K.T. Oslin — a groundbreaking country artist and member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame — died Monday at age 78.
Oslin, who rose to fame with the 1987 hit “80s Ladies,” had been battling Parkinson’s disease in recent years. Her death was confirmed by the Country Music Association and first reported by friend and country music historian Robert K. Oermann (via Music Row).
Oslin had been staying in an assisted living facility since 2016. She was diagnosed with COVID-19 last week, but “it is unclear whether this contributed to her death on Monday morning,” Oermann said.
Oslin was 45 when the self-penned “80s Ladies” made her a country star. The song — about three women who’ve lived several lifetimes before reaching middle age — was an inspired introduction. But as Oslin told The Tennessean in 1987, “it’s indeed not my life story — it’s everybody’s life story.”
“We were the girls of the ’50s,” she sang. “Stoned rock and rollers in the ’60s/
And more than our names got changed/ As the ’70s slipped on by/ Now we’re ’80s ladies/ There ain’t been much these ladies ain’t tried.”
A string of country hits followed over the next three years, including the chart-toppers “Do Ya,” “I’ll Always Come Back,” “Hold Me” and “Come Next Monday.” In 1988, she became the first female songwriter to win the CMA Award for Song of the Year.
But ahead of country stardom, the Arkansas native had already enjoyed a colorful 20-year career in show business. Raised in Houston, Texas, Oslin made some her earliest music in a folk trio that also included future songwriting legend Guy Clark.
After majoring in drama at Lon Morris College, she joined the road company of “Hello Dolly!” in 1966, and moved to New York to join the show’s Broadway production. In the ’70s she also had roles in “Promises Promises,” “West Side Story” and “Darling of the Day,” and sang TV commercial jingles.
By the dawn of the 1980s, her gift for songwriting had emerged. As her compositions began to be shopped in Nashville, Oslin signed to Elektra Records and released the 1981 single “Clean Your Own Tables,” which peaked at No. 72. The follow-up, 1982’s “Younger Men,” failed to chart, and would be Oslin’s last release for five years.
At the same time, she was celebrated for her songwriting: Oslin was named “Most Promising Country Music Writer” by SESAC for her contributions to Gail Davies’ “Giving Herself Away” album.
Everything changed in 1987 with “80s Ladies” and its album of the same name, with accomplished country producer Harold Shedd at the helm. Suddenly, Oslin was a star at 45 — and her age was a prominent part of the story.
“Usually people at this stage are in their 20s and have all this energy,” she told The Tennessean that year.
“I am not young and 22; I am not full of ignorance. I think I will enjoy some of it more and some of it less. I would rather be starting now than have it end now.”
1988’s “This Woman” and 1990’s “Love In a Small Town” rounded out a trilogy of hit albums for RCA. That run also netted three Grammy Awards, including Best Country Song for “Hold Me.” At the same time, Oslin’s songs were cut by the likes of Dan Seals Anne Murray and Dusty Springfield.
Between her newfound stardom and stage experience, Oslin made a natural transition to roles in TV and film. She co-starred with Carol Burnett on the comedy legend’s 1991 revival of her variety show, and appeared in the Nashville-made feature film “The Thing Called Love” in 1993.
Two more albums followed over the next 10 years: the back-to-basics collection “Showing My Roots” in 1996 and 2001’s “Live Close By, Visit Often.”
She continued to perform into her 70s, celebrating the 25th anniversary of “80s Ladies” with a sold-out concert at the Franklin Theatre in 2013.
In 2018, she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. At the announcement press conference, she said it was “wonderful” to be recognized by the songwriting community, and “especially now.”
“I’ve been stricken with Parkinson’s disease,” she said from the podium. “Half the universe seems like they’re getting it. So this is special.”
In 2015, Oslin released her final album, “Simply” — a collection of re-recorded hits and one new song.
“We’re not trying to get back on a label or make a big splash with this,” she told The Tennessean ahead of its release.
“…We’d love to do some shows. It’s kind of difficult: You have to be an arena act or work all the time, and I’m not going to do either one of those. I never plan ahead … we’ll see what happens.”
On Monday, Oslin was remembered by a number of prominent country artists, including the Oak Ridge Boys, Travis Tritt, Brandy Clark and Chely Wright, who called her “a pioneer in every sense of the word” on social media.
“She waltzed in with her brilliant songs, her unmatched intellect, her perfectly foul mouth and she changed everything— forever. “
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.