It's safe to say that few people have been through as many hardships and heartbreaks as Jan Howard. When someone once suggested to her that she'd make a good soap opera actress, Jan laughed and replied, "My life has been a soap opera".
Jan is the survivor of a difficult life, but has always made it clear that she doesn't want pity. Her saga - which includes miscarriages, marital abuse, bigamy, poverty, war, suicide, cheating, divorce, thievery, depression, and mental collapse - has only made her stronger.
Born in West Plains, Missouri, Jan was the eighth of eleven children of an impoverished farm couple. Her humble roots include attending a one-room schoolhouse wearing the homemade, feed sack clothes of a rural Depression-era child.
Married at age fifteen, Jan had three sons before she turned twenty. After two divorces, she headed to Los Angeles in 1955 and took on jobs as a waitress and a secretary. A chance meeting with aspiring songwriter Harlan Howard resulted in a Las Vegas wedding just one month later. One evening while Jan was washing dishes, Harlan came in the room unexpectedly and heard her singing for the very first time.
Harlan coaxed Jan to make a demo tape of his song "Mommy For A Day" which went on to become a hit for Kitty Wells. Jan later sang demos for other artists like Tex Ritter, Johnny Bond, Ned Miller, and Buck Owens. She also recorded the original demo of the Patsy Cline classic, "I Fall To Pieces". Backed by Wynn Stewart's band, Jan released Harlan's "Pick Me Up On Your Way Down" in 1959. She subsequently recorded several duets with Wynn including "Yankee Go Home" and "Wrong Company".
In 1960, Jan scored her first solo Top Ten hit with "The One You Slip Around With". That same year, the Howards moved to Nashville and Jan made her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry.
Meanwhile, painfully shy Jan was suffering from the psychological scars of her youth, as well as the anxiety of beginning a new adventure. When her weight dropped below ninety-seven pounds, Harlan hospitalized Jan and she went into therapy.
Although strong friendships were formed with several Opry members,Jan faced some resentment and had to deal with her lack of self-confidence. She soon felt out of sync with the Opry's expectations for female acts.
Jan's fans, however, found her blunt, no-nonsense manner and stylish, no-frills look appealing.She won Billboard magazine's Most Promising Country Female Award in 1960, and she brought feminine spunk to The Nashville Sound.
In 1963 Jan had a Top 40 hit with "I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again", but it was a couple years later that her career really caught fire. Jan's string of gutsy hits included "What Makes A Man Wander" (1965), "Evil On Your Mind" (1966), "Bad Seed" (1966), "Roll Over And Play Dead" (1967), "Count Your Blessings Woman" (1968), "We Had All The Good Things Going" (1969), "Rock Me Back To Little Rock" (1970), "Love Is Like A Spinning Wheel" (1971), and "Let Him Have It" (1972).
Several of Jan's songs of the period reflected her troubled marriage with Harlan which eventually ended in a 1968 divorce. For the first time in her life, Jan's singing became an economic necessity.
Between 1965 and 1973, Jan teamed with Bill Anderson to form one of country's hottest duos on the road, on his syndicated TV show, and on record. Their hits included "I Know You're Married" (1966), "If It's All The Same To You" (1969), and "Someday We'll Be Together" (1970). Jan and Bill's 1967 recording of "For Loving You" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks on the country singles chart.
Jan not only recorded songs, but wrote them as well. She penned the 1966 Kitty Wells hit "It's All Over But The Crying" and Bill Anderson's 1970 hit "Love Is A Sometimes Thing", as well as her own singles "Marriage Has Ruined More Good Love Affairs" (1971) and "The Life Of A Country Singer" (1981).
Jan and Bill co-wrote Connie Smith's hit "I Never Once Stopped Loving You". Together with Jan's son Carter, they co-wrote their own 1972 hit "Dis-Satisfied".
Jan's proudest composition is 1968's "My Son", a moving recitation that began as a letter to her son in Vietnam. Jan's plea for the safe return of her son Jimmy had been released for two weeks when he was killed. Thousands of letters from soldiers and their parents subsequently poured in to Jan. Recent world events have renewed interest in the song, which Jan has performed in response to several requests.
