Mary Frances Penick better known as Skeeter Davis, was an American country music singer best known for crossover pop music songs of the early 1960s. She started out as part of The Davis Sisters as a teenager in the late 1940s, eventually landing on RCA Records. In the late ’50s, she became a solo star. Her best-known hit was the pop classic “The End of the World” in 1963.
One of the first women to achieve major stardom in the country music field as a solo vocalist, she was an acknowledged influence on Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton and was hailed as an “extraordinary country/pop singer” by The New York Times music critic Robert Palmer.
Davis was the first of seven children born to William and Punzie Penick, in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. Because her grandfather thought that she had a lot of energy for a young child, he nicknamed Mary Frances “Skeeter” (slang for mosquito). In 1947, the Penick family moved to Erlanger, Kentucky, where Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis and Wanda Rose Rader at Dixie Heights High School, becoming instant friends. They sang together through much of high school, and at Decoursey Baptist Church, where Wanda’s father was the pastor. They formed a group known as the Davis Sisters (although they were unrelated), and started singing on Detroit radio station WJR’s program Barnyard Frolics. Wanda was unable to travel, so Skeeter & B.J. began to make a name as a duet. Eventually, the duo were signed by RCA Records in 1951 (earlier demo recordings were eventually released on Fortune Records after the act’s RCA success which has led to some confusion that the Davis Sisters were on the Fortune label before RCA).
RCA Records producer Steve Sholes liked the Davis Sisters’ harmonies and offered the duo a recording contract in 1953. Their most successful release was “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know”, which spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the country charts in 1953, as well as making the Top 20 on the pop charts. The record ranks No. 65 on the Top 100 Country Singles of All Time, according to Billboard historian Joel Whitburn.
Below is a recording of Davis Sisters singing ( I forgot more then you’ll ever know )
While “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” was climbing the charts, the Davis Sisters were involved in a major car accident on August 1, 1953. The crash killed Betty Jack Davis and left Skeeter with severe injuries. Below is an Image of the Sisters before the accident-
After the accident, Skeeter and Betty Jack’s sister Georgia continued as the Davis Sisters although none of their records were major hits. Skeeter decided to retire from the music industry in 1956 and get married, ending the duet. But in the 1960’s Davis decided to go back into country music as a solo act. She began touring with Ernest Tubb and she hooked up again with RCA Records, this time working with guitarist andrecord producer Chet Atkins. That year, Davis recorded “Lost to a Geisha Girl”, an answer song to Hank Locklin’s hit “Geisha Girl”, which reached the country Top 15 and became her first solo hit. Atkins worked with Davis as a guitarist on all of these sessions. At Davis’ suggestion, Atkins frequently multi-tracked Davis’ voice for harmony vocals to resemble the sound of the Davis Sisters. This echo can be found on several of her early solo hits, such as “Am I That Easy to Forget”.
Here is Skeeter Davis in 1969 ( Both Sides Now )
Davis had a Top 5 country hit, “Set Him Free”, in 1959, as well as another Top 20 hit called “Homebreaker”. She also joined the Grand Ole Opry that year, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Set Him Free”, becoming the first female country singer to be nominated for a Grammy.
And of course 1958 ( Set Him Free )
From 1960 to 1962, Davis had top ten hits with the songs “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too”, “My Last Date (With You)”, “Where I Ought to Be” and “Optimistic”. “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too” in 1960 was her first entrance as a solo onto the pop charts. The song went all the way to the Top 40, unheard of for a female country singer at the time. In 1961, she scored a second pop hit with a lyric version (written by Skeeter) of Floyd Cramer’s instrumental country pop smash “Last Date” called “My Last Date (With You)” which did even better making the Top 30 on the pop charts. Both of these songs did exceptionally well on the country charts, peaking at No. 2 and No. 5, respectively.
In 1963, Davis achieved her biggest success with country pop crossover hit “The End of the World”. The song just missed topping the country and pop charts that year; however, it did top the adult contemporary charts. The record was also a surprise top five hit on the rhythm and blues charts, making Davis one of the very few Caucasian female singers to have a top ten hit in that market. Davis received five Grammy Award nominations, including four for Best Female Country Vocal Performance: 1964 (“He Says the Same Things to Me”), 1964; (“Sunglasses”), 1965; (“What Does It Take”), 1967, and “One Tin Soldier”), 1972. Davis was also an accomplished songwriter, penning almost 70 songs and earning two BMI awards for “Set Him Free” and “My Last Date With You”, the latter also recorded by Ann-Margret, Pat Boone, Kay Starr, Joni James, and several others in addition to Davis’ original hit version. Deborah Harry recorded a remake of Davis’ version in 1993 featuring Michael Stipe, a long-time Davis fan. (Conway Twitty wrote new lyrics for the instrumental in 1972 as “Lost Her Love (On Our Last Date), which reached No. 1 on the country chart as did Emmylou Harris’s remake of Twitty’s version in 1983 retitled “Lost His Love (On Our Last Date)”.)
In 1970, Davis had another Top 10 hit with “I’m a Lover (Not a Fighter)” and another duet with Bobby Bare with “Your Husband, My Wife”. The following year, she had a hit with the autobiographical “Bus Fare To Kentucky”. Subsequently, however, her chart success began to fade. Singles such as “It’s Hard to Be a Woman” and “Love Takes a Lot of My Time” failed to crack the country Top 40. “One Tin Soldier” did not get much attention from country radio but was nominated for a Grammy as Best Female Country Vocal. Davis returned to the recording studio in 1976 with a brief stint on Mercury Records which produced two single releases, including her last song to make the national charts, 1976’s “I Love Us”. In 1978, she recorded the first of several albums for minor record labels which she would do on occasion into the 1990s.
Davis was married three times, first to Kenneth Depew. She later married WSM disc jockey Ralph Emery in 1960, divorcing in 1964. In 1985, Davis made a solid comeback with the album She Sings, They Play, with the band NRBQ. In 1987, she married NRBQ’s bassist Joey Spampinato. They were divorced in 1996.
Davis lived in Brentwood, Tennessee, from the early 1960s until the time of her death in 2004. Her autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky (named after a 1971 Davis hit), was published in 1993. In 1998 she wrote a children’s book, The Christmas Note, with Cathie Pelletier; 2000 her childhood, it received praise from a number of authors, including Lee Smith, Rebecca Wells, and Terry Kay.
Davis continued to perform frequently throughout much of the 1990s and into 2000. Quite a bit of her touring during the 1980s and 1990s was in international markets such as Barbados and Singapore where she remained a pop superstar. In 2001 she became incapacitated by the breast cancer that would claim her life. While Davis remained a member of the Grand Ole Opry until her death, she last appeared there in 2002. She died of breast cancer in aNashville, Tennessee, hospice at the age of 72, on September 19,2004.
Her are some of the PIONEERS WHEN IT COMES TO FEMALE COUNTRY AND BLUES… ENJOY!!