Monday, September 20, 2004

Skeeter Davis a star on the Grand Ole Opry

Dry Ridge native had hit with 'End of the World'

By William A. Weathers, Enquirer staff writer
and The Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Dry Ridge native Skeeter Davis, who hit the top of the pop charts with "The End of the World" in 1963 and sang on the Grand Ole Opry radio show for more than 40 years, died Sunday of cancer. She was 72.

Davis died at a Nashville hospice, said Grand Ole Opry publicist Jessie Schmidt. Davis had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1988 and had a recurrence in 1996.

Davis was nicknamed Skeeter by her grandfather who said she was so active she buzzed around like a mosquito. During her career, she toured with Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones.

Tony Penick, Davis' nephew, said the singer last visited relatives in Dry Ridge in April and May.

"She still had a lot of optimism," Penick, 47, of Dry Ridge, said of her battle with cancer. "She had her good days and bad days she told me."

Her medical condition worsened recently, Penick said. Penick, whose father, James, is Davis' brother, said Davis left Dry Ridge when she was a freshman or sophomore in high school and graduated from Dixie Heights High School in Edgewood.

Davis had a farm in Franklin, Tenn., Penick said. "We'd go down and spend two weeks there every year," he said.

He remembers his aunt as "a very loving person" who "always made times for her fans," Penick said.

"I'd go backstage with her at the Grand Ole Opry," he said.

Davis' last public performance was two or three years ago, Penick said. "She was wanting to get back in the studio (to record) one last time," he said.

Davis became a regular on the Opry, a live radio show, in 1959, and continued to perform as late as this year.

In 1973, she was suspended from the Opry for more than a year for protesting the arrest of "Jesus freaks" in Nashville.

"I felt like a child without a home," she said after her reinstatement.

Besides "The End of the World," her hits included "I'm Saving My Love" and "I Can't Stay Mad at You."

Davis was born Mary Frances Penick. She took the name Skeeter Davis in the 1950s when she became half of the Davis Sisters duet.

She began a solo career after her duet partner, Betty Jack Davis, was killed in a 1953 car wreck. Skeeter Davis was critically injured in the same accident.

Her autobiography, Bus Fare to Kentucky, was published in 1993.



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