Skeeter Davis (born Mary Frances Penicillin; December 30, 1931 Past away September 19, 2004) was an American country music singer who sang crossover pop music songs including 1962’s ” The End of The World”. She started out as part of the Davis Sisters as a teenager in the late 1940s, eventually landing on RCA Victor. In the late 1950s, she became a solo star.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 Lynette and Dolly Patton and was hailed as an “extraordinary country/pop singer” by The New York Times music critic Robert Palmer.
1931–1947: Early life Davis was born Mary Frances Penicillin on December 30, 1931, the first of seven children born to farmer William Lee and Sarah Rachel Penicillin in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. Because her grandfather thought she had a lot of energy for a young child, he nicknamed Mary Frances “Skeeter” (slang for mosquito ). When Davis was a toddler, her great-uncle was convicted of murdering her maternal grandfather in Indiana. After this incident, Davis recalled that her mother became a “bitterly depressed woman. Throughout her childhood, Davis’s mother attempted suicide multiple times, several of which Davis herself prevented from being carried out: “I once slapped a bottle of Clorox she was drinking out of her mouth and sat on her hands to keep her from reaching for a butcher knife,” she recalled. On one occasion, her mother attempted to leap from the family’s apartment window with Davis and her infant brother in her arms. Her relationship with her mother remained strained throughout much of her life, and by Davis’s account, she “couldn’t seem to win my mother’s respect and affection, [so] I turned my attention toward my daddy.”
In the mid-1930s, the Penicillin family relocated to Cincinnati , Ohio, where they remained for several years before returning to Dry Ridge. They later moved to Enlarger, Kentucky in 1947. Davis was raised a Protestant , attending Disciples of Christ churches. As an adolescent, Davis was inspired by the music of Betty Hutton, and also developed interest in musicals, memorizing songs from films such as Stage Door Canteen (1943) and I”ll Be Seeing You (1944).She would sometimes stage routines in her backyard, dancing, singing, and telling ghost stories to neighborhood children. When Davis was in seventh grade, her father relocated to Oak Ridge, Tennessee for work. She and her siblings in the care of their mother who, during this time, became an alcoholic. In the summer of 1948, Davis and her family relocated to Convincing, Kentucky , where her father was working as an electrician, and moved into a house owned by the Villa Madonna Academy, run by Benedictine nuns. Davis became fascinated by the sisters, and for a time considered becoming a nun.
While attending Dixie Heights High School in Enlarger, Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis, and the two became close friends, bonding over their love of music. They began singing songs and playing guitar together during breaks at school, which drew attention from their classmates, and they performed in several school talent shows. On a trip to the Grand Ole Pry , the two convinced a stage manager to allow them backstage, where they met Hank Williams and Che Atkins.
1948–1956: The Davis Sisters; rise to fame
During her junior year of high school, Skeeter and Betty Jack won a local Yodeling contest, whose prize was a time slot singing on a local daytime television show. The two were billed as the Davis sisters , with Skeeter adopting Betty Jack’s last name, despite their being unrelated Their appearance on the local program led to them receiving singing opportunities on the Detroit radio station JR ‘s program Barnyard Frolics. After graduating from high school in 1949, Davis relocated to Detroit with Betty Jack, where they completed demonstration recordings for Fortune Records ; among these were the song “Jealous Love,” which was released as a single in 1953. Steve Sholes producer heard their demos and was impressed by their harmonies. In the spring of 1953, Skeeter and Betty Jack met with Holes at the RCA headquarters in New York City , who offered them a recording contract. After signing the contract, they left New York to begin recording material in Nashville ,Tennessee. On May 23, 1953, they recorded “I Forgot More Than You”ll Ever Know” a song that had previously been recorded by Sonny James. The Davis Sisters toured regionally to support the single on live broadcast radio programs, though Davis recalled that both “were so insecure and uninformed about the [music] business.” The single was a significant success, spending eight weeks at number one on the country charts in 1953, as well as making the top 20 on the pop charts. The record ranks number 65 on the Top 100 Country Singles of All Time, according to Billboard historian Joel Whit burn.
On August 1, 1953, the Davis Sisters performed on the WV evening show in Wheeling, West Virginia After midnight, the two left Wheeling en route back to Convincing. Around 7:00 am on August 2, near Cincinnati, a passing motorist fell asleep at the wheel, crashing head-on with the car in which Skeeter and Betty Jack Davis were riding. Betty Jack was killed in the collision, while Skeeter sustained serious head injuries. The driver of the car also survived. Newspaper bulletins at the time erroneously reported that both the Davis Sisters had been pronounced dead at Our Lady of Sorrow Hospital in Cincinnati.
Following the accident, Davis moved in with Betty Jack’s mother, Ollie, while recovering from her injuries. She recounted in her autobiography that Ollie “took advantage of this tragic situation to suit her own ends,” alleging that she had kept Skeeter sedated with drugs administered from a local dentist and sequestered her in the house, where she repeatedly played the girls’ records. Once Skeeter recovered, Ollie could “hardly wait for her chance to re-create the Davis Sisters,” suggesting that Betty Jack’s younger sister, Georgia, take her place in the singing duo. Davis reluctantly agreed, and six months after the accident, she resumed singing in the duo with Georgia Davis. In her autobiography, she would claim that she felt she had been by Ollie and coerced into resuming the musical duo.
Between 1954 and 1956, Skeeter and Georgia released a total of nine singles for RCA as the Davis Sisters, which they recorded in New York City and Chicago , and toured the United States as a part of the RCA Caravan of the Stars alongside ,Minnie Pearl, Hawks haw Hawkins and Che Atkins, among others. The singles recorded with Georgia were notably less successful than the duo’s former material, with low chart positions, though Davis felt that “the material was good.” The two held a tribute performance for Betty Jack at the Grand Ole Pry in 1954. In 1955, the Davis Sisters were booked for a regional tour alongside Hank Snow, The Carter Sisters ( minus June ),and Elvis Presley Davis recounted her friendship with Presley in her autobiography.V