Wells was born Ellen Muriel Deason in Nashville and began playing the guitar at the age of 14. In 1938, at the age of 20, she married Johnnie Wright and the two soon began touring. She took her stage name from the folk song "Sweet Kitty Wells."
Known as the "Queen of Country Music," Wells recorded 50 albums in her lifetime and had 25 Top 10 country hits. In 1952, she became the first solo female artist to have the No. 1 country hit with her song "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels." Some of her other hits included "The Things I Might Have Been," "Release Me," "Heartbreak USA" and the 1955 song "Making Believe," which landed on the Mississippi Burning soundtrack 33 years later.
"Kitty Wells was every female country music performer's heroine," singer Barbara Mandrell said in a statement. "She led the way for all of us and I feel very grateful and honored to have known her. She was always the most gracious, kind and lovely person to be around."
In 1976, Wells was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Wells and Wright, who died in 2011, had three children, eight grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.