Jeannie C. Riley

Jeannie C. Riley

Riley at the Civic Center, Lansing, Michigan on February 4, 1973
Background information
Birth name Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson
Born (1945-10-19) October 19, 1945
Stamford, Texas, United States
Origin Anson, Texas, United States
Genres Country music, gospel
Occupation(s) Singer
Years active 1967–present
Labels Little Darlin Records
Plantation Records
Capitol Records
MGM Records
Mercury Records
Warner Bros. Records
MCA Records
Associated acts Connie Smith, Dottie West, Jeannie Seely, Loretta Lynn

Jeannie C. Riley (born Jeanne Carolyn Stephenson, October 19, 1945)[1] is an American country music and gospel singer. She is best known for her 1968 country and pop hit "Harper Valley PTA" (written by Tom T. Hall), which missed (by one week) becoming the Billboard Country and Pop number one hit at the same time.[2] In subsequent years, she had moderate chart success with country music, but never again duplicated the success of "Harper Valley PTA". She became a born-again Christian and began recording gospel music during the late 1970s.

Early life and rise to fame

Riley was born in 1945 in Stamford, Texas. As a teenager, she married Mickey Riley and gave birth to a daughter, Kim Michelle Riley on January 11, 1966.[1] Later, they moved to Nashville, Tennessee after receiving a letter from Weldon Myrick, who heard a demo tape of Jeannie's and believed she could be successful.[1] In Nashville, Riley worked as a secretary for Passkey Music while recording demos on the side.[3]

Riley's career was stagnant until former Mercury Records producer Shelby Singleton received a demo tape of Riley's voice. Singleton was starting and succeeding with his own label, Plantation Records, at the time. He worked with Riley in the recording of the Tom T. Hall demo song that Singleton saw potential in, "Harper Valley PTA."[3] The record quickly became one of the best-known country music songs of all time.

The success of "Harper Valley PTA"

"Harper Valley PTA" was released in 1968. The song immediately became a hit for Riley and went to number one on both the Billboard Pop and Country charts,[2] a feat not repeated until 1981 when Dolly Parton released "9 to 5". The song is about a widowed woman by the name of Mrs. Johnson, who confronts a group of members of the PTA after her daughter brings home a note from school that's critical of her (Mrs. Johnson's) habits of wearing miniskirts, going out with men, and other behavior of which they do not approve. The climax of the song comes when Mrs. Johnson turns the tables on the PTA and exposes their hypocrisy, one member at a time, noting that their private behavior is far worse than what their letter criticized her for.

Riley and the song became an overnight sensation, and the song earned her the Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance and the Country Music Association 'Single of the Year' award. Riley also became one of the few country artists ever nominated in the major pop Grammy Award categories of "Best New Artist" and "Record of the Year". Globally it sold over five and a half million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. just four weeks after the song's release. The album of the same name sold over one million units to gain a further gold disc for Riley.[4]

The song was a phenomenon which led to Riley making country music history in 1969 as the first female vocalist to have her own major network variety special, Harper Valley U.S.A., which she hosted along with Jerry Reed and featured performances by Mel Tillis and the song's writer, Tom T. Hall.[5]

The song spawned a 1978 film and a 1981-83 television series, both titled Harper Valley PTA and both starring Barbara Eden as the widow Mrs. Johnson.

After "Harper Valley PTA"

During the late 1960s and into the very early 1970s, Riley ranked among the most popular female vocalists in the country music industry. She had five Grammy Award nominations and four Country Music Association nominations, and performed a duet with Loretta Lynn. She had success on the country charts again, but on a lesser scale.

Other hits following "Harper Valley PTA" include "The Girl Most Likely," "There Never Was A Time," "The Rib," "The Back Side of Dallas," "Country Girl," "Oh Singer," and "Good Enough to Be Your Wife."

Riley became known as much for her sex appeal and beauty as for her music, foreshadowing Shania Twain and other contemporary female vocalists by nearly three decades. At a time when many country queens were keeping a wholesome image by wearing gingham dresses, Riley kept in tune with typical late-1960s fashion by donning miniskirts and go-go boots for her stage outfits. Her mod persona opened many doors (and perhaps started a sexual revolution) in country music, as hemlines of other female country artists' stage outfits began rising in the years since. But Riley herself was not comfortable with her image, and she eventually abandoned it for a more conservative wardrobe. In the 1993 CBS documentary The Woman of Country, she noted that during the "Harper Valley" period, it was largely her publicist and manager who were responsible for creating and playing up her sexy image (replicating somewhat the look of the protagonist in the song).

