Country music artist Jean Stafford’s rise from the Tasmanian Festival of Voices to Nashville

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

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 United States and New Zealand.

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

“I didn’t expect it to happen, but I always loved country music from a very, very young age,” Stafford said.

Stafford is on the program for this year’s Festival of Voices winter song festival and performs as part of the Tasmanian songbook in Devonport, Launceston and Hobart.

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

Despite his successes around the world, Stafford said playing in Tasmania was still something special.

“It’s so exciting,” he said.

“It is very important to me”.

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

From Meander to Tamworth

Stafford was born in Latrobe, near Devonport in north-west Tasmania, before growing up in a small house in rural Meander with no electricity.

He listened to Launceston station 7LA on a transistor radio.

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

He learned guitar and participated in local talent searches before appearing on ShowTime, a popular Launceston TNT-9 television show, when he was 12 years old.

In 1973 he won a 7LA talent search and was signed to Hadley’s Records.

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

“It was a little out of my league at the time because I was coming from Meander, which was one way in and one way out,” Stafford said.

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

crowned queen

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

“No one could have imagined that this would happen to me,” he said.

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Stafford said he was very into country music, 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 he thought he was in heaven when he arrived in 1983.

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

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

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

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

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

Charging

He said that at their first meeting they were eating fried chicken in his 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 really good friends.”

When Wells arrived in Australia in 1998, the pair toured together as the two queens.

In 1992, Stafford was appointed Honorary Commissioner of Tourism for Tasmania in the United States, and her song Tassie’s Got it All is said to have reached 500 million people.

vintage photo of a woman with lots of hair and a large gold buckle leaning against a black car in the 1980s
Country music queen Jean Stafford in Nashville in 1983.(Supplied: Jean Stafford)

still recording

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

He returned home to Tasmania with his partner, manager and guitarist Wayne Appleby about eight years ago.

His three children call the Northwest State home.

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

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

“It means everything to me,” Stafford said.

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

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

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

a woman with long hair and sunglasses looks at the camera smiling
Stafford was crowned queen of country music in 1989.(Supplied: Jean Stafford)

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