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Jan. 11: The Tammy Wynette Highway, a stretch of road in her hometown of Red Bay, Ala., was dedicated on this date in 1990. Here’s the song that, 24 years earlier, started Wynette down the road to her position as the First Lady of Country Music, “the best female country singer of her time.”

That assessment belongs to songwriter and author Michael Kosser, expressed in his book How Nashville Became Music City, U.S.A.: 50 years of Music Row. Kosser spoke with Billy Sherrill, who meant so much to country music as a producer and a songwriter, not in small measure because of the partnership he forged with Wynette. On Pages 141-143, Kosser relates Sherrill’s story of the day in September 1966 when he met aspiring singer Virginia Wynette Pugh, and how her take on “Apartment #9” impressed a group of Nashville studio musicians who’d pretty much seen it all. Give it a read.

Tammy didn’t have a huge hit with “Apartment #9”; her first single, it stalled just short of the Billboard country Top 40. Listening to it now, that’s hard to imagine. Pete Drake nailed it on steel, and Wynette’s interpretation of the Johnny Paycheck lyric is impeccable. But unimaginable success was just one record away. Of her next 22 singles, 14 would hit No. 1, with seven others reaching the Top 5.

Having a road named in her honor was hardly the extent of the accolades the Mississippi native (just over the state line from Red Bay) earned in her 32-year career. Tammy Wynette is in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and – if they know what’s good for them – the iPod or music collection of every fan of true country music.

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