The rise of Festival of Voices country music artist Jean Stafford from Tasmania to Nashville

From humble beginnings in the rural northwest of Tasmania, Jean Stafford became Australia’s official country music queen.

Stafford is Australia’s most decorated female country artist with over 100 awards, including gold and platinum albums and number one hits in Australia, Europe, the US and New Zealand.

During his six decades in the business, Stafford borrowed a coat from Johnny Cash’s wife, June, received the keys to Nashville and befriended the country’s royalty.

“I never expected this to happen, but I always loved country music from a young age,” Stafford said.

Stafford is part of the line-up for this year’s Winter Singing Festival, performing as part of the Tasmanian songbook in Devonport, Launceston and Hobart.

She will join fellow country icons The Wolfe Brothers, as well as Claire Ann Taylor, Glenn Richards and Jed Appleton.

Despite his success around the world, Stafford said playing on home soil in Tasmania remains special.

“It’s so exciting,” she said.

“It is very important for me.”

Jean Stafford was wearing a coat belonging to June Carter Cash when she received the keys to Nashville.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

From Meander to Tamworth

Stafford was born in Latrobe, near Devonport, in north-west Tasmania, before growing up in a small house without electricity in the Meander countryside.

She was listening to Launceston station 7LA on a transistor.

a woman holding a gold guitar award, smiling at the camera in a white dress
Jean Stafford receives his first Golden Guitar Award.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

She learned the guitar and embarked on local talent scouts before appearing on ShowTime, a popular Launceston TNT-9 TV show, aged 12.

In 1973, she won a 7LA talent quest and signed a contract with Hadley’s Records.

She recorded her first solo album at Tamworth and won a Golden Guitar Award – the first Australian female act to win an award at Tamworth.

“I was a bit overwhelmed at the time because I was coming from Meander, which was an in route and an out route,” Stafford said.

two women on stage holding microphones
Jean Stafford performs with her daughter, Sherry.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

crowned queen

Stafford was crowned Queen of Country Music in front of a packed Sydney theater by music legend Smoky Dawson in 1989.

“No one could have even guessed this was going to happen to me,” she said.

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Australia’s ‘country music queen’ Jean Stafford to perform at Festival of Voices
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Stafford said she had done a lot of country music work, but didn’t expect to receive the honor.

Her music brought her to Nashville, where she recorded music and even received the keys to the city.

Stafford said she thought she was in heaven when she arrived in 1983.

“I met people I grew up with and idolized,” she said.

a woman with long blond hair wearing a cowboy hat smiling at the camera
Jean Stafford will return to the United States later this year to record more music.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

She met Kitty Wells, the queen of country music in the United States.

“I would say she was the country music queen of the world,” Stafford said.

His relationship with Wells went from fan to friend to collaborator.

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She said when they first met they were eating fried chicken in her office when a busload of fans arrived.

“She introduced me to all her fans and told them who I was,” Stafford said.

“We went from that to being very good friends.”

When Wells came to Australia in 1998, the couple toured together as two queens.

In 1992 Stafford was made Tasmania’s Honorary Commissioner of Tourism in the United States, with her song Tassie’s Got it All reportedly reaching 500 million people.

a vintage photo of a woman with big hair and a big gold belt buckle leaning on a black car in the 1980s
Country music queen Jean Stafford in Nashville in 1983.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

Still recording

Stafford has lived in Sydney, Tamworth, Nashville and Queensland.

She returned home to Tasmania with her partner, manager and guitarist Wayne Appleby around eight years ago.

Her three children call the northwest state home.

Stafford is usually on the road touring 12 months a year, but hasn’t toured since 2019 due to the pandemic.

She will perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in November.

“To me, that means everything,” Stafford said.

“We’ve always called it the church of country music.

“Anyone who’s ever been somebody in country music in America has stood on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. To me, that’s part of our history.”

Stafford and Appleby plan to return to the United States and record more music later this year.

big haired woman wearing sunglasses looks at camera smiling
Stafford was crowned Queen of Country Music in 1989.(Provided: Jean Stafford)

Job , updated

Toya J. Bell