From humble beginnings in rural northwest Tasmania, Jean Stafford became Australia’s official Queen of Country Music.
Stafford is Australia’s most awarded female country artist with over 100 accolades, including gold and platinum albums and number one hits in Australia, Europe, the United States and New Zealand.
During her six decades in the business, Stafford has borrowed a coat from Johnny Cash’s wife, June, received the keys to Nashville, and developed close friendships with the royal family.
“I didn’t expect it to happen, but I’ve always loved country music, from a young age,” Stafford said.
Stafford is part of the lineup for this year’s Festival of Voices winter song festival, performing as part of the Tasmanian Songbook in Devonport, Launceston and Hobart.
She will join compatriots, The Wolfe Brothers, as well as Claire Ann Taylor, Glenn Richards and Jed Appleton.
Despite her successes around the world, Stafford said that playing at home in Tasmania remained special.
“It’s so exciting,” she said.
“It’s very important to me.”
From Meander to Tamworth
Stafford was born in Latrobe, near Devonport in northwestern Tasmania, before growing up in a small house in rural Meander with no electricity.
She was listening to Launceston station 7LA on a transistor radio.
She learned guitar and looked for local talent before appearing on ShowTime, a popular Launceston TNT-9 television program, at age 12.
In 1973, she won a 7LA talent show and signed a deal with 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.
“I was a bit out of my depth at the time because I was coming out of Meander, which was one way in and one way,” Stafford said.
Stafford was crowned Queen of Country Music in 1989 by music legend Smoky Dawson in front of a fan-packed Sydney theater.
“No one could even have imagined that this would happen to me,” she said.
Stafford said she’s put a lot of effort into country music, but didn’t expect to get the credit.
Her music took her to Nashville, where she has recorded music and even got the keys to the city.
Stafford said she thought she was in heaven when she arrived in 1983.
“I’ve met people I grew up with and idolized,” she said.
She met Kitty Wells, the queen of country music in the United States.
“I’d say she was the world’s queen of country music,” Stafford said.
Her relationship with Wells went from fan to friend to collaborator.
She said during their first meeting that they were eating fried chicken in her office when a busload of fans passed by.
“She introduced me to all her fans and told them who I was,” said Stafford.
“From there we became really good friends.”
When Wells came to Australia in 1998, the pair toured together as the two queens.
In 1992, Stafford was named Tasmania’s Honorary Commissioner for Tourism to the United States, with her song Tassie’s Got it All reportedly reaching 500 million people.
Stafford has lived in Sydney, Tamworth, Nashville and Queensland.
About eight years ago she returned to Tasmania with partner, manager and guitarist Wayne Appleby.
Her three children call the northwest home of the state.
Stafford is normally on tour for 12 months of the year, but has not toured since 2019 due to the pandemic.
She will perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in November.
“To me it means everything,” Stafford said.
“We’ve always called it the home church of country music.
“Everyone 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 later this year and record more music.
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