SKEETER DAVIS spent her growing-up years as the oldest of seven children on a farm in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. In high school she and her best friend, Betty Jack Davis, joined voices in harmony to perform as the Davis Sisters. Their local performances led to a regular show on the radio station WLEX in Lexington, Kentucky. From there they moved to WJR in Detroit. The great acceptance they received on WJR gave them the confidence to audition in New York City, where they signed a recording contract with RCA Records. Their first recording for RCA, called "I Forgot More Than You'll Ever Know," became the number one best-selling record in 1953. The Davis Sisters were on their way to the top when a tragic auto accident took the life of Betty Jack Davis and critically injured Skeeter.
During her slow recovery from the accident, Skeeter was encouraged by her friends, both in and out of the music business, to continue performing and recording as a solo artist. In 1954 she resumed her career by touring with the RCA Caravan of Stars, and for the next few years traveled with Hank Snow, Eddy Arnold and Elvis Presley. They were good teachers, and what Skeeter learned prepared her for a career that was yet to reach its fullest potential.
Skeeter's accomplishments since that time would fill a book and make for some fascinating reading. She became the first pure country female artist to sell over one million records. In 1963 her release of "The End of the World" earned a gold record for her and became the number one pop record of the year, as well as the top country record. This proved to be a great contributing factor in opening the doors of pop music radio stations to many other country artists, who have enjoyed the benefits of crossing over to a large, added audience.
In 1958 Skeeter received the Cash Box magazine award as the "Most Promising Female Vocalist." In 1960 she received the "Music Reporter Magazine Award" for her disc "I Can't Help You, I'm Falling Too." In 1963 she won the Music Vender award for "The End of the World" and their citation award for the female vocalist that year. Also in 1963 she won the Bill Gavin award for having the number one record of the year - the same "The End of the World."
Skeeter's awards and accomplishments seem endless, and she tours throughout the world, including Indonesia, Japan, the Virgin Islands, Norway, Sweden and Africa. She has received the Platinum Awards from South Africa and Norway to celebrate the outstanding sales of her records there.
Skeeter first became familiar with country music by listening to radio broadcasts by the Carter Family when she was just a little girl in Dry Ridge. Later she would stay up late at night to hear the Grand Ole Opry broadcast and dream that someday she would be singing on the broadcast herself, meeting some of the great stars like Ernest Tubb. Both of these dreams came true in 1959 when she became a permanent member of the Grand Ole Opry and a part of the Ernest Tubb Show. Skeeter proved to be a dynamic performer on television with appearances on numerous network talk and other shows including the Steve Allen Show, American Bandstand, The Jimmy Dean Show, the Mike Douglas Show, Midnight Special, Music Country, Hee Haw, two Oral Roberts specials, and the Kathryn Kuhlman Program.
It would seem that anyone with a schedule as busy as this would have little time for private life, but Skeeter enjoys relaxing at her home in Brentwood, Tennessee, as well as on her three-hundred-acre farm near Thompson Station, Tennessee, where she has a constantly growing collection of pets including an ocelot named Fred.
Skeeter insists that a large part of her success is due to three men who helped her career:
the late Steve Sholes, who believed enough in Skeeter and Betty Jack to sign them to
an RCA contract; Chet Atkins, the gentle genius who produced many of her hit records and
played guitar for them frequently; and her current producer and friend, Ronny Light.
In more recent years Skeeter Davis has found the best friend of all - his name is Jesus.
After checking in at the Holiday Inn in Nashville, I called Skeeter Davis' secretary, Linda Palmer, to confirm our luncheon appointment for the next day. "Golly, Mr. Graham, would it be possible for you to meet her the next day instead? She has to go to a stock sale tomorrow."
No problem, I told her. We just moved the luncheon to the next day.
Over soup and sandwiches Skeeter told us how she bought a farm a couple years ago and had only one major problem with the operation - she makes pets of all the pigs and then cries when they're sold at market. "Maybe this is the wrong business for you, Skeeter," I volunteered.
