About The Artist
Norma Jean Beasler, often known to her fans as "Pretty Miss Norma Jean," ranks as one the leading female country performers of the 1960's. She was born to a struggling farm family in depression-wracked Oklahoma near the town of Wellston. When her father entered military service during World War II, the rest of the family moved to Oklahoma City. Norma grew up there listening to the Grand Ole Opry and becoming a big fan of Kitty Wells from 1952.
She was also influenced by the western swing bands that worked out of Oklahoma City, such as those of Hank Thompson, Leon McAuliffe, Merle Lindsay, and Billy Gray. She toured with the latter two during summers in high school. She also began a close friendship with another aspiring teen-star, Wanda Jackson, and each had a quarter-hour morning radio on KLPR on alternate weekdays.
Norma Jean told Country Song Roundup readers in 1965 that she ...entered show business at the age of 12. I began on the radio in Oklahoma City, playing the guitar. I won a contest on the radio show and then I did some television around Oklahoma City. When I graduated from high school, I joined and started traveling with different western bands ... first Billy Gray, then Merle Lindsey and I worked a few days with Leon McAuliffe an and his band. ... Wanda Jackson was a big influence to me when we were just starting and I thought a lot of her as a singer and a person. We became good friends later on, and we still are. ... I've never done anything but sing in all my life. I guess that's all I ever wanted to do."
The somewhat older Jackson landed a contract with Decca and then Capitol while still in high school, but Norma would have to wait a little longer. She did a cut a single on the small Rose label in 1957, during which time she was a frequent guest at KRLD Dallas and the Big D Jamboree. That same year she tried out for the Ozark Jubilee which would provide ABC-TV network exposure. Initially rejected, she tried again in 1958 and became a cast member. The program's main star Red Foley suggested she drop her last name for professional purposes, and so she did.
With the help of Marty Robbins, Norma secured a contract with Columbia Records in 1959. While none of her four singles became hits, her first release "Honolulu Queen," made at a time when "geisha girls" and "frauleins" seemed everywhere, did gain a good deal of attention. By the time of her last Columbia session in 1960 she had relocated to Nashville.
Norma's commercial success in Nashville was closely tied to her work on The Porter Wagoner Show which enjoyed steady growth from the spring of 1960 as the girl vocalist on the program. Wagoner also introduced her as "Pretty Miss Norma Jean" and she became one of the most popular features on the show. She did two numbers on the Porter Wagoner Show RCA Victor album in October 1962, the popularity of which led to her gaining her own contract with RCA.
In 1966, she performed at a country concert before a St. Louis Cardinals home game in front of a crowd of 36,932. Also on the show were Waylon Jennings, Faron Young. Hap Peebles arranged the concert.
Her first release, recorded in August 1963, eventually reached number 11 on Billboard's hit listing. Norma Jean remained with RCA through March 1973. Ironically, despite their popularity, the pair did very few duets as their voices did not mix very well. The duets they did record appeared on Porter Wagoner Show albums. In January 1965, she became a member of the Grand Ole Opry separately from her Wagner connection.
Norma continued to score hits all through the 1960's. Many of her best numbers were what might be termed "man bashing" songs, dealing with men who either emotionally or physically misused their ladies (somewhat autobiographically as events would later prove). Ironically, most of the songs were written by men. The songs included "Go Cat Go" (totally unrelated to a rock and roll type of "cat"), "I Wouldn't Buy a Used Car from Him," "Don't Let the Doorknob Hit You," "Heaven Help the Working Girl," and "The Box That It Came In," (the latter borrowed from her pal Wanda Jackson).
In later years, Norma made no secret of her affair with Porter Wagoner which ultimately led to not only guilt feelings and drinking problems, but her quitting his show in mid-1967. Returning to Oklahoma City, she married old acquaintance Harold "Jody" Taylor on September 26, 1967, but continued her Opry membership through 1969 and recorded for RCA through March 1973. Making 26 trips to Nashville yearly just did not seem worth it.
She still had numbers in the lower echelons of the charts, but they declined as she was not on the road all that much. Meanwhile, Norma Jean opened and ran a dress shop in Norman, Oklahoma. As her marriage began to fall apart, she returned to Nashville in 1984.
In 1982, she did a single, dueting with Claude Gray, on her first hit "Let's Go all the Way" on the Granny White label (named for Granny White Pike a well-known road in Nashville). It peaked at number 68.
She did an album on her own Roma label (named for her daughter). Although she worked some in the United States, she was still in demand in Europe and toured especially in Germany, sometimes with LeRoy Van Dyke.
She also did a couple of singles with German country singer Herman Lammers Meyer. Her Roma album later came out as half of a CD shared with Melba Montgomery titled First Ladies of Country.
During the 1990's, she was married for a time to Carlisle's' sideman George Riddle, but that, too, ended in a split.
Finally, Norma relocated again to the new country hot spot of the Ozarks, Branson, Missouri. She had married again to a minister named Al Martin and they started a "Cowboy Church" program on Sundays in a theater. She also recorded a new compact disc Loneliest Star in Texas on the Heart Of Texas label about 2013 which contained a few old songs and some newer ones. In addition, her close friend of KLPR days Wanda Jackson made a guest appearance and sang a biographical song dedicated to her, "Pretty Miss Norma Jean" composed by Debra Horton. Wanda also sang a duet with her on the country standard "Ashes of Love;" another song was written by country star Leona Williams. At last known, Norma Jean Beasler Martin was still living in Branson.
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