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Jeanne C. Riley ( 1945 - )  Category ( Singers ) [suggest a correction]

Jeanne C. RileyIn the world of pop music, one hit is often all it takes. Case in point: Jeanne C. Riley.

In 1968, the 23-year-old Riley was a secretary for Passkey Music in Nashville when former Mercury Records producer Shelby Singleton heard a demo tape of her voice and decided to hook her up with a Tom T. Hall tune called “Harper Valley PTA.” The combination changed Riley’s life forever.

At the time, the pop charts were more omnivorous than today, featuring music from a variety of genres. And within a few weeks after it was released by Plantation Records, Riley’s song had not only shot up to the pinnacle of the country charts, but the Billboard Top 100, as well.

Riley’s voice, a countrified Texas twang, was perfect for her natural fans. Meanwhile, the story – about a woman who confronted her local PTA about their complaints with her party lifestyle – made “Harper Valley PTA” universal.

Her career borne aloft on the wings of that signature song, Riley won not only the Best Female Vocal Performance but Song of the Year and Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards. Later, “Harper Valley PTA” was made into a variety show (1969, hosted with Jerry Reed), a movie (1978) and a television show (1981).

Eventually, Riley actually became Mrs. Johnson, the character in the song, dressing in mini-skirts and go-go boots. In that sense, some music historians see her as a precursor to Shania Twain.

While never spectacular, her career continued to earn her a solid living. She only hit the Top 10 in the country charts on one other occasion – “Yearbooks and Yesterdays,” the followup to “Harper Valley PTA” in 1969, but remained a fixture on country music television. She also appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson on Oct. 19, 1945 in Anson, TX, Riley married her childhood sweetheart, Mickey Riley, and had a daughter, Kim, in 1966. The two were later divorced, but remarried after Riley became a born-again Christian in the 1970s. Around the same time, the mini-skirts and go-go boots were discarded.

Riley’s life took a downturn in the 1990s when she began suffering from clinical depression. In 1994, her family intervened and had her committed, and she received hospital treatment for a chemical imbalance. Along the way, she and Mickey were divorced for the second time.

“I was bed-ridden with depression for six years,” she told the Abilene reporter-News. “All I did was eat and go right back to bed. I had no will to do anything. I thought the depression was going to kill me.”

Actually, it took the media to do that. In June of 2009, reports circulated that Riley had died on the same day as Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett (perhaps in abeyance to the “Celebrities always die in threes” theory). Those reports were later refuted.

Indeed, Riley said she had never felt better.

“I’ve never had such peace of mind,” she told the Abilene newspaper. “I trust the Lord with everything.”

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