Musician Kathleen Alice ‘‘Kathy’’ Mattea is one of West Virginia’s principal contemporary country singers, with 27 Top 40 songs to her credit. Mattea was born on June 21, 1959, in South Charleston, Kanawha County, and she grew up in nearby Cross Lanes. In junior high school she learned to play the guitar, and in high school she practiced her vocal skills singing classical music in choir class.
In 1976, Mattea entered West Virginia University and joined a band called Pennsboro. Two years later, she relocated to Nashville, working as a tour guide among other jobs. Eventually, she began singing ‘‘demo’’ recordings of other songwriters’ material for music publishing companies. This led to a contract with Mercury Records in 1983 and her debut album the following year. In 1986, ‘‘Walk the Way the Wind Blows’’ became her first major hit, and she also recorded the autobiographical ‘‘Leaving West Virginia.’’ Subsequent top hits have included ‘‘Goin’ Gone,’’ ‘‘Love at the Five & Dime,’’ ‘‘Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,’’ ‘‘Come from the Heart,’’ and ‘‘Burnin’ Old Memories.’’
In 1988, Kathy Mattea married Jon Vezner, who had written several of her hit songs. She was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1989 and 1990. Soon afterward, Mattea became the first Nashville star to speak openly about AIDS and participate in programs to benefit AIDS research.
Mattea was greatly affected by the 2006 Sago mine explosion. In response she released an album entitled Coal, a collection of songs about coal mining. In 2011, she was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.
This Article was written by Abby Gail Goodnite
Last Revised on October 08, 2010
Tribe, Ivan M. Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1984.