She’s had almost 30 years to get used to the name Crystal Gayle, but every once in awhile Brenda Gail Webb finds herself still responding to the name Brenda.
“I’ve been Crystal for so long now that I’ve gotten used to it, but sometimes at family gatherings, my aunts and uncles will still call me Brenda. And, every once in awhile, we’ll go out and someone will say, ‘Hey Brenda’ and I start to respond before I realize they aren’t talking to me,” the multi-talented country legend said.
Crystal was just a teenager in southern Indiana when her big sister Loretta Lynn and her phenomenal voice helped her land a record deal. The problem was that the company already had one superstar named Brenda, Brenda Lee.
To avoid confusion, the company wanted Crystal to choose a new name. “I was so happy to have time in the recording studio, they could have called me anything,” she recalled, the smile evident in her voice.
Now touted as a legend of country music, Crystal began her career as little more than Loretta Lynn’s little sister. Since then, she has sung on the Great Wall of China, been the first female country music artist to go platinum and had several “crossover” hits, leading the way for artists to record a country song and have it fly to the top of the pop music charts.
Her most famous hits are country staples, including her anthem “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and her duet with Eddie Rabbit, “You and I”. But her first hit was written by big sister Loretta, “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)”.
Aside from her youth, her voice and her sister, one of the early trademarks of Crystal’s career was her hair, and it is still one of the things she is asked about most often.
“I’m thinking I should write a hair care book,” she said. “I get asked about it more than anything, but I never meant for it to be a factor in my career. My hair was just long, to my waist, and I decided to see if I could grow it longer.”
Crystal credits her Cherokee heritage for her luxurious, floor-length hair. “I’ve always been lucky enough to have very healthy hair,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean it has always been easy. “It certainly isn’t the kind of thing where you can just hop out of the shower and be ready to go,” she said. “It takes some planning.”
And, when she has given outdoor concerts on windy days, it has taken hours to brush her hair out after the show was done. But, every time she has considered cutting it, her daughter has reminded her that the hair has become part of who she is, much like the name Crystal.
Brenda took her stage name from a suggestion from her sister and her middle name Gail. Then, she ran with it.
“At first it was a little like having a split personality,” she said. But once she got accustomed to being Crystal, the name stayed. She even named her store, an upscale gift shop in Nashville, Crystal’s. The store was there for xx years, but closed this summer.
“We had been talking about it for a year, after deciding it was time to do something else without lives,” she said, adding that her husband Bill did most of the work for the store. “Mostly, I just shopped.”
Crystal is a friendly and open woman, talking happily about the transition from her childhood to country music superstardom. She even took a minute to contribute to our on-going series about how to save money and still have a wonderful holiday season.
“When I was young, we got what we needed for Christmas, not what we wanted. We got socks and underwear,” she said, with a little laugh. Her favorite gift growing up: a toy piano.
“For us, the holidays really were about friends and family. My mother’s door was always open,” she said. As the youngest of eight children, Crystal said her favorite part of the holidays was having her brothers and sisters come home again.
Though she was born in Kentucky, Crystal spent most of her childhood in southern Indiana after moving there when she was four. As an adult, she has made her home in Nashville where she has tried to instill some of those traditional values she grew up with.
“It’s hard, when the world has become so commercialized,” she said, “but we try to concentrate on what’s really important – faith, family and friends.”
“It’s hard for children these days and we hope to instill in our children the things my mother gave me, the joy of sitting around together and stringing popcorn, making things, going to free events. Mostly, it’s about being with your children. That’s what they really want.”
“I do know a lot of people who are having to tighten their belts and we have to feel like if we have food on the table and a roof over our heads, we have a lot to be thankful for,” Crystal said.
Still, she said, it might just be that the country needs a woman’s touch. “I’m always amazed at the people who think that a woman who stays at home doesn’t work. Traditionally, it has been the woman that balances the family budget and makes sure that the bills get paid.”
“I have the utmost respect for women who stay home with their children and I know those who work outside the home have it even that much harder,” she said.
Crystal cut back on the world wide touring when her daughter was ready to start school and her son was a newborn, but credits her husband’s efforts at home with her ability to keep her career going at all. They chose to be directly involved in raising their children and avoid nannies and tutors, but that doesn’t mean Crystal disrespects those who have assistance.
“I have a great respect for Angelina Jolie. There is no way she could do what she does without the assistance of a nanny, but she is giving those children a chance, a better life, by opening her heart to them,” she said.
Not surprisingly, Crystal has recorded gospel albums as well as her award-winning country albums, a Christmas album or two, and most recently an album of children’s music that she decided to do after an appearance on Sesame Street and a duet with Big Bird.
One of her Gospel albums featured more contemporary Christian music and the other featured long-time favorites, learned at her mother’s side, including “The Old Rugged Cross”.
Fans attending the concert on Saturday should expect to hear all their Crystal favorites including her greatest hits and the best Christmas music around.
She has worked hard over the years to keep her voice in shape, trying not to get sick, she said. “A positive attitude really helps and all those things your mother taught you, especially to wash your hands,” she said.
Taking care of the voice that made her famous is just one of the things Crystal takes very seriously and she has a shelf full of awards to prove it. Her first major ward was Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1976 from the Academy of Country Music. This promise was realized when Crystal was named Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year three times by the Academy of Country Music, twice by the Country Music Association and three times at the American Music Awards. Crystal won a Grammy for her extraordinary performance of her world-wide hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” The American Music Awards also recognized her artistry and beauty by naming her its Favorite Female Country Video Artist.
All the information in this article is from a personal interview conducted with Crystal Gayle.