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The End Of The World – Skeeter Davis (Piano solo arr. sheet music)
Skeeter Davis (1931-2004)
Born Mary Frances Penick, Skeeter Davis was an American country music singer who sang crossover pop songs, such as 1962’s ‘The End of the World’. She started out as a part of The Davis Sisters as a teenager in the late 1940s, and came to work with RCA Victor. In the late ’50s, she became a solo star.
She was one of the first women to achieve stardom in the field of country music as a solo vocalist, was a recognized influence on Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, and was hailed as a ‘country/pop singer extraordinaire’ by The Music Critic of The New York TimesRobert Palmer.Follow @LibrarySheet
1931-1947 Early life
Davis was born Mary Frances Penick on December 30, 1931, the first of seven children born to farmer William Lee and Sarah Rachel Penick (née Roberts), in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. Because her grandfather thought she had a lot of energy for a little girl, she nicknamed Mary Frances ‘Skeeter’ (slang for mosquito).
When Skeeter Davis was little, her great-uncle was convicted of the murder of her maternal grandfather (her brother) of hers in Indiana. Following this incident, Davis recalls that her mother became a ‘bitterly depressed woman.’ Throughout his childhood, Davis’s mother made multiple suicide attempts, several of which Davis herself prevented:
‘Once I took a bottle of Clorox, she was drinking out of his mouth and sat on her hands to prevent her from picking up a meat cleaver,’ she recalls. On one occasion, her mother attempted to jump from the window of the family’s apartment with Davis and her little brother in her arms. Her relationship with her mother remained strained for much of her life and, according to Davis’s account, ‘I could not earn my mother’s respect and affection, [so] I turned my attention to my dad’.
In the mid-1930s, the Penick family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they stayed for several years before returning to Dry Ridge. They later moved to Erlanger, Kentucky, in 1947.
Skeeter Davis was raised a Protestant, attending Disciples of Christ churches. As a teenager, Davis was inspired by the music of Betty Hutton, and she too became interested in musicals, memorizing songs from movies like Stage Door Canteen (1943) and I’ll Be Seeing You (1944).
Sometimes she did routines in the patio of her house, dancing, singing and telling ghost stories to the neighborhood children. When Davis was in seventh grade, her father moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for work. She and her siblings were left in the care of her mother, who during this time became an alcoholic.
In the summer of 1948, Davis and her family moved to Covington, Kentucky, where her father worked as an electrician, and settled in a house owned by the Villa Madonna Academy, run by Benedictine nuns. Davis was fascinated by her sisters and for a time considered becoming a nun.
While attending Erlanger’s Dixie Heights High School, Skeeter met Betty Jack Davis, and the two became close friends, bonding over their love of music. They started singing songs and playing the guitar together during school breaks, which attracted the attention of their peers, and they performed in various school talent shows.
On a trip to the Grand Ole Opry, the two convinced a stage manager to let them go backstage, where they met Hank Williams and Chet Atkins.
1948-1956: The Davis Sisters – Rise to Fame
During their freshman year of high school, Skeeter and Betty Jack won a local yodeling contest, the prize of which was a time slot to sing on a local daytime television show. The two introduced themselves as The Davis Sisters, and Skeeter adopted the last name of Betty Jack, despite not being related.
Her appearance on the local show led to singing opportunities on Detroit radio station WJR’s Barnyard Frolics. After graduating from high school in 1949, Davis moved to Detroit with Betty Jack, where they made demo recordings for Fortune Records; among them was the song ‘Jealous Love’, which was issued as a single in 1953.
RCA Victor producer Steve Sholes heard their demos and was impressed by their harmonies. In the spring of 1953, Skeeter and Betty Jack met Sholes at RCA headquarters in New York, who offered them a recording contract. After signing the contract, they left New York to start recording material in Nashville, Tennessee. On May 23, 1953, they recorded ‘I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know’, a song that had been previously recorded by Sonny James. The Davis sisters toured regionally to support the single on live radio shows, though Davis recalled that they were both ‘very insecure and uninformed about the [music] business.’ The single was a major success, spending eight weeks at number one on the country charts in 1953, as well as entering the top 20 on the pop charts. The record is ranked at number 65 on the top 100 country singles of all time, according to Billboard historian Joel Whitburn.
On August 1, 1953, the Davis Sisters performed on the WWVA’s late-night show in Wheeling, West Virginia. After midnight, they left Wheeling for Covington. At around 7 a.m. on August 2, near Cincinnati, a passing driver fell asleep at the wheel and collided head-on with the car containing Skeeter and Betty Jack Davis.
Betty Jack was killed in the collision, while Skeeter suffered severe head injuries. The driver of the car also survived. Newspaper bulletins at the time erroneously reported that both Davis sisters had been pronounced dead at Cincinnati’s Our Lady of Sorrow Hospital.
