q Legends: Loretta Lynn - Country Music

Legends: Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn, The Coal Miner’s Daughter, was a trailblazer for women in country music, writing and singing about topics like divorce, birth control and feminism. She had numerous hits such as: “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”, “One’s on the Way”, “Fist City”, and “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. The 1980 musical film Coal Miner’s Daughter was based on her life.

Loretta Lynn was one of the most influential and successful country music singers and songwriters of the 20th century. Born in a poor coal-mining community in Kentucky in 1932, she married at the age of 15 and moved to Washington with her husband Oliver Lynn. She began her musical career in 1960 with the release of her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, and soon became a regular performer at the Grand Ole Opry and a recording artist for Decca Records. She wrote and sang about her personal experiences and challenges as a woman, a wife, a mother and a coal miner’s daughter, breaking barriers and stereotypes in the male-dominated genre of country music. She also collaborated with other artists, such as Conway Twitty and Patsy Cline, and received numerous awards and honors for her contributions to music and culture.

Early Life and Influences

Loretta Lynn was born on April 14, 1932, in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, as Loretta Webb. She was the second-oldest of eight children, and grew up in a small cabin in a poor Appalachian coal-mining community. Her father, Ted Webb, was a coal miner and a subsistence farmer, and her mother, Clara Webb, was a homemaker who taught her children to sing and play music. The family also claimed Cherokee heritage, but they were not recognized by or members of a tribe.

loretta lynn homeplace
Childhood home of Loretta Lynn in Kentucky

 

Lynn began singing in church at a young age, and was influenced by the gospel music she heard there. She also listened to country music on the radio, and admired singers such as Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. She learned to play the guitar from her brother Jay Lee Webb, who later became a country singer himself. Her younger sister Brenda Gail Webb also developed a love for singing and later went on to perform professionally as Crystal Gayle.

In January 1948, when she was 15 years old, Lynn married Oliver Lynn (also known as Doolittle or Mooney), who was 21 years old at the time. The couple moved to Custer, Washington, where Oliver hoped to find better opportunities. Over the next few years, he worked in logging camps and Lynn did odd jobs and looked after their four children—Betty Sue, Jack Benny, Ernest Ray and Clara Marie—who were all born by the time she turned 20. But Lynn never lost her love of music, and with her husband’s encouragement, she began to perform at local venues. Her talent soon landed her a contract with Zero Records, which released her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, in early 1960. To promote the song, the Lynns traveled to different country music radio stations, urging them to play it. Their efforts paid off when the song became a minor hit later that year.

Settling in Nashville, Tennessee, around that same time, Lynn began working with Teddy and Doyle Wilburn, who owned a music publishing company and performed as the Wilburn Brothers. In October 1960, she performed at the legendary country music venue the Grand Ole Opry, which led to a contract with Decca Records. In 1962, Lynn scored her first big hit with “Success”, which cracked the Top 10 on the country charts.

During her early days in Nashville, Lynn became friends with singer Patsy Cline, who helped her navigate the tricky world of country music. Cline gave Lynn advice on how to dress, sing and deal with the industry. She also gave her gifts such as clothes and jewelry. Lynn later said that Cline was like a sister to her. Cline died in a plane crash in 1963, leaving Lynn devastated. She later recorded a tribute album to Cline called I Remember Patsy in 1977.

Loretta Lynn in 1965
Loretta Lynn in 1965

Lynn’s early life and influences shaped her musical style and vision. She wrote and sang about her personal experiences and challenges as a woman, a wife, a mother and a coal miner’s daughter. She also challenged the norms and expectations of the genre with her honest and outspoken lyrics about topics such as marriage, motherhood, poverty and feminism.

The Coal Miners Daughter

One of Lynn’s most famous and influential works was her autobiographical song “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which was released as a single in 1970 and became a number one hit on the Billboard country chart¹. The song tells the story of her childhood in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, where she grew up in a poor coal-mining family with seven siblings. She sings about the hardships and joys of her early life, such as wearing a dress made from a feed sack, sleeping four to a bed, working on the farm, going to church, and listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. She also expresses her love and respect for her parents, especially her father, who worked hard to provide for his family despite his health problems. The song is a tribute to her roots and her identity as a coal miner’s daughter. The song was so popular and relatable that it inspired a best-selling autobiography by Lynn in 1976, and a film adaptation starring Sissy Spacek in 1980.

coal miners daughter movie poster
Movie poster for the film Coal Miner’s Daughter

The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won one for Best Actress for Spacek’s portrayal of Lynn. The song, the book and the film helped Lynn reach a wider audience and share her personal story and struggles in a compelling and authentic way. They also influenced other artists and audiences with her narrative style and her pride in her heritage.

Rise to Fame and Success

Lynn’s rise to fame and success in the 1960s and 1970s was remarkable and unprecedented for a female country singer. She became a mainstay on the country charts after landing a Top 10 hit with the aptly named “Success” in 1962. She followed that with a string of hits that included the chart-toppers “Fist City”, “Women of the World (Leave My World Alone)”, “One’s on the Way”, “Trouble in Paradise” and “She’s Got You”, as well as an array of popular collaborations with Conway Twitty. She also won numerous awards and honors, such as four Academy of Country Music female vocalist of the year awards, four Country Music Association duo of the year awards with Twitty, and the first CMA Entertainer of the Year award for a female artist in 1972. She also received several Grammy Awards, including one for best country vocal performance by a duo or group with Twitty for “After the Fire Is Gone” in 1971. Lynn’s success was not limited to music, however. In 1976, she published her autobiography, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which was later made into a successful film starring Sissy Spacek in 1980. The book and the film chronicled Lynn’s rise to fame and struggles with poverty and domestic violence. They also helped her reach a wider audience and share her personal story and struggles in a compelling and authentic way. Lynn challenged the norms and expectations of the genre with her honest and outspoken lyrics about topics such as marriage, motherhood, poverty and feminism. She wrote and sang about her personal experiences and challenges as a woman, a wife, a mother and a coal miner’s daughter.

21st Century Career

Loretta Lynn at SXSW in 2016
Loretta Lynn at SXSW in 2016

 

Lynn’s late career resurgence in the 21st century was remarkable and impressive for a country music legend. She released her first studio album in more than a decade, Still Country, in 2000, which featured the hit single “Country in My Genes” and a duet with Randy Travis. In 2004, she collaborated with rock musician Jack White on Van Lear Rose, an album of rock-inflected takes on new Lynn songs. The album became one of her most acclaimed albums, winning two Grammy Awards and earning rave reviews from critics and fans. In 2016, she released Full Circle, her first album of new material since Van Lear Rose. The album featured a mix of new songs and re-recorded classics, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album. In 2021, at the age of 89, she released her 50th studio album, Still Woman Enough, which featured collaborations with Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood and Margo Price. Lynn remained relevant and respected throughout her career, and inspired generations of musicians and fans with her talent, courage and resilience.

Queen of Country

Loretta Lynn was a pioneer and a legend of country music, who shaped the genre with her authentic and outspoken voice. She once said: “I’m proud to be a coal miner’s daughter. I’m not proud of what I am today. I’m proud of what I’ve done.” She also sang: “Well I was borned a coal miner’s daughter / In a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler / We were poor but we had love / That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of / He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar.” These words capture her spirit and vision of staying true to herself and her roots, no matter what. She was a coal miner’s daughter, but she was also so much more. She was Loretta Lynn, the Queen of Country.

Loretta Lynn: April 14, 1932 – October 4, 2022

Share this: