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Tammy Wynette Exhibit Shadowed by Husband’s Death

Tammy Wynette photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Tammy Wynette photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Country Music Hall of Fame will open a new exhibit Friday that honors one of the legends of the genre, though it’s clouded by the death of her former husband.

Tammy Wynette: First Lady Of Country Music, Presented By Great American Country Television Network is loaded with memorabilia celebrating the singer, who died in 1998 just months before her induction into the Hall of Fame.

But when the exhibit opens, it won’t be seen by her last husband, George Richey, who died earlier this summer. The death was not made public, though Music Row magazine reported George has already been laid to rest near Tammy in Nashville’s Woodlawn Cross Mausoleum.

George married Tammy in 1978 after they’d known each other for years. He was a piano player, songwriter, producer and record-company executive in Nashville with his own musical resume. He and Tammy were co-writers on her standard “‘Til I Can Make It On My Own.” He also authored George Jones’ “The Grand Tour,” Lorrie Morgan’s “A Picture Of Me (Without You)” and Joe Stampley’s “Soul Song.” He produced Freddie Hart’s million-selling “Easy Loving,” plus a string of Sonny James singles and some gospel songs for the Oak Ridge Boys before they became a country group. He also played as a studio musician on hits by Johnny Cash, Lynn Anderson and Jeannie C. Riley, among others.

George was Tammy’s fifth husband, and the marriage lasted nearly 20 years until her death. He personally donated many of the materials in the First Lady exhibit to the Country Music Hall of Fame, making the public opening a bit surreal.

GAC got to see the exhibit first-hand last week while it was still being constructed, and it’s a real winner. The “bling wall” — as curator Carolyn Tate calls it — includes gold records, plaques and thank-you notes from five presidents. A representation of Tammy’s celebrity closet lays out a bundle of her wardrobe essentials — earrings, shoes, stage clothing, wigs and a house robe or two. It also displays a couple of beauty-shop chairs that she kept in her home.

The original hand-written lyrics from “Stand By Your Man” are featured, as well as awards, three of Tammy’s Bibles and a wall titled “The Cost Of Being Tammy” that documents through newspaper reprints the tragedies that befell her, including hospitalizations, fires at her house and a kidnapping from a Nashville parking lot.

Footage of Tammy’s live performances and TV appearances is also a part of the exhibit with Faith Hill providing commentary. The First Lady celebration captures Tammy in all her glory — and in some of her misfortune, which she always felt made her much like everyone else.

The difference between her pitfalls and most people’s? “Mine’s always headlines,” she says in one of the exhibit’s old TV interviews.

Tammy Wynette: First Lady Of Country Music will remain open at the Country Music Hall of Fame through June 12, 2011.

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