After the accident, Davis moved in with Betty Jack’s mother, Ollie, while she recovered from her injuries. In her autobiography, she recounts that Ollie ‘took advantage of this tragic situation to serve his own ends,’ claiming that he kept Skeeter sedated with drugs administered by a local dentist and isolated her in the house, where she repeatedly played the girls’ records.
Once Skeeter had recovered, Ollie ‘could hardly wait for the opportunity for her to recreate 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 returned to sing in a duet with Georgia Davis. In her autobiography, she claimed that she felt that Ollie had brainwashed her into resuming the musical duo.
Between 1954 and 1956, Skeeter and Georgia released a total of nine singles for RCA as the Davis Sisters, who recorded in New York and Chicago, and toured the United States as part of the RCA Caravan of the Stars with Minnie Pearl, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Chet Atkins, among others.
The singles recorded with Georgia were notably less successful than the duo’s previous material, charting low on the charts, although Davis considered ‘the material was good’. The two performed a tribute performance to Betty Jack at the Grand Ole Opry in 1954.
In 1955, the Davis Sisters were booked for a regional tour along with Hank Snow, The Carter Sisters (minus June), and Elvis Presley. Davis recounted her friendship with Presley in his autobiography.
In 1956, Davis met Kenneth DePew, a railroad worker and acquaintance from Georgia. The two began dating and married shortly after her, although Davis would later state that he had married her for her income:
‘He saw the nice new furniture my money had bought from the Davies; he saw the Oldsmobile and knew that I had money in the bank. I could be a shortcut to the easy street’.
According to Davis, their marriage was not consummated until eight days after their honeymoon. Shortly after their marriage, the Davis Sisters formally dissolved.
1957-1965: Initial solo career
In the late 1950s, during her marriage to DePew, Davis suffered from depression and ‘harboured a death wish’ over the grief of Betty Jack’s death, as well as her ‘contrived’ marriage. She resumed solo performances, touring with Ernest Tubb, and co-wrote and recorded the song ‘Set Him Free’ for RCA, produced by Chet Atkins.
The song earned Davis a Grammy Award nomination for Best Country Recording. Sometime during this period, around 1958, Davis and DePew divorced, and she moved to Nashville. That same year, Davis recorded ‘Lost to a Geisha Girl’, a response song to Hank Locklin’s hit ‘Geisha Girl’, which reached number 15 best country song, and became his first solo hit. Atkins worked with Davis as guitarist on all of these sessions.
At Davis’s suggestion, Atkins used to multi-track Davis’s voice for the harmony vocals, in order to resemble the sound of the Davis Sisters. This echo can be found in several of her early solo hits, such as ‘Am I That Easy to Forget’.
Subsequently, he co-wrote and recorded another top 20 hit called ‘Homebreaker’, which reached number 15 on the Hot Country Songs chart in November 1959. That same year, Davis joined the Grand Ole Opry. During this time, she toured with June Carter, and the two became good friends.
From 1960 to 1962, Davis had top 10 hits with the songs ‘(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too’, ‘My Last Date (With You)’, ‘Where I Ought to Be’ and ‘ Optimistic’. ‘(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too’ marked Davis’ first solo entry on the Billboard pop charts in 1960 and earned her a guest appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.
The song reached the top 40, unheard of for a country singer at the time. That same year, she married WSM disc jockey Ralph Emery in Franklin, Kentucky. Her marriage was tumultuous, and Davis recalls that Emery was jealous and controlling of her, refusing to let her work more than several days a month, calling her obsessively while on tour, and repeatedly accusing her of infidelity.
The two resided in Ridgetop, Tennessee, for a time before Emery had a house built for them in the Brentwood area. In 1961, he scored a second pop hit with a lyrical version (written by Skeeter) of Floyd Cramer’s instrumental country hit ‘Last Date’, called ‘My Last Date (With You)’, which fared even better, reaching the top 30 from the pop charts. Both songs did exceptionally well on the country charts, peaking at number two and number five, respectively.
In 1963, Davis achieved her greatest success with the country-pop crossover ‘The End of the World’. The song did not reach the top spot on the country and pop charts that year, but it did on the adult contemporary charts.
The record was also a surprise top five hit on the rhythm and blues charts, making Davis one of the few white female singers to have a top 10 hit in that market. The single sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold record.
This song was probably the first popular example of Sound on Sound in which the erasure magnet was disabled and the artist sang along with the recording or mixed the original recording with the artist’s voice live and re-recorded, so in some parts it sounds like a duet.
‘The End of the World’ soon became Davis’ breakout song. Davis scored another country-pop hit with the song ‘I Can’t Stay Mad at You’, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, which reached number seven on the pop charts and number two on the Easy Listening chart in 1963.
