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Skeeter Davis, the Grand Ole Opry member who became an
international star on the strength of her million-selling crossover single,
The End of the World, died yesterday at Alive Hospice in
Nashville after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 72.
With its strings, piano and smooth vocals, The End of the World
was a classic ''Nashville Sound'' recording that brought Ms. Davis
to the attention of many listeners who previously had ignored country music.
Though her remarkable voice — a pliant, nearly twangless
instrument that was as well-suited to pop ballads as to country songs —
brought her to attention, it was often Ms. Davis' bubbly personality
that was most impressive to fans and friends. Though she faced hardships
during an impoverished childhood, during some contentious marriages
(she was wed three times, including a well-publicized one to
legendary disc jockey Ralph Emery) and during later years in which she
faced debilitating health problems, she remained one of the Opry's
most accessible, talkative and effervescent stars.
Unafraid of unpopular positions, Ms. Davis was supportive of the
long-haired country-rock band The Byrds after that group was
treated harshly by an Opry audience in 1968.
"We walked out the back door with our tails between our legs,
and Skeeter caught up with us and said, 'You Byrds don't be afraid
of these people: they're just not caught up yet,' " said Byrds member
Chris Hillman. "I told her later, 'You were the only one who stood
up for us. You were there for us, and I'll never forget you for that.' "
Ms. Davis was born Mary Frances Penick on Dec. 30, 1931, in the Appalachian
village of Dry Ridge, Ky. Her "Skeeter" nickname was bestowed by her
grandfather. In her 1993 autobiography, Bus Fare From Kentucky,
Ms. Davis wrote that she was so-named because her grandfather said
she was "just like a little 'ol water bug … skeeting here
and there.' "
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Williamson Memorial Funeral Home,
3009 Columbia Ave., Franklin, is handling the arrangements.
Survivors include sisters Shirley Katherine Elfers of Ormond By The Sea, Fla.,
and Carolyn Sue Penick of Fairview, Tenn.; and brothers James Williams Penick
of Dry Ridge, Ky., and Harold Lee Penick of College Grove, Tenn.
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