The country music world is in mourning this week after Jean Shepard, known as “the grand lady of the Grand Ole Opry,” died on Sunday. She was 82 years-old.
Spokeswoman Jessie Schmidt released a statement saying Shepard entered hospice care in Nashville last week.
“The Opry family is truly saddened by the news of Jean’s passing,” Opry vice president and general manager Pete Fisher said in a statement, according to Fox News. “Although we will miss Jean’s presence on the Opry stage, she has left us the wonderful gift of her music which will be remembered for generations to come.”
Shepard joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 1955 and quickly made strides for women in the country music world, choosing to tour as a solo act rather than as part of a group. She was a strong female voice on such hits as “Twice the Lovin’ in Half the Time” and “The Root of All Evil (Is a Man),” and she ended up influencing future legends like Loretta Lynn, who entered the scene a decade later.
Born into a family of ten children in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, she was raised in Bakersfield California. Shepard’s career began in the 1940s, when she was discovered by Western swing musician Hank Thompson at the age of 14. At the time, Shepard was singing and playing bass in Melody Ranch Girls, an all-girl band. Thompson helped her begin recording herself, and she scored her first number 1 hit in 1953 with “A Dear John Letter” along with fellow Hall of Famer Ferlin Husky.
Shepard suffered a devastating tragedy in 1963 when her husband at the time, country singer Hawkshaw Hawkins, was killed in a plane crash along with Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas.
Her career went on to span decades, and in 2005 she became the first female singer to reach 50 years as a Grand Ole Opry member. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2011, and at that time she still performed regularly with the Grand Ole Opry.
Shepard is survived by her husband, Benny Birchfield, and her three sons. Rest in peace, Jean Shepard!