HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — Country singer and banjo picker Molly O'Day, whose mournful mountain blues style is credited with influencing the sound of modern country music, has died of cancer. She was 64.
Miss O'Day, who died Saturday, was once called one of "the greatest, if not the greatest, woman singer in country music," by Robert Shelton, former country and folk music critic for the New York Times.
Dolly Parton once said Miss O'Day's music profoundly influenced the way she sings today.
Famous Bluegrass banjo player Earl Scruggs said that she once beat him in a banjo contest in Renfro Valley, Ky., and he admitted that he stood in awe of her singing and banjo-picking talents.
But during her years in Huntington, she refused to accept the accolades from an admiring public, remaining nearly a recluse at her home and insisting that her career had no impact on modern country music.
Born as LaVerne Williamson in McVeigh, Ky., on July 9, 1923, she came from the same eastern Kentucky hills that nurtured other country music greats such as Loretta Lynn and Ricky Skaggs.
Miss O'Day recorded 36 songs between 1946 and 1951, including her most famous, a late 1946 recording of "The Tramp on the Street." Among her other recordings were "Teardrops Falling in the Snow," "Don't Sell Daddy Any More Whiskey," and the Hank Williams creation, "The Singing Waterfall."
She ended her career when she and her husband, Lynn Davis, dedicated themselves to working for the Church of God on a full-time basis. A serious lung ailment in 1952 and 1953 prevented her from singing more than a few minutes at a time.
Miss O'Day is survived by her husband. Funeral services will be Tuesday in Huntington.