Born Brenda Gail Webb in Paintsville, Kentucky, Crystal was raised in Wabash, Indiana. She is the baby of eight children. Loretta is 19 years her senior.
The sisters' coal-miner father died from complications of black-lung disease when Crystal was 8 years old. The traumatized child retreated inward, becoming painfully timid and withdrawn. Her shyness vanished when she sang, however, and this is another reason why the music of You Don't Know Me is so special to her.
When she was a teenager, brothers Junior, Herman and Don began featuring Crystal singing classic country songs in their honky-tonk bands. This was a big help in bringing her out of her shell.
By then, Loretta's star was on the rise in Nashville. She arranged a Decca Records contract for Jay Lee Webb and co-wrote his breakthrough single, "I Come Home A-Drinkin'" of 1967. She did the same for younger sister Peggy Sue with 1969's "I'm Dynamite." (Peggy Sue married country singer Sonny Wright and has sung backup for Crystal in concerts for many years.)
Trying again with Crystal, Loretta engineered a third Decca contract and wrote: "I've Cried the Blue Right Out of My Eyes." In 1970, it became Crystal's first charted country single. Loretta also gave her baby sister a stage name, to avoid confusion with Decca's Brenda Lee. And Loretta urged Crystal to step away from her shadow and find her own style. With no chart success following her hit debut single Crystal left Decca three years later.
Just when she was about to leave Nashville as a country-music failure, Crystal was signed by United Artists Records. Beginning in 1974, she began working with producer Allen Reynolds and issued a string of hugely successful records in a smoother style. She traded country vocal belting for languid, liquid phrasing that was far more individualistic. In so doing, Crystal became one of the defining artists of that era's "countrypolitan" movement that brought country records onto pop-music charts.
Of Crystal Gayle's 35 top-10 country hits to date, 13 have become sizable pop and/or adult-contemporary hits as well. So while she is one of the 10 biggest hit-making country female artists of all time, she is also familiar to millions of non-country listeners.
"Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," "Ready For the Times to Get Better," "Half the Way," her Eddie Rabbitt duet "You and I" and the rest of her hit repertoire have brought Crystal Gayle a trophy case full of honors. They include a Grammy, two CMA awards, four American Music Awards, and five ACM accolades.
She became the first female country artist to earn a Platinum Record (1978), entered the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame (2008), received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2009) and won induction into the cast of the Grand Ole Opry (2017).
Crystal Gayle has also been fortunate to attain overseas stardom. Her music has found favor with audiences in Japan, Sweden, England, Holland, Spain, Korea (where "When I Dream" was a huge hit), Australia, Germany, Ireland, Finland, and The Philippines. She was the first country star to perform in China.
This is no doubt the result of her impressive musical diversity. Crystal has one of the most wide-ranging repertoires of any country star.