Country music singer and songwriter Dottie West enjoyed one of the longest hitmaking careers of any woman of her generation.
October 11, 1932
September 4, 1991
Becoming Dottie West
A 1964 Grammy winner for her recording of her self-penned song “Here Comes My Baby,” Dottie West was also a modern country pioneer in writing advertising jingles (including Coca-Cola’s famous “Country Sunshine” campaign of the 1970s) and a wide-ranging duet singer who recorded with Jim Reeves, Don Gibson, Jimmy Dean, and Kenny Rogers.
Born Dorothy Marie Marsh, West grew up in a large, impoverished family. Her father sexually abused her and was imprisoned. West worked her way through college and married steel guitarist Bill West in 1953, and when he took a job in Cleveland, Ohio, she landed a singing slot on that city’s Landmark Jubilee TV show as half of the Kay-Dots duo with Kathy Dee (Kathy Dearth, 1933–1968).
On weekends, the Wests would drive to Nashville to cultivate music industry contacts. Dottie successfully auditioned for Starday Records in 1959, but little came of the affiliation. In 1961, the couple moved to Nashville. Dottie then signed with Atlantic Records but fared no better than she had at Starday.
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Songwriting Success Leads to More
West continued to write songs, however, and Jim Reeves had a hit with her composition “Is This Me?” in 1963. He brought her to the attention of RCA’s Chet Atkins, who signed her and produced her self-penned “Here Comes My Baby,” a Top Ten country hit that earned West a Grand Ole Opry membership and a Grammy—the first ever won by a female country artist. West scored additional Top Ten singles with “Would You Hold It Against Me” (1966) and “Paper Mansions” (1967), as well as hit duets with Reeves (“Love Is No Excuse,” 1964) and Don Gibson (“Rings of Gold,” 1969).
Patsy Cline served as West’s mentor, and West, in turn, befriended other performers and writers, boosting the careers of Larry Gatlin, Jeannie Seely, and Steve Wariner.
West composed twelve Coca-Cola jingles, including the Clio Award–winning “Country Sunshine,” which became a Top Ten hit in 1973. She moved to United Artists Records in 1976 and later scored a pair of #1 country hits with “A Lesson in Leavin’” (1980) and “Are You Happy Baby?” (1980). A string of hit duets with Kenny Rogers included “Every Time Two Fools Collide” (1978) and “What Are We Doin’ in Love” (1981), which also became a Top Twenty pop recording.
Dottie West was also modern country pioneer in writing advertising jingles (including Coca-Cola’s famous “Country Sunshine” campaign of the 1970s) and a wide-ranging duet singer.
Divorce, Bankruptcy, and Death
Along the way, West shed her gingham-clad, sweetheart image and emerged as a glamorous, sexy star with a $50,000 wardrobe and a glitzy stage show. After she and Bill West divorced, she married two younger husbands in succession and lived extravagantly.
Bad investments and a lull in West’s career in the late 1980s led to bankruptcy in 1990. She died a year later, of injuries from a car crash in Nashville. A TV movie of her life aired in 1995.
West’s daughter, Shelly West, became a country star, too. She recorded several hits, including duets with David Frizzell, in the early 1980s. —Robert K. Oermann
Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press