Songwriter Marijohn Wilkin, who co-wrote the classic ballad “Long Black Veil” and other hits, died Saturday at her Nashville home at age 86. Wilkin had been ill for some time with heart problems, said Patsy Bruce, a long-time friend and music executive.
In addition to penning hit songs over a career that began in the 1950s, Wilkin recorded as a backup singer and founded Buckhorn Music publishers, where Kris Kristofferson got his songwriting start in 1965.
Wilkin’s songs were performed by stars including Johnny Cash, the Beatles, Patsy Cline and Rod Stewart. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1975.
Wilkin was born in Kemp, Texas, and worked as a music teacher after college. She began her writing and performing career in Springfield, Mo., then moved to Nashville where she and John Loudermilk wrote “Waterloo,” which topped both country and pop charts in 1959.
“Long Black Veil” was co-written with Danny Dill in 1959. Honky-tonk singer Lefty Frizzell recorded the song within days of it being written and it was a top-10 single.
In addition to being a signature hit for Cash, the song about a false accusation of murder was recorded by Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, the Band, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Springsteen and others.
Another pop hit, “Cut Across Shorty,” recorded by both Eddie Cochran and Carl Smith in 1960, was revived by rocker Rod Stewart in 1970 and again in 1993.
Wilkin was widowed once and divorced twice. She struggled with alcohol abuse and depression. After a religious conversion in the 1970s, she and Kristofferson wrote the enduring gospel favorite “One Day at a Time,” and she devoted her songwriting to gospel music. Her 1978 autobiography is called “Lord Let Me Leave a Song.”
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