Country singer Jean Shepard dies; was Grand Ole Opry staple

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A spokeswoman for the Grand Ole Opry says Country Music Hall of Fame artist Jean Shepard has died.

Shepard's first single, "Crying Steel Guitar Waltz", failed to chart following its release in 1952, but her second single, "A Dear John Letter" - a duet with Ferlin Husky - sold one million copies and spent six weeks at No. 1 on the country charts and topped the pop charts as well.

The Oklahoma-born, California-raised singer scored hits in the 1950s and '60 with songs like "I Want to Go Where No One Wants Me" and "Beautiful Lies".

With two young children to raise, including Hawkshaw, Jr., born just a month after his father's death, she turned her attention back to recording and touring, turning out some of the biggest hits of her career, such as "Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar)", "If Teardrops Were Silver", and "A Tear Dropped By". Her last hit song came in 1975 when "The Tip of My Fingers" peaked inside the Top 20.

Shepard's son Hawkshaw Hawkins spoke about his mother's passing with a statement on his Facebook page. 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.

Shepard is survived by her husband, Benny Birchfield, and sons Don Robin Hawkins, Harold Franklin Hawkins II and Corey Birchfield.

Shepard was considered a pioneer for women in country music, paving the way for artists such as Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Still, Shepard had never been shy about voicing her opinion on country music's future. If they think they're doing country music, listen to "I Can't Stop Loving You" and 'Cry Cry Darlin.' Listen to that, then tell me you want to fall in love with a tractor. If you would like to discuss another topic, look for a relevant article.

She was invited to join the Grand Old Opry in 1955 when she was 22. 2014 saw her release a long-awaited autobiography, Down Through The Years, and she marked an incredible six decades as an Opry member in November 2015.

Forthrightness became a keystone for Shepard and later in life, manifested itself with her blunt criticisms of modern country music.

Jean Shepard has died. "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.