Four years after Jimmy's death in Vietnam, Jan's youngest son David committed suicide. Jan softened the edges of tragedy with her strong faith in God and her belief that there is a reason for everything.
In 1987 Jan released her candid, compelling, and best-selling autobiography titled Sunshine and Shadow. The outline for the book was actually a song called "My Story" which Jan composed during a low point in her life when she became suicidal.
"Never Let Yesterday Use Up Today" has been one of Jan's mottos for years. "You can't change the past," she explains, "so learn from it, cherish the good, and go on from there. This is not a rehearsal; this is the show and there are no retakes."
Throughout her career Jan has accumulated many accolades for her recordings and songwriting, including several Grammy and CMA nominations. She has received countless acknowledgements for her charitable contributions and has taken an active role working with Veterans groups across the United States. In West Plains, Missouri, the "Jan Howard Expressway" has been named in her honor.
From 1960 through 1978, Jan placed thirty singles on the Billboard country music charts. Her vocals can be heard on over twenty albums. Recently she released a boxed set collection containing eighty songs and a twenty-page photo album.
Jan has toured every state in the USA, along with twenty-one foreign countries. She's made television appearances on dozens of shows like Hee Haw, Family Feud, The Today Show,Nashville Now, Music City Tonight, Prime Time Country, and Opry Live.
Jan's most memorable moment in country music was her induction as a member of the Grand Ole Opry on March 27, 1971. For over thirty years she has been a regular performer and a fan favorite on the world-famous Opry stage. The charming, brown-eyed entertainer has also opened many doors for female country artists.
Over the years Jan has pursued a variety of interests including acting and golfing. Along with friends Jeannie Seely and Rita Coolidge, Jan appeared in a motion picture titled Changing Hearts which was released in 2003 and is available on DVD and VHS.
Words like "classy", "sophisticated", "witty", "determined", "strong-willed", and "compassionate" have often been used to describe Jan. She is undoubtedly a lady of rare talent and determination who challenges life on a daily basis.
Jan has the gift of communicating the emotions of life through her music. Her love of life touches everyone she encounters.
"It almost seems like an accident that I became a singer," Jan states, "but I'm so thankful for it."
So are we all.
Jan Howard Fast Facts
NBC Network Special Bill Anderson Show Today Show Grand Ole Opry Live Billy Graham Crusade The Tommy Hunter Show Hee Haw Sonja Live in LA That Nashville Music Sally Jesse Raphael Show Hour Magazine Word on Words Pop Goes The Country Family Feud The Johnny Cash Show CMA Awards Show Yesteryear in Nashville Fandango Nashville Now Country Sportsman Gospel Country Backstage At The Opry New Country Crook and Chase Music City Tonight Prime Time Country Wrap Around Nashville American Swingaround Porter Wagoner Show Ozark Jubilee Ralph Emery Show You Can Be A Star
Every state in the United States and many foreign Countries including Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Israel, Switzerland.
Most Memorable Moment in Country Music: Inducted as a member of The Grand Ole Opry March 27, 1971
Autobiography: "Sunshine and Shadow" published in 1987
Awards and Honors:
• Most Promising Female Artist Awards from Billboard, Cashbox, and Jukebox Operators
• Grammy Nominations (Best Country Performance by a Female Artist) for “Evil On Your Mind” and “My Son”
• “Jan Howard Expressway” dedication in West Plains, Missouri
• BMI Songwriting Awards for “It’s All Over But The Crying” (recorded by Kitty Wells), “Love Is A Sometimes Thing” (recorded by Bill Anderson), “Dis-Satisfied” (co-written with Bill Anderson and Carter Howard, and recorded by Bill Anderson and Jan Howard), and “I Never Once Stopped Loving You” (co-written with Bill Anderson and recorded by Connie Smith)
• Tennessee Adjutant General’s 1992 “Distinguished Patriot Medal” (the highest honor a civilian can receive)
• 2002 Induction into the North American Country Music Association International (NACMAI) Hall of Fame
• Ranking among “25 Most Influential Females in Country Music” by 2002 Internet poll conducted by www.TakinTheCountryBack.com
• “Evil On Your Mind” ranking among “Country Music’s 500 Greatest Singles” by 2003 book titled Heartaches By The Number published by the Country Music Foundation Press and Vanderbilt University Press