Per Music Row, the 78-year-old performer suffered from Parkinson's disease in recent years and had lived in an assisted living facility since 2016. Music Row further reports that Oslin was diagnosed last week with COVID-19. There's no official word yet on her cause of death.
Born on May 15, 1942, in Crossett, Arkansas, Kay Toinette Oslin lost her father at age 5. Her single mother soon relocated the family to Houston, Texas. This circumstance, paired with Oslin's own experiences as an adult, likely informed her songs about strong-willed, independent women.
In her college years, Oslin studied drama while performing in the same folk trio as David Jones and singer-songwriter legend Guy Clark. She later appeared as a backup vocalist on Clark's self-titled 1978 album.
After her studies, she lived in New York as an aspiring actor. She soon began singing commercial jingles and appearing in advertisements. To fill in the creative gaps between auditions and gigs, she started dabbling in songwriting.
In the '80s, Oslin chased country stardom. A short-lived stint with Elektra Records as Kay T. Oslin netted the singles "Clean Your Own Tables" and "Younger Men (Are Startin' To Catch My Eye)." Despite a lack of chart success, those songs made her a sought-after songwriter, with her work recorded by The Judds, Gail Davies and Dottie West.
Alabama's producer Harold Shedd discovered a less-than-hidden talent a few years later when he caught Oslin at a songwriter showcase. He soon landed her a deal with RCA Nashville. The first fruits of that deal, 1987's 80's Ladies, became perhaps the biggest debut for a woman in country music since Bobbie Gentry's Ode to Billie Joe album and single surpassed the Beatles on the pop charts.
80's Ladies is from the year Oslin turned 45, making her sudden rise to solo fame all the more miraculous in the unfairly image-driven (and ageist) field of country music. Its success proved that she had the songwriting prowess, sense of humor and singing talent to overcome the steepest odds. Its title track won Song of the Year at the 1988 CMA Awards and a Best Female Country Vocal Performance Grammy.
From there, Oslin went from unlikely star to guaranteed hit-maker. Sophomore album This Woman arrived in 1988 and netted three more top-five singles, including the No. 1 hit "Hold Me."
Along with the honesty craved by country music fans, Oslin brought a winning sense of humor. The final album of her late '80s and early '90s run of success with RCA Records, 1990's Love in a Small Town, includes the No. 1 single "Come Next Monday." Its music video cast her in an over-the-top parody of The Bride of Frankenstein.
Following the release of 1993's cleverly-titled greatest hits compilation Songs From an Aging Sex Bomb, Oslin briefly retired from singing to pursue acting. That opened the door for her supporting role in the country-themed River Phoenix movie The Thing Called Love.
In spite of huge setbacks, including quadruple bypass surgery in 1995, Oslin cut a handful of albums in the years since her mainstream peak: 1996's My Roots Are Showing, 2001's Live Close By, Visit Often and 2015's Simply.