Tammy Wynette

Tammy Wynette holds the record for the biggest-selling country music single by a female singer with her hit "Stand by Your Man."

Born Virginia Wynette Pugh on May 5, 1942, in Red Bay, Ala., she was raised by her grandparents on a farm and worked in cotton fields to earn money for music lessons. She married for the first time at 17 and had three children.

After divorcing her husband three years later, Wynette took a hairdressing job to support her children. But she dreamed of a music career and eventually sang backup on country singer Porter Wagoner's television show. She then met producer Billy Sherrill, who handled her first single, the Johnny Paycheck–written "Apartment #9," which went to #44 on the country chart in 1966.

The following year, she reached #3 with "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" (RealAudio excerpt). Wynette topped the country chart with "My Elusive Dreams" (with David Houston) and "I Don't Want to Play House." In 1968 she hit #1 twice more, with her signature tunes "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and record-setting "Stand by Your Man" (RealAudio excerpt), which was also a top-20 pop hit.

She continued to sing about her troubled life, despite her 1968 marriage to country star George Jones, with whom she had three #1 country hits. The union of Wynette and Jones was stormy and ended in 1975, though they would re-team 20 years later for the album One.

By 1979, Wynette had amassed 29 country top-10 singles and 17 #1 hits. She also was in the news for her tumultuous personal life, which included two more brief marriages and an affair with actor Burt Reynolds.

In 1986 Wynette entered the Betty Ford Clinic for addiction to painkillers. She also battled back from numerous operations for various medical problems. In the '90s, Wynette collaborated with British rave act KLF on the hit "Justified and Ancient."

Wynette died of heart failure in 1998 at age 55. Her body was exhumed as part of a $50 million wrongful-death suit brought by her daughters, who claimed Wynette became addicted to narcotics because of inappropriate medical treatment. Although drugs were found in Wynette's body, a Nashville medical examiner said it was impossible to determine whether they played a role in Wynette's death.

This week she became the first posthumous recipient of the Academy of Country Music Pioneer Award, established in 1968 to honor unprecedented achievement in country music.

Other birthdays Friday: Johnnie Taylor, 62 and Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen), 41.