K.T. Oslin, Country Star of the '80s and '90s, Dies at 78

K.T. Oslin
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K.T. Oslin performs in concert as part of the 9th Annual Texas Heritage Songwriters' Hall of Fame Awards Show at ACL Live on June 22, 2014 in Austin, Texas.

K.T. Oslin, country singer-songwriter and hitmaker of the late '80s and early '90s, has died. Music Row first broke the news -- since confirmed in a statement by the Country Music Association -- while also reporting that Oslin had been suffering from Parkinson's disease, and was diagnosed with COVID-19 the week before, though it is still unclear how much either contributed to her death. She was 78.

Oslin, born Kay Toinette Oslin in Crossett, Arkansas in 1942, had an unusual path to country stardom. Performing in folk acts in the '60s and starring in theatrical productions in the '70s, it wasn't until she was well into her 40s that she found major success as a country singer, following her discovery in Nashville by producer Harold Shedd during the mid-'80s.

After signing to RCA and rebranding as "K.T.," Oslin released her debut album 80's Ladies in 1987. The sweeping, nostalgic title track ballad was a breakout hit, only peaking at No. 7 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart but winning song of the year at the 1988 CMA Awards -- the first-ever female songwriter winner in the category -- and best country vocal performance, female at the '88 Grammys. It became Oslin's signature song and established the earthy Oslin as a star, as Ladies' next two singles ("Do Ya" and "I'll Always Come Back") both topped Hot Country Songs, and she also appeared on labelmates Alabama's own chart-topping "Face to Face."

Oslin's sophomore album This Woman was similarly successful, following '80s Ladies to RIAA-certified platinum status and introducing another three Country Songs top five hits in "Hold Me" (No. 1), "Hey Bobby" (No. 2) and the title track (No. 5). The set took home album of the year at the 1988 Academy of Country Music awards, while the man-and-wife odyssey "Hold Me" won best country song at the next year's Grammys. Oslin's music videos, narrative-driven clips often interspersed with dramatic dialogue, also found great success during this period on rising country music video channels TNN and CMT.

Third album Love in a Small Town spun off Oslin's fourth No. 1 hit in 1990 with the breakup-to-be song "Come Next Monday," but the set's other singles were less successful, and the LP sold less than its predecessors. As country's sound evolved and scale expanded in the '90s, Oslin retired from touring and would not release another album until 1996's Americana-themed My Roots Are Showing, which failed to hit the Billboard 200 albums chart or spawn a top 40 hit on Country Songs.

Though her days as a hitmaker were largely over, Oslin stayed visible throughout the '90s as a television guest star and late-night host, and appeared in the 1993 Peter Bogdanovich film The Thing Called Love. She recorded two more albums: 2001's Live Close By, Visit Often, and 2015's Simply, before retiring from music. Her legacy was recognized in 2014 with her induction into the Texas Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2018.

Acclaimed '10s country singer-songwriter Brandy Clark paid homage to Oslin with a series of tweets this morning, recalling first meeting the Nashville veteran backstage in 2013. "Larger than life, smart, funny, elegant, beautiful....the list could go on and on," she described Oslin. "I’ll never forget our conversation that night, just like I’ll never forget KT and her music."

Sarah Trahern, CEO of the Country Music Association, also issued a statement about Oslin, saying she "had one of the most soulful voices in Country Music and was a strong influence for women with her hit ‘80's Ladies...' She truly had one of the best voices in the history of our format. Our thoughts go out to her loved ones at this difficult time.”