"Yes, that's what Daddy says; they're so cute and I have names for all of them."
On this note began an interview with a truly Christian lady,
who has not always found it easy to combine the glamour of show business with the
Christian upbringing of her youth, but who has found the great peace and tranquility
one experiences once he finds the power and love of Jesus Christ.
Skeeter, when did Christ first enter your life? Were you reared in a Christian home originally?
"Yes, my mother and father are both believers. We didn't actually practice the family altar and that type of thing or really have a family worship, but they did believe in Christ. There were some difficult years we went through when both my mother and father and all of us kids weren't as close as we are now. I accepted Christ as my Saviour when I was eighteen, and I feel God had his hand on my shoulder even earlier than that."
Was there ever a point in your life when you felt separated from God? Did it seem that life was meaningless or were you contented feeling that God had no place in your life?
"I could never feel contented feeling that God had no place, but there was a time when I went through the divorce in 1964; it was probably one of the most traumatic experiences of my life and I couldn't understand why I was living, and why I couldn't have just gone on; why the Lord couldn't just take me out some way, because I felt like life was really over. That was a time that was difficult for me."
What event or chain of events brought you back to God?
"Well, I feel like I had a real revelation that the Lord was still loving me and could use me as a Christian. After the divorce I felt like life was meaningless, and I felt that I couldn't really work for the Lord.
"You know, David, now I don't want to just sit back and enjoy my salvation - I want to tell others about the Lord. I was sitting back feeling sorry for myself when June Carter came along and helped me through that time by talking with me and sharing with me. What I had to do was just bury the past. God says when He forgives us our sins, He just wipes the slate clean; but I couldn't forgive myself.
"As a Christian entertainer I've never felt like God called me into nightclubs. In other words, I kind of made a stand against it, feeling that He couldn't use me there, but I'd like to point out that I don't condemn anybody that works club dates. People who are following God, wherever he takes them is all right with me. But I never felt He could use me there, so you have to understand that to understand why the following experience meant so much to me.
"I got up to this little place in Illinois. When my band and I got there, I saw this little dive. It wasn't anything but a dive, and I became frightened and said, 'What's happening?' So I went in, and to make a long story short, I said, 'I can't work this place. I don't work nightclubs. I don't work beer taverns.'
"They had a sign on the door that read 'Bring your own setups' and I didn't even know what that meant. I was just frightened so I called my agent and told him I couldn't work there (it's not the agent I'm with now). Anyway, he said, 'Well, since you're there, wouldn't it be easier to work it?' And I said, 'No, everybody knows I don't work clubs. Everybody in the music business knows it.' It was very difficult because drunks started hollering at me. They couldn't understand why we weren't doing the show.
"Finally the manager said, 'I'm calling you up there, and you better be ready to sing!'
"I went on stage and I just told them I was an entertainer and that I didn't come with any condemning spirit, that I really loved people and that I loved the people that booked me, but that there was a misunderstanding because I didn't entertain in nightclubs. I didn't feel like the Lord wanted me to be in there, that I was looking for His coming and that I didn't want to be singing in a tavern when He came. I walked off.
"The manager said, 'We'll sue for every penny you've got.'
" 'They stoned and crucified my Jesus.' That's all I said.
"After I got away I started crying and I asked, 'Why did this happen to me?'
"All of a sudden the Lord said, 'You stood up for me tonight. You stood up for what you believe in, and I'm going to use you like I used you tonight.'
"It just made me feel like someone put his arms around me and really loved me, because I was thinking that I couldn't do anything any more. I think that's why He allowed that situation to happen. It was kind of a freaky thing, and He put me there in front of that audience. All of a sudden I was standing there saying, 'Hey, they crucified my Jesus and I love Him and this is not where I'm supposed to be.'
"They didn't sue me, and later on I heard I was the talk of the town. Everybody said that they couldn't do that - sue me so I think the Lord was lifted up. He showed me He loved me and I keep on trying to lift Him up and let the people know that I love Him."