In 1964, after four years of marriage, Davis divorced Emery after discovering that he had been unfaithful and had conceived a child with another woman. That same year, she was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her recording of ‘He Says the Same Things to Me.’
Davis’ success continued with “I’m Saving My Love” and 1964’s “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” an updated version of a 1956 Patience and Prudence hit).
Both reached the top 10 on the country charts and cracked the Top 50 on Billboard’s pop charts, though the success of “Gonna Get” was likely hampered by another remake of the song by vocalist Tracey.
Dey, which simultaneously rose up the charts to reach a slightly lower peak than Davis’s version. Other later pop works, such as “Let Me Get Close to You” in July 1964, failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, reflecting the changing nature of pop styles due to the British Invasion.
In 1965, she recorded a duet with Bobby Bare called “A Dear John Letter”, which failed to reach the country top 10. The following year, she earned her third Grammy nomination for “Sun Glasses,” which reached number 30 on the Hot Country Songs chart.
1966-1976: Crossroads of information and critical acclaim
In 1967, Davis returned to the top 10 with ‘What Does It Take (To Keep a Man Like You Satisfied)’. Davis had only two other big country hits the rest of the decade, ‘Fuel to the Flame’ (written by Dolly Parton, to whom Davis paid tribute with an album called Skeeter Sings Dolly in 1972), and ‘There’s a Fool Born Every Minute’. ‘. She received her fourth Grammy nomination for 1967’s ‘What Does It Take.’
In the late 1960s, he recorded several full-length albums, including two tribute works: Skeeter Davis Sings Buddy Holly (1967) and I Love Flatt and Scruggs (1968). Davis’ recording of the anti-war song ‘One Tin Soldier’, released in 1972, earned him an appearance on The Midnight Special. The single was a huge hit in Canada, peaking at ten hits on the RPM country and adult contemporary charts.
In 1970, Davis had another top 10 hit with ‘I’m a Lover (Not a Fighter)’ and another duet with Bobby Bare with ‘Your Husband, My Wife.’ The following year, she had a hit with the autobiographical ‘Bus Fare To Kentucky’.
However, her chart success began to fade. Songs like ‘It’s Hard to Be a Woman’ and ‘Love Takes a Lot of My Time’ failed to break into the country top 40. Her last big hit was 1973’s ‘I Can’t Believe That It’s All Over,’ which reached number 12 on the country chart and number 101 on the pop chart.
In the 1970s, she began to tour regularly to foreign countries, such as Barbados, Singapore, and Sweden, where she maintained her followers.
Davis had the first and only controversy of his career when, during a performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1973, he dedicated a gospel song to a group of young church workers who he noted in his introduction had been arrested for evangelizing in a local mall.
The Opry suspended her as a member of it after receiving complaints from some local police officers. Over a year later she was reinstated to the Opry.
After losing several bookings during that period, Davis became active in singing with various religious ministries and spent a long period evangelizing in Africa.
1977-2004: Life and Later Career
Davis returned to the recording studio in 1976 with a brief stint at Mercury Records, which produced two single releases, including his last nationally charting song, 1976’s ‘I Love Us.’ he recorded the first of several albums for minor record labels, which he performed on and off until the 1990s.
In 1987, she married NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato. She recorded the album Ella She Sings, Ella They Play with Spampinato and NRBQ; they divorced in 1996. The following year, in August 1988, Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy of the right breast to treat the cancer and was in remission for several years before having a recurrence in 1996.
Her autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky (named after a 1971 song), was published in 1993.
In 1998, she wrote a children’s book, The Christmas Note, with Cathie Pelletier.
In 2001, Davis was disabled by her breast cancer, which had metastasized. The following year, she made her last performance at the Grand Ole Opry, performing ‘The End of the World’.
She died of breast cancer in a Nashville, Tennessee, hospice on September 19, 2004, at age 72.
Skeeter Davis Legacy
Davis’ song ‘The End of the World’ has been named as a major influence on several artists: Lou Reed and 21st-century singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey among them have listed it among their favorite recordings of all time.
Bob Dylan also recorded a version of ‘I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know’ arranged by the Davis Sisters on his 1970 album Self Portrait. ‘The End of the World’ was also used in the popular video game Fallout 4.
Davis wrote close to 70 songs throughout his career, and won two BMI awards: for ‘Set Him Free’ and ‘My Last Date With You’, the latter also recorded by Ann-Margret, Pat Boone, Kay Starr, Joni James and several others, plus Davis’s original version, which was a hit.
Debbie Harry recorded a remake of Davis’s version in 1993 with the participation of Michael Stipe, a longtime Davis fan. (Conway Twitty wrote new lyrics for the instrumental in 1972 as ‘Lost Her Love (On Our Last Date),’ which went to number one on the country chart, as did Emmylou Harris’s remake of Twitty’s version on 1983 retitled ‘Lost His Love (On Our Last Date)’).