Late 1970s and the 1980s

Riley's great success brought a number of offers from Hollywood, and she appeared with Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Bette Davis, Tom Jones, Ed Sullivan and others on various television programs.[6]

Riley left Plantation Records for MGM Records in 1972, recording several albums, but only two of her singles from the period, "Good Morning Country Rain" and "Give Myself A Party," cracked the top 30. Later stints at Mercury Records and Warner Bros. Records produced only a couple of charted singles, but Riley remained highly in demand as a concert artist well into the 1980s.

In the 1970s, she became a Born Again Christian and began recording gospel music.[7] As result of her conversion, she distanced herself from the song for a time, due to its content. However, it was never removed from her live set and she still performs it. In 1980, she published her autobiography, From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top, which told her story of stardom in pop music to moving more into gospel music. The following year, she released a new gospel album with the same title.



Year Album Chart Positions RIAA
US Country US CAN
1968 Sock Soul
Harper Valley PTA 1 12 5 Gold
1969 Yearbooks and Yesterdays 9 187
Things Go Better with Love 14 142
1970 Country Girl 25
The Generation Gap 34
1971 The Girl Most Likely
Greatest Hits 22
Jeannie 34
1972 Give Myself a Party
Down to Earth 43
The World of Country
1973 When Love Has Gone Away 40
Just Jeannie
1977 From Nashville with Love
1979 Wings to Fly
1981 From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top
1984 Total Woman
1986 Jeannie C. Riley
1991 Here's Jeannie C.
1995 Praise Him
The Best
2000 Good Ol' Country


Year Song Chart Positions Album
US Country US CAN Country CAN
1968 "Harper Valley PTA"A 1 1 1 1 Harper Valley PTA
"The Girl Most Likely" 6 55 1 34 Yearbooks and Yesterdays
1969 "The Price I Pay to Stay" 35 22 Sock Soul
"There Never Was a Time" 5 77 12 76 Things Go Better With Love
"The Rib" 32 111
"The Back Side of Dallas" 33
"Things Go Better With Love"B 34 111 3
1970 "Country Girl" 7 106 16 The Generation Gap
"Duty Not Desire" 21 13
"My Man" 60
"The Generation Gap"C 62
1971 "Oh Singer" 4 74 5 62 Jeannie
"Good Enough to Be Your Wife" 7 97 22 67
"Roses and Thorns" 15 15
"The Lion's Club" 36 N/A
"Houston Blues" 47 Give Myself a Party
1972 "Give Myself a Party" 12 37
"Good Morning Country Rain" 30
"One Night" 57 Down on Earth
1973 "When Love Has Gone Away" 44 When Love Has Gone Away
"Hush" 51 Just Jeannie
"Another Football Year" 57 N/A
1974 "Missouri" Just Jeannie
"Plain Vanilla" (with The Red River Symphony) 89 N/A
1976 "The Best I've Ever Had" 94
"Pure Gold"
1977 "Reach for Me"
1979 "It's Wings That Make Birds Fly" Wings to Fly
1982 "From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top" From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top
1984 "Return to Harper Valley" Total Woman
1991 "Here's to the Cowboys"[8] Here's Jeannie C.

Awards and nominations

Year Award Program Award Result
1968 Grammy Awards Record of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA" Nominated
Best New Artist Nominated
Best Female Country Vocal Performance "Harper Valley PTA" Won
CMA Awards Single of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA" Won
Album of the Year, "Harper Valley PTA" Nominated
Female Vocalist of the Year Nominated
1969 Grammy Awards Best Female Country Vocal Performance, "The Back Side of Dallas" Nominated
CMA Awards "Female Vocalist of the Year" Nominated


  1. 1 2 3 Archived August 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. 1 2 Archived June 12, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. 1 2 Archived August 26, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 246–247. ISBN 978-0-214-20512-5.
  5. "Harper Valley, U.S.A. (1969)". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  6. "Jeannie C. Riley". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  7. Murphy, Brien. 'Harper Valley' singer finds strength in faith. Abilene Reporter-News, August 12, 2000. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
  8. "Single Reviews" (PDF). Billboard. July 20, 1991.
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