100 Greatest Women, #36: Donna Fargo

100 Greatest Women

#36

Donna Fargo

She was country music’s sunshine superwoman, singing sprightly love songs and positive thinking anthems. There was a sharp mind behind the big smile, as many of her biggest hits came from her own pen.

She had actually put her warm personality to use in the classroom before pursuing a music career. Though she was a native of North Carolina, she moved west to California for college. She ended up staying there, getting her degree and becoming a high school English teacher. She was already head of the department when she met Stan Silver, who’d become both her manager and husband.

She began playing clubs at night while teaching during the day, and her talent was noticed on the West Coast. She recorded for small labels and released unsuccessful singles, but the ACM, which was still emphasizing artists from the region at their awards, named her Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1970.

The Dot label saw potential in one of her recordings, and picked up “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” for release. The song was a smash, topping the country charts and crossing over to the pop charts. It won her two ACM’s, a Grammy and a CMA award. She followed it up with the equally popular “Funny Face”, another #1 hit. Since both songs were featured on the Happiest Girl album, it also went #1 on its way to gold sales. The ACM named it Album of the Year and Donna Fargo the Top Female Vocalist in 1973.

Fargo was a major presence on the country charts throughout the decade. She topped the charts with the feminist-leaning “Superman”, where she told her man in no uncertain terms that if he’s not meeting Superman standards in his responsibilities, he has no business criticizing how she’s doing things. One of her biggest hits came in 1974 with “You Can’t Be a Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine)”, a rare hit that wasn’t written by Fargo herself. It pushed for Christians to practice what they preach, particularly for the sake of their children.

Fargo’s label Dot hit hard times in the mid-seventies, and Warner Bros. coaxed her over to their label, reportedly for a seven-figure sum. She returned the favor by releasing one of her biggest hits in 1976, the #1 “That Was Yesterday.” Fargo’s enduring popularity led to her own syndicated television series, which ran for a season in 1978.

Unfortunately, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis the following year forced a slowdown in her career, though she continued to record and perform. She made a small comeback in 1986 on Mercury records, scoring two top thirty hits. Her last charting single was a reworking of “Soldier Boy” in 1991, timed with the first Gulf War.

In recent years, she’s been honing her writing craft not only through songs, but as a poetry writer, publishing several books of her poems. She also has her own successful line of greeting cards. She’s also been working on her autobiography when she has the spare time. In the summer of 2008, she returned to country radio with her topical single, “We Can Do Better in America”, which is on par with the best of her classic hits.

Donna Fargo

Essential Singles

  • “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”, 1972
  • “Funny Face”, 1972
  • “Superman”, 1973
  • “You Can’t Be a Beacon (If Your Light Don’t Shine)”, 1974
  • “That Was Yesterday”, 1977

Essential Albums

  • The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A., 1972
  • My Second Album, 1973
  • Miss Donna Fargo, 1974
  • Fargo Country, 1977

Industry Awards

  • ACM Most Promising Female Vocalist, 1970
  • ACM Album of the Year (The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.), 1973
  • ACM Single (“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”), 1973
  • ACM Song (“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”), 1973
  • ACM Top Female Vocalist, 1973
  • CMA Single (“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”), 1972
  • Grammy: Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.”), 1973

==> #35. Pam Tillis

<== #37. K. T. Oslin

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2 Comments

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2 Responses to 100 Greatest Women, #36: Donna Fargo

  1. As a child I heard “Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” over and over again on my parents’ radio. Still the song never got old. It is one of the classics.

  2. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    It may be hard for the younger set to remember just how big she was in the mid 70s. She was the first female country artist to have consecutive million selling singles with “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” and “Funny Face” and she was capable of having hits with covers of older hits. Her version of “Don’t Be Angry” is nearly as good as the Stonewall Jackson original and she had a very interesting take on the old Patti Page/ Les Paul & Mary Ford hit “Mockingbird Hill” . Her LPS were all worthwhile

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