Not long after Kitty Wells broke the gender barrier in country music with the hugely successful "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," Shepard was discovered at 14 by country star Hank Thompson and brought to the attention of Capitol Records and producer Ken Nelson.
Her first single for the label, "A Dear John Letter," was a tearful duet featuring Shepard's vocal and Ferlin Husky's recitation (in the voice of a serviceman who reads the title correspondence while overseas).
It was an instant hit, spending six weeks at Number One on the country chart in the summer of 1953, just as the Korean War was ending. A follow-up, "Forgive Me John," was also a country and pop hit and Shepard and Husky embarked on a tour together. Shepard's first solo hit, "A Satisfied Mind," reached Number Four in 1955.
On her 22nd birthday, in November 1955, Shepard joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry. In 2005, she was the first woman to ever reach the 50-year mark with the iconic radio show.
Shepard married fellow musician Harold "Hawkshaw" Hawkins in 1960 and they had a son, Don. On March 5th, 1963, Hawkins was killed in the same plane crash that ended the lives of Randy Hughes, musician Cowboy Copas, and Patsy Cline.
One month after the accident, Shepard gave birth to her second son, Harold Franklin Hawkins II (Hawkshaw, Jr.). In 1968, she married singer and musician Benny Birchfield.
"Jean Shepard's legacy is huge," singer-songwriter Elizabeth Cook told the Wall Street Journal in 2011. "It's hard enough to be a woman in this field – and it really is – for my generation; I can't imagine what it must have been like for her in the Fifties. The trail that she blazed is right on the heels of Kitty Wells's, and as a honky-tonk singer with her own musical identity. That she refused to compromise her artistry, to succumb to the changing sounds and trends, has been a big inspiration."
[Source: Rolling Stone]