Skeeter, how do you feel about the lyrics of some of today's country music? Do you feel that some songs are a little bit too risque, possibly even bordering on being pornographic at times?
"You asked a good question there, David. I think that a lot of the singers have gone too far. I really don't think the world wants to hear that right now. People's hearts and minds are more on Christ and how great He is and what has happened to us through the years. I don't think people really need to hear that sort of thing, but if that's all that we record, then that's what disc jockeys are going to play. Where's the stopping point? I really think that we've gone too far; it needs to be cleaned up, really."
Do you feel that a Christian has to be a strait-laced Victorian, and actually puritanical? You seem like such a happy person. How do you feel about the world in general? Do you feel you can be part of the world and still have one foot on earth and one in Heaven at the same time?
"That's a good way to put it. That's how I feel sometimes. Jesus is our best example. He was in the world, and He said that we should be in the world but not of it. To be of the world means committing sins and the things that Satan has to offer. I had to smile when you asked that because I think a lot of us sometimes - especially when we first get our salvation go through a period of being so self-righteous. Jesus says that our self-righteousness is a filthy rag. I think the sooner we learn that the more souls we're going to win, the more lives we're going to touch. If we can have love and compassion and tolerance, this is one of the best works. I think that describes Jesus. If we can just become as Christlike as we can, we're going to find out that we are not going to be so Victorian or puritanical or whatever. You know, I think that with that puritanical attitude we can turn people off before we can turn them on!"
Alcohol and narcotics have entered the country music field heavily in recent years, especially the amphetamines and barbiturates. Do you feel that some have to reach such depths to "bottom out" through narcotics and everything else - in order to want to find God?
"I think that might have been what happened to many. I think that it grieves God. It grieves the heart of the Lord when we do get to this bottomless place. I never did get into alcohol and drugs; therefore, I think I may have been a little narrow-minded on the subject. But I've got friends I have seen it happen to, and the Lord has just filled me with compassion for them. God doesn't want this to happen; just like my divorce, which was a bad thing in my life. I don't think God wanted it to happen necessarily, but He allowed the situation to happen so that I could come out stronger and better for Him. I think that's what's happening to the people that get into drugs. They get so far down, there is just no place to go but up."
Jesus said in relation to miracles, "These things I do ye shall do and even greater things." Do you believe that He literally meant one who is a Christian can actually perform the great feats of healing, the raising of the dead and all other miracles?
"I'll say Hallelujah! when you say that, because I really do believe that. In fact I've never shared this with anyone but the immediate family before. I didn't realize the power, but I know it was there. Like you said, it's in the Bible; it's there for us to have if we want it and I think I had to find that out when my mother had a right mastectomy two years ago.
"She was burning with fever and my sister said, 'Skeeter, you've got to lay hands on her because you can do that, you know.'
"She was kind of nervous and crying and Mother was just moaning and going on. It was like two o'clock in the morning and I said, 'No, I can't.'
"You see, first of all the fear came up. Fear is not of God; it is of Satan. I said, 'I can't do that, Susan.' I was so afraid I would fail. She said, 'Yes, you can.'
"Do you really believe it?' I asked.
" 'I know it,' she replied.
"I believed it too, and I thought, I rebuke you, Satan. (Satan has no right in our lives.)
"I took the authority and power that Jesus gave me and I put my hands on my mother's head, and I asked the Lord to take the fever away and to give her peace and rest. We felt the fever leave right under our hands. It showed me we do have the power; all we have to do is claim it.
"I could tell you so many more things that have happened. For example, there was a calf on the farm and they said it was dead. It was on the Fourth of July, and we were all there having a big time. The calf died and someone said, 'Get Skeeter.'
"I really wanted the Lord to show all of us what He could do, so I asked the Lord to raise that calf. I put my hands on the calf and the calf got right up! We've got it all on a movie film, because we were taking movies of everything that day, but I didn't know the calf was going to die. They were working on the cattle and all of a sudden the calf's tongue turned black, and its eyes rolled back and they said it was dead. I asked Jesus to raise it and to show everyone who was watching what He could do. I really believe it. I'm going to take all He's got to offer; why should I cut Him short?
