K.T. Oslin, who did not launch her musical career until she was already in her mid-40s, passed away on Dec. 21, 2020, one week after testing positive for Covid-19. The 78-year-old triple Grammy-winning singer-songwriter suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had been living in a Nashville-area assisted living facility since 2016.

​Oslin was born Kay Toinette Oslin in Crossett, Arkansas, on May 15, 1942, and grew up in Houston, Texas. Before her success as a Country star, she resided in Manhattan, New York, and was a musical theatre performer. In addition to appearing in “Promises, Promises” and “West Side Story,” she toured with Carol Channing in “Hello Dolly!” and starred with Betty Grable in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!,” with Rudy Vallee in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and with Vincent Price in “Darling of the Day.” During that time she performed in television commercials for a variety of products and began to write songs.

Among those who recorded her songs were Gail Davies, “Round the Clock Lovin,’” 1982; Sissy Spacek, “Lonely But Only For You,” 1983; Dottie West, “Where Is a Woman to Go,” 1984; Judy Rodman, “Come Next Monday, 1985; The Judds, “Old Pictures,” 1987; Dan Seals, “Fool Me Once,” 1988, Anne Murray; “Who But You,” 1989; Trudy Lynn, “Still On My Mind,” 1991; The Forester Sisters, “Wanda,” 1992; Dorothy Moore, “Do Ya,” 1992; Aimee Comeaux, “Moving Out,” 1994; and Dusty Springfield, “Where Is a Woman to Go,” 1995. Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan recorded a duo version of “Do Ya” in 2017.

“K.T. Oslin was a pioneer in every sense of the word,” said Country artist Chely Wright. “Nashville was gobsmacked by her genius, and the gatekeepers didn’t even have a chance to decide whether or not they’d let her in. K.T. Oslin didn’t ask anyone for permission to enter. She waltzed in with her brilliant songs, her unmatched intellect, her perfectly foul mouth and she changed everything— forever.”

As a performer, Oslin’s albums, 1987’s “80′s Ladies” and 1988’s “This Woman,” each sold more than 1 million copies, earning Gold Record status in 1988 and Platinum status in 1989. The “This Woman” album produced five singles: “Money” at No. 13, “Hold Me” at No. 1, “Hey Bobby” at No. 2, the title track at No. 5 and “Didn’t Expect It to Go Down This Way” at No. 23.
Oslin was nominated for six Grammy awards, winning for “80’s Ladies” as Best Country Female Vocal Performance in 1988 and in 1989 for “Hold Me” as Best Country Song and Best Country Female Vocal Performance.

Her No. 7 single, “80′s Ladies,” was named Song of the Year at the 1988 Country Music Association Awards, making her the first female songwriter in history to win that prize. The song became an anthem for middle-aged women of that period.
“We’ve been educated, we got liberated,” she wrote in “80′s Ladies.” “And had complicated matters with men. Oh, we’ve said ‘I do,’ and we’ve signed ‘I don’t,’ and we’ve sworn we’d never do that again…Now we’re 80’s ladies. There ain’t been much these ladies ain’t tried.”

The “80′s Ladies” video was named Video of the year by the Academy of Country Music (ACM). The song also earned her the 1988 Country female vocalist awards from both the CMA and the ACM. The ACM named “This Woman” album of the year in 1988, having voted Oslin Top New Female Vocalist the year before.

In 1991, “Love In a Small Town” topped 1 million in sales, adding another Gold record award to her collection. The “Come Next Monday” single from the album became Oslin’s biggest hit, spending two weeks at No. 1.


The shift in musical tastes in the 1990s prompted Oslin to make major changes in her career. She appeared in two movies, “Murder So Sweet” and “The Thing Called Love.” Guest starring television appearances included “Paradise,” “Carol (Burnett) and Company” and “Evening Shade” as well as numerous talk shows, making her a favorite of hosts like Johnny Carson, Arsenio Hall, Joan Rivers, Ralph Emery, Oprah Winfrey and others.

In 1995 Oslin underwent quadruple bypass surgery.

“When she returned to recording, Oslin became increasingly experimental,” wrote her friend, country music historian Robert K Oermann. “In 1996, she became an early mainstream Country star to embrace the emerging Americana music movement. Her CD, “My Roots Are Showing,” showcased a variety of roots-music genres and was the first of her releases that she co-produced.”

The entertainer performed a pops concert with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra in 1999, issued a disco record in 2000 and recorded Latin-tinged tracks for her 2001 collection “Live Close By, Visit Often.”

Oslin’s “80’s Ladies” was celebrated with a sold-out 25th anniversary show at the historic Franklin Theater in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2013. The following year she was inducted into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame and was voted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.

“What a unique talent,” Ray Stevens said at her passing. “She was a breath of fresh air to country music. We will miss you.”

by Claudia Johnson