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Singer Wanda Jackson's hit songs climbed both the country and rock charts in the 1950s and 1960s, earning her the "Queen of Rockabilly" title.
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Born in Oklahoma in 1937, singer Wanda Jackson began performing while still in high school and had signed with Capitol Records by the time she was 20. Her hit songs, including 1959's "Let's Have a Party," climbed both the country and rock charts, earning her the "Queen of Rockabilly" title. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Singer. Wanda Lavonne Jackson was born on October 20, 1937, in Maud, Oklahoma, a small town on the outskirts of Oklahoma City, and lived there until her family moved to Bakersfield, California, to escape the poverty created by the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Her father was a musician who noticed that the young Jackson showed an interest in music, so he bought her a guitar when she was six years old. She also attended country music concerts with her father and sang in her church's gospel choir. When she was 12 the family relocated back to Oklahoma, and later as a high school student Jackson won a talent show. The prize was her own radio program.
It was through this radio exposure that Jackson was discovered by country star Hank Thompson, who invited her to sing with his band, the Brazos Valley Boys. She began performing with them on weekends. In 1954, she recorded the single "You Can't Have My Love," with one of the men from the band, andthe song hit No. 8 on the country charts. Thompson tried to get her signed with Capitol Records, but Ken Nelson, a Capitol producer, said "Girls don't sell records," so Jackson signed with Decca instead, recording a large batch of songs for the label before graduating high school.
In 1955, soon after graduation, Jackson joined the Ozark Jubilee tour that featured many up-and-coming acts, including Elvis Presley. The two briefly dated and Presley told her to try singing rockabilly, an early version of rock and roll whose name comes from a blend of "rock" and "hillbilly." The sound was shaped by rhythm and blues, country, and swing. "In 1956, at Elvis's insistence, I started singing rock 'n' roll songs. He had made me promise that I would try to sing some rockabilly, so I did. There were four or five years that I recorded rockabilly music… Once I sang it, I realized I love rock 'n' roll, and I can sing it. Elvis was right."
A year later, Jackson finally signed with Capitol and recorded "I Gotta Know," which proved that she really could sing rock and roll like the best of the boys. The song reached No. 15 on the charts and her popularity began to take off. Of course, Presley's own popularity took off too. Jackson says about her friend: "I was excited for him. And, of course, I was 17 and 18 years old, so I was a fan of his, as well as a friend. And I was thrilled to death at his success."
Unlike most other female acts of the time, Jackson wore short skirts, hoop earrings, and high heels—all outfits her mother designed. The female equivalent of Presley's leather suits and pelvic thrusting, she was the first woman to bring sex appeal to the rock and roll stage.
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