another answer to a Hank Locklin song and gained another huge hit. Locklin sang "Please Help Me I'm Falling" and Davis' response was, "I Can't Help You, I'm Falling Too."

In 1959, Davis achieved one of her greatest ambitions when she moved to Nashville and became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1960, she married WSM personality, Ralph Emery, but the tumultuous marriage ended in 1964.

During the 1960's, Davis was one of RCA's most successful country artists. She harvested 26 U.S. country hits, 12 of which crossed over to the U.S. pop charts. Among these was what was to become her trademark song, the million-selling record "The End Of The World" which peaked at number two in both the U.S. country and pop charts in 1963. She also earned her only UK chart presence with "The End Of The World" which topped out at number eighteen in only thirteen weeks on the chart.

Davis has also acheived songwriting success. Her co-written song "Set Him Free" became her first country Top 10 hit in 1959. She also co-wrote "My Last Date" with Boudleaux Bryant and Floyd Cramer. Cramer, famed pianist and member of the original A-team, recorded it as an instrumental solo and had a million-selling record on it in 1960.

During the 60's and 70's, Davis toured extensively in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Far East. Her solo career started to wane in the 70's, but she still had several more hits such as "Bus Fare To Kentucky," "I'm A Lover, Not A Fighter," and "One Tin Soldier." Her duets with Bobby Bare, George Hamilton IV, and The Bee Gees gave her a few more hits, but by the mid-70's, Davis was reaching the end of her illustrious career. She ended her twenty-two year relationship with RCA in 1974 and charted her last hit for Mercury in 1976 with "I Love Us."

In 1967, Davis recorded a tribute album to Buddy Holly, which featured Waylon Jennings on the guitar. Later in 1972, she also did a tribute album to her friend, Dolly Parton. In 1985, she re-recorded an old Davis Sisters' hit, "May You Never Be Alone," with the group NRBQ. She married Joey Spampanito of NRBQ, but this marriage ultimately ended in divorce as well.

In 1973, Davis was dropped from the Grand Ole Opry's roster due to her strong criticisms of the Nashville Police Department during one of her performances. Her membership was later reinstated.

Davis has also taken to writing about her real life experiences. Her autobiography, "Bus Fare To Kentucky," was published in 1993. Davis pulls no punches in this brutally honest account of her life. She tells how she endured a family history of alcoholism, incest and murder. She also tells her side of the story regarding her four year marriage to Ralph Emery, following the heavy criticism which she received in Emery's autobiography. In 1997, she co-wrote a children's Christmas book, entitled "The Christmas Note," based on her own childhood.

Skeeter Davis passed away September 19th 2004 after a long battle with cancer.

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