Wanda Faye, a short-term Columbia Records recording artist who sang with country legends like Glen Campbell, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubbs, Minnie Pearl and Roy Orbison, has died. The New Mexico native who found a niche in local country music circles after settling down in south Modesto passed away Thursday at the age of 89. Her 10-year struggle with dementia ended at Hy-Lond Convalescent Hospital in Modesto.
“Her life was very adventurous,” said Nelson Rogers, her only son. “She loved to share her music with everyone. She’s outlived everyone she’s played with. She outlived three husbands.”
While she achieved only limited fame with some of her music making the top 10 in country charts, Wanda Faye is hailed as a local legend in the museum operated by the Historical Society of Southeast New Mexico in her birth town of Roswell, N.M. Her first guitar, a 1953 Ginsburg, is on display there at the Wanda Faye exhibit.
In 2003 she was recognized by the Western Swing Society Music Hall of Fame in Sacramento.
Born into a musical family on Oct. 24, 1929, Wanda Faye Narmore was playing piano, guitar and singing at the age of nine. She once said that her father, John Narmore, sold a heifer to buy Wanda Faye a piano. By the time Faye was 12, she had joined the family band and performed anywhere that would pay the family $25. When she was a teen, Wanda was offered her own show on the local radio station in Roswell, KGFL, where she met and sang with an upcoming country music star named William “Lefty” Frizzell.
Wanda married fiddle player Bob Wolf and together they recorded for the Folk Star and King records and regularly performed live on San Antonio radio station WBAP in front of a live audience of 3,000. One of the headliners at that time was Sonny James.
In 1951, the couple put together The Sunset Westerners and played all over the Pecos Valley including churches, theaters and store grand openings. The Wolfs also guest performed on the Louisiana Hayride broadcast on KWKH. They also played in New York where they then opened for Faron Young and Mac Wiseman. Their song, “Down Yonder” made #4 on the national Billboard charts in November 1951.
After the marriage fell apart Wanda married Weldon Rogers, a radio announcer musician, and song writer. In 1958 Weldon and Wanda Rogers made music that was promoted on the radio through his radio show. They recorded about 30 songs for Jewel, Peach Petal and Chart record labels and one of their songs, “Everybody Wants You” featured the guitar talents of Glen Campbell. Weldon wrote and recorded, “I’m Hangin’ Up the Phone.” When Carl and Pearl Butler recorded the song it remained in the top 15 on the Billboard Magazine charts for seven weeks, eventually topping out at number 3.
Faye once said her highlight of her career was when Columbia Records signed her as an artist, which led to the recording of “The Longest Night” which reached number 4 on the Billboard charts in 1966. In 1964 Wanda record “Old Memories Keep Returning,” which was her personal favorite, said her son.
When she was 32 Faye appeared live on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville where she was introduced by Carl Smith as “Miss Wanda Faye.” The moniker stuck. After the show she met Mother Maybelle Carter and daughter Helen Carter, who married Johnny Cash. Faye later got to perform with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
A resurgent interest in Wanda Faye’s music came about with a newer generation of fans in 1998 in Germany when Bear Records released a CD of 14 duets sung by Weldon and Wanda Rogers.
Nelson Rogers said his mother’s music continues to be played on KWPX, known as Cowpoke Radio. The Tracy station concentrates on country, western swing, hillbilly and bluegrass artists who worked the Highway 99 circuit of Central California in the 1940s through the 1960s.
A funeral service has been set for 10 a.m. on Friday, March 15 at the Ceres Chapel of Franklin & Downs. Plans are to play some of her music during the service. Burial will follow at Ceres Memorial Park.
Behind her son, Mrs. Faye leaves behind brother Ray Narmore of Keyes; and three grandchildren.
Some of Faye’s recordings can be heard online at www.wandafaye.net/music