Skeeter Davis’ career in a summary
Country singer Skeeter Davis had a successful string of hits on both the country and pop charts. She is best known for her own version of “The End of the World” in 1963. During her teens she was a former member of the duo The Davis Sisters (with high school friend Betty Jack Davis, though they were unrelated) and recorded under the labels Fortune and RCA. They were a successful duet before a car crash killed Betty Jack and left Skeeter Davis injured. Devastated, she decided to retire from the music business, but it wasn’t long until she returned to making music and to RCA Records, this time as a solo performer. Under the wings of record producer Chet Atkins, Davis began to score hit singles such as “Lost to A Geisha Girl” and “Am I That Easy to Forget.” Davis achieved more hit country singles and some of them crossed over to the pop circuit: “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too,” “My Last Date (With You)” (which she co-wrote), “I’m Saving My Love,” “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” and her #2 pop hit “The End of the World.” She continued to record with RCA until the 1970s, where her popularity began to decline. She remained popular though in many countries like Barbados and Singapore, where she would constantly tour and perform. She was also a fixture of the Grand Ole Opry – although a controversy surrounding her caused her to be suspended from the Opry. She would be reinstated there years later. She died in 2004 of breast cancer, aged 72.
Early life and the Davis Sisters era
Skeeter Davis — Mary Frances Penick in real life — was born on December 30, 1931 in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. She got the first part of her (eventual) stage name as a child because she was thought to be active and full of life, with “Skeeter” being shortened from the word “mosquito.”
While in high school, Davis met and befriended Betty Jack Davis and Wanda Rose Rader. They began to sing together and decided to form a group, naming themselves the Davis Sisters, although they weren’t related. Due to certain reasons, Wanda wasn’t able to join Betty Jack and Skeeter, so the two remaining girls decided to continue as a duo.
The Davis Sisters got a fair share of success and fame via their RCA Victor single “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know,” which topped the country charts in 1953.
Success, however, proved to be tragically brief. Betty Jack and Skeeter were involved in a major car crash during the summer that year. The accident killed Betty Jack and left Skeeter severely injured. Following the accident, Skeeter tried to revive the Davis Sisters by recruiting Betty Jack’s sister Georgia but their subsequent records gained very little success.
Skeeter decided to withdraw from the music business for a while, to get married. A few years later, she resurfaced as a solo act. It was pretty obvious that she followed the footsteps of other female crooners Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline, both of whom were enjoying their respective major crossover successes.
After a handful of her earliest singles that made dents on the country singles chart, Davis scored her first Top 40 pop hit with “(I Can’t Help You) I’m Falling Too” (#39 pop, #2 country) in 1960 — that achievement was seen as quite unprecedented for a female country singer during that time. Later that year Davis achieved another pop hit with “My Last Date (With You)” (#26 pop, #5 country), her lyric version of an original Floyd Cramer instrumental.
In 1963 Skeeter Davis achieved her biggest commercial success ever in her career via the forlorn ballad “The End of the World,” written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee. “The End of the World” reached #2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and country singles chart, and #1 on the easy listening chart and even #4 on the R&B chart. The song rose to become an international hit as well.
Davis scored her second and final Top pop 10 hit (and fourth and final Top 40 pop) with “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” written by the then-husband-and-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It went to #7 on the Hot 100, #2 on the adult contemporary singles chart, and #14 on the country chart.
After that, her chart success on the pop charts began to dwindle, although she maintained a formidable presence on the country chart until the late 1960s. She scored other country hits like “He Says the Same Things to Me,” “Gonna Get Along With You Now,” “Fuel to the Flame,” “What Does It Take (To Keep a Man Like You Satisfied),” “There’s a Fool Born Every Minute,” and “I’m a Lover (Not A Fighter).” Skeeter mainly focused her sights on the country market after her pop hits had dried up. When her homeland success diminished, she otherwise maintained popularity in other countries such as Canada, Sweden and even in far-flung nations such as Barbados and Singapore.
Davis later became a fixture of the Grand Ole Opry and was a member there until her death. Davis made a solid comeback amongst the rock audience in 1985 with the album She Sings, They Play with the rock group NRBQ. The band’s bassist Joey Sampinato became Davis’ husband in 1987. The couple divorced nine years later.
Davis still remained active in singing and also in book writing (she authored her own biography as well as a children’s book) until breast cancer in 2001 essentially forced Davis to retire. She died from the disease in September 2004, aged 74.