"Jesus is just really something. It really still amazes me, but I still accept it and believe it."
Miracles did not stop two thousand years ago, did they?
"No, thank God!"
Skeeter, science and religion have been pretty much at odds over the years. Do you feel that a person can be a good Christian and yet take a liberal and scientific view of such matters as the seven-day creation and other biblical stories? Do you feel that the accuracy of these things is important in the overall Christian acceptance of religion and faith?
"Well, sometimes I think people get too intellectual and they lose the childlike faith and the spirit of God that He gives us. I would like to know more, but when I get into the scientific part of it, I really get lost sometimes. I've got friends that have since changed their minds, but Jesus said, There's no way to the Father except by Me. I think when we get into the scientific aspect, we get smarter and smarter, and we almost outsmart ourselves. When you get into the Bible study you actually find things where people say, Well, this and this are not the same; it's a contradiction! It comes back, I guess, to whatever you choose to believe - if you can take it with a simple, childlike faith and say, 'Hey, the Lord said it, and I know He's smarter than I am. Hey, Lord, you said it and that's OK by me.'
"I've got a friend who feels he knows a lot of facts regarding the Bible. At times he will say, 'This is not the fact of it.' A lot of times he gets me confused; but then I'll find an answer in Scripture, and I'll say, 'I'm out of confusion now.'
"I think if we just follow the Bible as close as we can and draw unto God, He'll draw unto us. We're all going to have a different walk, and in every man there's a different measure of faith; so I think if we just kind of follow that idea we'll be OK. I find it interesting, but not nearly as interesting as when I can lay hands on my mother and see the fever go away."
Science today, particularly archaeology, is making many discoveries that are substantiating the old biblical records. Do you feel the time may be near when science and religion may actually merge into one? God still has to be God of science as well as religion.
"Well, when they started going to the moon, a lot of oldtimers said it couldn't happen, but it happened. I really do think that the Lord is coming soon, so I don't know if they're going to have enough time for a merger."
Skeeter, what do you, as one who has had the Christian Experience, recommend to others who are still groping in darkness, still unable to find themselves or to find God? What has worked for you that you could pass on to others?
"The Scripture reference would be Romans 10:9. Just to believe on Jesus and to turn your life over to Him. Trust in the Lord with total acceptance. Like you say, people are groping in total darkness. Many haven't really come into the light and been enlightened to the fact that Jesus does love them and that Jesus died for their sins. It's so easy just to say, 'Hey, Lord, look at me, here I am,' openly admitting that we're lost and willing to accept salvation. It is there. just ask the Lord for it.
"There's so many things that He does for us; all the gifts of the spirit. It has been a long time, David. I gave my heart to the Lord when I was eighteen years old, but there's no doubt in my mind that I didn't have salvation then. Since then different things have happened to me and my family. My father had two heart attacks within two months and was literally dead for three minutes, the doctors said. The Lord restored him - this was the time my sister and I were praying for him. We were willing to be like Abraham with Isaac - to give him up if necessary. We weren't really releasing him. We were just asking God to spare him, but we weren't saying, 'Spare him if he's not going to be sick.' We weren't saying 'Heal him.' We were just saying, 'Oh, please don't take Daddy.' Daddy said later, 'Well, you can say it was the medicine or you can say it was whatever you want, but all I know is there were times when I saw the Lord and He had His hands out to me.'
"Daddy said he was ready to go when he heard my voice say, 'Don't take my Daddy.' He knows the Lord just gave him another chapter of life to write.
"All these things have happened, and when they happened it made me seek more of God's blessings and God's gifts. As a result, I've received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and that is almost like being reborn. Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before; and if it isn't, it's my fault.
"We were talking about how Jesus is in our life and how God is in our life. I think there are a lot of people who believe in God as the Father of Christ, but I don't really think they really know Jesus personally.
"I remember an experience when I was quite young. I would go to different churches because I always had a longing to know more about the Christ spirit and more about God's world.
