Much like Jeanne Pruett a few years later, Marijohn Wilkin became a successful female songwriter during the days when male domination was near-complete. Cindy Walker and Felice Bryant had found significant success before Wilkin hit town, largely inspired by the latter’s work. Before she broke ground as a female songwriter, she had earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English, graduating in 1941. She went on to become a school teacher, but she had caught the music bug in college, playing in a cowboy band on campus at Baylor University in Texas.
Seeing the success that Bryant was having in Nashville, Wilkin took the leap and moved to Music City in 1958. She soon was playing at a piano-bar, and earned a low-paying publishing gig that would prove quite prosperous once artists heard her work. The very same year, she found takers for two songs that would become country music standards.
The first, “Waterloo,” was a massive hit for Stonewall Jackson. It was a massive hit, topping the charts for five weeks. Jackson would go on to record many other Wilkin songs, though only two of them cracked the top ten. The second cut, “Long Black Veil,” was a No. 6 hit for Lefty Frizzell, and has since gone on to be covered by everyone from The Band to Sammi Smith, who had her own hit version of it in the seventies. “Long Black Veil” is one of the few country songs from that era that is familiar to fans of contemporary rock music, due to it becoming a Dave Matthews Band concert staple. In several television appearances, he has been backed by Emmylou Harris while performing the song. Johnny Cash featured the song on his own television show, receiving harmony support from Joni Mitchell.
The success of those two songs led to a recording contract for Wilkin, and she released a Civil War concept album in the early sixties. She also did extensive studio work as a backup singer. But her priority remained her songwriting, and she continued to receive an impressive amount of cuts by a variety of artists, such as Jimmy Dean (“P.T. 109”) and Patsy Cline (“Tra Le La Le La Triangle”).
She used her success to found her own publishing company, Buckhorn Music. Through her mentorship and guidance, many young songwriters honed their craft. None has honored her legacy and demonstrated her ability to spot talent than Kris Kristofferson, whose “For the Good Times” became one of Buckhorn’s top-performing titles. Kristofferson also helped her finish a song that developed from a prayer she had written, appealing to God for help. “One Day at a Time” became a gospel standard when sung by Marilyn Sellers in 1973, and topped the country charts years later when covered by Cristy Lane.
- “Waterloo” (Stonewall Jackson), 1958
- “Long Black Veil” (Lefty Frizzell), 1959
- “P. T. 109” (Jimmy Dean), 1962
- “One Day at a Time” (Marilyn Sellers/Cristy Lane), 1974/1980
- The Blue and The Gray (1960)