Dunn died Monday in hospice care in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to June Keys, the manager at the Pena-Dunn Gallery in Santa Fe, where Dunn's paintings were displayed. Dunn announced earlier this year she was battling ovarian cancer.
The Grammy-nominated Dunn was the Academy of Country Music's top new female vocalist in 1986 and was named most promising newcomer by the Country Music Association the following year.
She wrote "Daddy's Hands" for her father, a Church of Christ preacher, as a Father's Day present and it became a favorite on country radio. The song also earned her two Grammy nominations.
By her third album, she was producing her own records and writing songs with her brother, Chris Waters Dunn. She had No. 1 country hits with "Are You Ever Gonna Love Me" and "You Really Had Me Going."
She teamed with Michael Martin Murphey on the duet "A Face in the Crowd," which earned them a Grammy nomination. She also recorded the duet "Maybe" with Kenny Rogers and sung on albums with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris.
In a 1990 interview with The Associated Press, she offered these reasons why she had so much success early on in her career: "It was a miracle. Divine guidance."
But she said she was more than just a singer.
"I'm the only one, as far as I know on the female side, who writes, produces and sings the material," she said in 1990. "I think this gives me a real legitimacy, a genuineness. I'm not just up there standing where they tell me to stand, singing what they tell me to sing."
But in 1991, just as her career was peaking, she ran into controversy with the song, "Maybe I Mean Yes," which some critics interpreted as an invitation for date rape. Among the song's lyrics: "When I say no, I mean maybe. Or maybe I mean yes."
Dunn said at the time the tune was meant to be a breezy song about flirting, but agreed with Warner Bros. Records' decision to pull the song from country radio.
"The subject of rape is an important issue that needs to be discussed, and if my song has served as a vehicle towards that discussion, then perhaps that is the silver lining to this controversy," Dunn said in a statement at that time.
She continued to record and tour in the 1990s, but eventually she left the music business to pursue her love of painting.