Tanya Tucker And 'Delta Dawn:' From Teen Star To Wild Child

Music | September 27, 2018

Left: Tanya Tucker circa 1983, photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images. Right: Tucker on the cover of her 1980 album 'Dreamlovers.' Source: discogs.com

When the 1972 top-ten hit "Delta Dawn," Tanya Tucker became an instant and major country star. Listeners were amazed to hear such soulful, emotional, mature singing vocals come out of a young girl. That’s because “Delta Dawn” was sung by the then-13-year old Tanya Tucker. In fact, this was her first in a string of hits that spanned the next few decades. The 1970s saw Tanya Tucker as a teenage country star, yet she was able to mature into a popular entertainer and a member of the Outlaw Country movement of the late 1970s. Let us take a look at Tanya Tucker and the iconic song that propelled her to stardom. 

Everyone Thought Tanya’s Sister Was The Talented One

When Tanya Tucker was born in 1958, she joined two older brothers and an older sister, along with her parents Jesse and Juanita Tucker. Although the family moved a lot, young Tanya spent much of her childhood in Willcox, Arizona. The family loved music and attended concerts together where they saw such entertainers as Ernest Tubb and Mel Tillis. Tanya’s sister, LaCosta, took on the role as the musically talented one in the family. She loved to sing and perform and was quite good at it. A young, 8-year old Tanya announced to their father that she, too, wanted to be a country singer, just like her sister. 

Tanya Tucker Auditioned For 'Jeremiah Johnson'

Before she was even a teenager, Tanya moved to St. George, Utah, with her family. There, her mother escorted her to an audition for a role in the movie Jeremiah Johnson (1972), which was filming nearby. Tanya didn’t land the larger role that she auditioned for but she did impress the director. He cast her in a bit role. 

Tucker Performed At The Arizona State Fair

By this time, Tucker’s father, Jesse, was starting to realize that both his daughters were musically talented. He believed in Tanya’s singing so much that he drove her all the way from Utah to Phoenix to see if they could convince the Arizona State Fair to allow her to sing with the featured performer, Judy Lynn. Tanya wowed the fair’s entertainment directors and earned a spot on the Fair’s grandstand stage. This break led to more. 

Tanya Tucker Became An 11-Year Old Vegas Performer

Tanya Tucker performed with country music legend Mel Tillis, who was so impressed by the young girl’s ability that he encouraged her to perform in Las Vegas. The Tucker family moved to Vegas in 1969 and the then-eleven year old regularly sang at various events around the city. These concerts caught the attention of music producers and songwriters. She recorded a demo tape for songwriter, Dolores Fuller, who forwarded the recording on to the head of CBS Records, Billy Sherrill. Tucker signed her first recording contract with Sherrill and Columbia Records when she turned 13 years old. 

Tanya Tucker Becomes 'Delta Dawn'

Billy Sherrill planned to have the young Tanya Tucker record “The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA” as her debut single but then heard Bette Midler’s rendition of “Delta Dawn” and wanted Tucker to try that song out. The song was an unlikely choice for a 13-year old. The tune tells the story of a disheartened 41-year old faded Southern belle who is still holding out hope that a handsome stranger who once tried to woo her will return to sweep her off her feet. 

Tucker’s 'Delta Dawn' Got Attention Due To Her Age

While it may seem hard to believe that a young teenager could sing as a mournful middle-aged woman, Tucker delivered an impressive performance. Columbia Records first tried to keep Tucker’s age on the down low but that couldn’t last long. Once word got out that “Delta Dawn” had been recorded by a 13-year old, both Tucker and “Delta Dawn” became a sensation. 

Tanya Tucker Is Still Grateful For The Song

Even after all these years, Tanya Tucker remains grateful that she had the opportunity to record “Delta Dawn” as a teen. She once told a magazine reporter, “I thank the lucky stars and the Good Lord for that song. I was fortunate to latch onto that one and that was all Sherrill’s doing. If it hadn’t been for Sherrill, I probably would have been a rodeo queen or something.”

Tanya Tucker Was A Teen Country Star Of The Seventies

Throughout the 1970s, Tanya Tucker was known for being a teen country star. She recorded numerous other hits, including “Love’s the Answer,” “What’s your Mama’s Name?”, “Blood Red and Goin’ Down” and “Would You Lay with Me (In a Field of Stone).” She produced a string of Top-10 and Top-40 hits, released several albums and gathered several Country Music Association award nominations. 

Tanya Tucker Changed Her Image

In 1978, at age 20, Tanya Tucker decided it was time to change her image to a more mature and sexy persona. Her next album, TNT, featured more rock-style cross-over songs and a sexy photograph of her on the album’s cover. Her transformation caught the world’s attention and Tanya Tucker made it clear that she wasn’t a teenage singing sensation anymore…she was a full-fledged country music star. 

An Outlaw

The Outlaw Country movement hit the entertainment industry in the 1970s and was represented by such artists as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr. and Waylon Jennings. Tanya Tucker was one of the few and best-known female country artists to also fall into this classification of country music. The Outlaw sound was defined as more raw and honky-tonk than traditional, clean-cut country music. Tucker’s raspy voice fit the genre perfectly. 

Tucker’s Newer, Sexier Image Extended To Off-Stage As Well

Glen Campbell and Tanya Tucker

Young, attractive and sexy, Tanya Tucker was romantically linked to several of the hottest entertainers of the late 1970s and 1980s. She dated Glen Campbell, Andy Gibb, Merle Haggard and Don Johnson. She had two children with the actor Ben Reed and another with Nashville musician Jerry Laseter. 

Tanya Tucker Could Party

Tanya Tucker and Grace Jones out on the town. Source: Pinterest

Tanya Tucker became known for her hard-partying ways, and was dubbed a "wild child" of country music -- and has never apologized for them. In the preface to her 1997 memoir Nickel Dreams, she wrote:

This book isn't a body count. I'm not going to write down a list of all the men I've slept with or every drug I've ever taken or glass of whiskey I've thrown back. But neither am I going to list every charity concert I've performed or every sick child I've visited, just to show you I'm a good-hearted old girl.

In 1988, Tucker did a six-month stint at the Betty Ford Clinic -- which she called "Camp Betty" -- trying to get over her substance problems. But she never quite bought it. "I believe that for many people the counseling and classes make all the difference in the world," she writes. "But not me. I just didn't relate to people lecturing me." 

Tucker Struggled After The 1970s But Still Performs Today

But Tucker proved able to right her own ship, again and again. In the 1980s and 1990s, Tanya Tucker struggled to redefine her music, battled drug and alcohol use and staged a series of comebacks -- remarkably, earning the 1991 CMA Female Entertainer of the Year award nearly 20 years after "Delta Dawn." The star is still going strong. She founded Tuckertime Records and released an album with Vince Gill. In June of 2017, Tanya Tucker was named one of Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Country Artists of All Time. 

Tags: 1970s Country Music | Country Music | Delta Dawn | Ladies | Outlaw Country | Song Meanings, Lyrics, And Facts | Tanya Tucker

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Karen Harris


Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.