"When I was ten years old we lived in the country, and you could hear the old barn doors hitting during a wind storm. One sister was terribly afraid of storms, so she didn't want Mother to go to a movie that night. She begged, 'Mother, don't go.' But Mother went on to the movies anyway.
"I remember that all the churches where I had gone talked about how God answers prayer, how God hears you and would answer your prayers. So I went into the kitchen, as I didn't want my brothers and sisters to hear me, and I said, 'God, please send the lightning and make Mother come back.' I don't even know why I said it that way, but God sent the lightning and my mother came home.
"Some neighbors were with her and they were all shaking in their boots, you might say.
Mother was trembling and she said, 'Oh, you just wouldn't believe it. The lightning was dancing all over in front of the car!'
"Everyone was excited, and we were all talking and the neighbors were all talking. I said, 'God did that. I asked God to do that and He did.'
"As a child I asked God because I'd heard that He did answer prayers. He answered me because He knew I'd prayed believing He would answer.
"I didn't really know Jesus till I was eighteen; and like I said, I know Him better every day. There's so much about Him that I want to know. I know that He does answer prayers, and I know that He does give Himself to us in many ways. But people really are crying out in darkness. It's just so sad.
"I go to an interdenominational church called the Lord's Chapel, and it truly is such a sweet, spirited church. We are not bound by any doctrinal barriers, and we have whites and blacks, and we have Protestants, Catholics and Jews. It's just so wonderful. You can sit there and say, 'Hey, I love the blacks. I love the Jews.' When you love them from afar it isn't quite the same, but when you can sit next to them shoulder to shoulder, be one and one in the spirit and really share with them the love of Jesus, then we're getting together for the Lord's return."
Skeeter, did you see the movie Jesus Christ Superstar?
"Yes, I sure did. You know, here again I think if we're narrow-minded we won't see this type of film. We kind of get this little 'judgment.' If we're guilty of that I think we're guilty of coming down on things and people quicker than we should, if we should at all. God said, 'Judge not, lest ye be judged.'
"There were things in the film that I didn't like, but there was so much that I did like. When it was over a friend who went with me said, 'You know, I saw a different side, it was more real to me.'
"In the past he had heard us talking about the Lord as Christians and what Jesus means to us, but he just said 'Who needs it?' When he saw the movie it was like seeing something that could be real, a basic that he could relate to; and if that movie didn't do anything else, it started him in the Christian life. He gave his heart to Jesus Christ!"
One criticism is that the movie humanized Jesus Christ too much. Do you think, in a sense, this was good?
"I think it touched a lot of people to see him as a human. I really think that movie was used to really do our work for the Lord, even though it might not have been intended by the movie producer. Just like there was a preacher that did a great, great work. He won lots of souls for Jesus. He really was into all of the gifts of the spirit, but he died a drunk. I don't drink, and I choose to do only with my body what I think is good for me; but I'm seeing again where my mind is not as narrow as it once was.
"When I heard about this preacher, it really hurt me so bad. I thought of all of the people this has happened to, and I wonder how they can be saved? How he was just like the devil; he died drunk and God says to not be drunk. I wondered, how can that be? Then I realized it wasn't him, but it was God's word through him. It was the Holy Spirit that did the work."
What about the film Marjoe?
"When people see the movie Marjoe, the devil might want to use it, but I think God gets the victory and the glory because His word goes out and it won't return unglorified. I think people are going to be saved when their hearts are opened to receive the gift of salvation. We're all free-will agents; God made us that way. We have a choice; we can choose Jesus or reject Him."
In other words, you're saying that it's basically the message, not the messenger.
"Yes, that's a good way to put it. We may mess up, but I think God is so great and so good and always ready to receive us. I just want to have more faith. I'm just trusting God that somehow somebody might be touched and might be blessed. Jesus does walk with me. I've got Him by the hand all the time. He's the comforter, the greatest friend - everything to me. That's why I trust that whatever I say in my own ignorance and my own way will come out victorious for Him, because I just want to lift up Jesus."