A Brief History
On October 11, 1932, in the heart of Depression Era Tennessee, little Dorothy Marie Marsh, better known to Country Music fans as “Dottie” West, was born. Dottie would go on to music history as the first female Country Music singer to earn a Grammy Award in 1965, for her smash hit “Here Comes My Baby Back Again.” Although West died at the early age of only 58, she left a lasting mark on Country Music and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018, 27 years after her untimely death in an automobile accident.
An indication of Dottie’s legitimate country roots lies in the name of the community she was born into, Frog Pond! (Located near McMinnville, Tennessee.) A troubled youth included being sexually abused by her alcoholic father, whom Dottie helped send to prison when she was a teenager. She became involved in music during high school, showing enough talent to earn a music scholarship to Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tennessee. It was in college that she found her (first) husband, Bill West, the man that would give her the last name of West and also father her 4 children.
Despite moving to Cleveland, Ohio, Dottie regularly traveled to Nashville in an effort to land a music contract. In 1959, she finally landed that coveted music contract, though her records failed to sell. In 1961, she moved to Nashville where she met and befriended Country Music legends Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Harlan Howard and Hank Cochran. Sadly, Patsy Cline died in an airplane crash in 1963, but not before she had given Dottie some good guidance and advice for Dottie’s budding career. That same year, singer Jim Reeves recorded a song written by Dottie, “Is This Me,” that went to #3 on the charts and earned Dottie a second chance at a music contract. Dottie’s career took off in 1963 with her first charting singles and in 1965 she made music history by winning the Female Country Music Grammy.
Dottie West became a Country Music staple, but in the 1970’s she expanded her repertoire to include crossover pop music and Adult Contemporary music. Dottie’s daughter, Shelly, also became a Country Music star by 1981, with a short but successful career. Dottie’s first solo #1 hit, “A Lesson in Leavin’,” came in 1980, and she had considerable success with singing duets, notably with Don Gibson, Jimmy Dean, and Kenny Rogers, among others. She even acted in a couple films and wrote jingles for television and radio commercials, winning a Clio Award for one of them in 1973 (“Country Sunshine” made for Coca-Cola).
Dottie’s life turned for the worse with financial problems starting around 1989, and by 1991 her car had been repossessed, causing her to start walking to the Grand Ole Opry where she was scheduled to perform. Given a ride by an 81 year old neighbor, Dottie was in a hurry to avoid being late, and the elderly driver went too fast for a highway exit and lost control of the car, injuring West in the ensuing accident. Dottie insisted paramedics see to the driver first, and she was taken to a hospital where she died a few days later of internal injuries. The elderly man also had a blood alcohol content of .08%, right about the threshold for being considered intoxicated.
Dead at the age of only 58, West was remembered and lauded by many in and out of the music industry, including former President George HW Bush. In 1995, CBS aired a made for television biopic of her life, titled Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story, Other biographies and honors followed, most notably her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018. Dottie West, ground breaking Country Music singer is gone but far from forgotten.
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For more information, please see…
Berryhill, Judy and Frances Meeker. Country Sunshine: The Dottie West Story. Eggman Pub, 1995.
Nassour, Ellis (with Forward by Dottie West). Honky Tonk Angel: The Intimate Story of Patsy Cline. Tantor Audio, 2020.
The featured image in this article, a promotional photograph of Dottie West, circa 1965, is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in the United States between 1926 and 1977, inclusive, without a copyright notice. For further explanation, see Commons:Hirtle chart as well as a detailed definition of “publication” for public art.