Born Loretta Webb in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, in 1932, Loretta Lynn wrote the song "Coal Miner's Daughter," wrote a book by the same name and then had her life story depicted in the film. A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and named Female Vocalist of Year by the CMA, Loretta Lynn reinvigorated her career in 2004 with Van Lear Rose, produced by Jack White.
Honky Tonk Girl
Born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932, in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn grew up in a small cabin in a poor Appalachian coal-mining community. The second of eight children, Loretta began singing in church at a young age. 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, Loretta married Oliver Lynn (aka "Doolittle" and "Mooney") just a few months before her 16th birthday. The following year, they moved to Custer, Washington, where he hoped to find better opportunities. Over the next few years, Oliver worked in logging camps and Loretta 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 Loretta 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, who 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, Loretta began working with Teddy and Doyle Wilburn, who owned a music publishing company and performed as the Wilburn Brothers. In October 1960 she also performed at the legendary country music venue the Grand Ole Opry, which led to a contract with Decca Records. In 1962 Loretta scored her first big hit with 1962's "Success."
During her early days in Nashville, Lynn became friends with singer Patsy Cline, who helped her navigate the tricky world of country music. But their budding friendship would end in heartbreak when Cline was killed in a 1963 plane crash. Lynn later told Entertainment Weekly, "When Patsy died, my God, not only did I lose my best girlfriend, but I lost a great person that was taking care of me. I thought, Now somebody will whip me for sure."
But Lynn's talent would carry her through. Her first album, Loretta Lynn Sings (1963), reached No. 2 on the country charts, and was followed by a string of top 10 country hits, including "Wine, Women, and Song" and "Blue Kentucky Girl." Soon recording her own material alongside standards and works by other artists, Lynn developed a talent for capturing the everyday struggles of wives and mothers in her songs, while injecting them with her personal brand of humor. However, she did not shy away from more controversial material, as is evident with her handling of the Vietnam War in the hit single "Dear Uncle Sam." Meanwhile, on the home front, Lynn gave birth to twin daughters Peggy Jean and Patsy Eileen in 1964.
In 1966 Lynn had her highest-charting single to date with "You Ain't Woman Enough (to Take My Man)," from the album of the same name. She followed up quickly with her first No. 1 hit, "Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (with Lovin' on Your Mind)," one of many Lynn songs featuring an assertive-yet-humorous female perspective, and in 1967 won the award for Female Vocalist of the Year from the Country Music Association. The year after that, her classic tune "Fist City," a lyrical tell-off from one woman to another over her man, also reached the top of the country music charts.
Drawing from her own personal experiences growing up poor but happy, in 1970 Lynn released what is perhaps her best-known song, "Coal Miner's Daughter," which quickly became a No. 1 hit. Teaming up with Conway Twitty, Lynn won her first Grammy Award in 1972, for the duet "After the Fire Is Gone." The song was only one of many successful collaborations between Lynn and Twitty, including "Lead Me On" and "Feelins'." With songs that explored romantic—and often adulterous—relationships, they also won the Vocal Duo of the Year award from the Country Music Association for four consecutive years from 1972 to 1975.
Coal Miner's Daughter
On her own, Lynn continued to churn out hits, with chart-topping songs such as "Rated 'X'," "Trouble in Paradise" and "She's Got You." She also managed to stir up some when she wrote about the changing times for female sexuality with 1975's "The Pill," which some radio stations refused to play. The following year, Lynn published her first autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter. The book became a best seller, publicly revealing some of the ups and downs in her professional and personal life, especially her stormy relationship with her husband. In 1980, a film adaptation of the book was released, starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta and Tommy Lee Jones as her husband.
In the 1980s, as country music moved toward mainstream pop and away from a more traditional sound, Lynn's domination of the country charts began to ebb. Still, her albums remained popular, and she enjoyed some success as a spokeswoman for a shortening company as well as making appearances on the television series The Dukes of Hazzard, Fantasy Island and The Muppet Show. In 1982, Lynn had her most notable hit of the decade with "I Lie."
However, Lynn would have to grapple with personal tragedy during this time as well, when her 34-year-old son, Jack Benny Lynn, drowned after trying to wade across a river on horseback. Lynn herself was hospitalized briefly for exhaustion before learning of her son's death.
In 1988, Lynn was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, and in the 1990s, she scaled down her work to care for her husband, who was suffering from heart trouble and diabetes. Lynn did, however, make time to work with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette on the 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels, and in 1995, she starred in a limited-run television series, Loretta Lynn & Friends, as well as playing a handful of tour dates. Lynn's husband died in 1996, bringing to an end their 48-year marriage.
In 2000, Lynn released the studio album Still Country. But while it earned strong reviews, it did not match her earlier successes in terms of sales. Lynn explored other outlets around this time as well, penning the 2002 memoir Still Woman Enough. She also struck up an unlikely friendship with Jack White of the alternative rock band the White Stripes. In 2003, Lynn played with the White Stripes in concert, and White ended up producing Lynn's next album, Van Lear Rose (2004).
A commercial and critical smash hit, Van Lear Rose injected new life into Lynn's career. "Jack was a kindred spirit," Lynn explained to Vanity Fair magazine. White was similarly effusive in his praise: "I want as many people as possible on earth to hear her, because she's the greatest female singer-songwriter of the last century," he told Entertainment Weekly. The pair won two Grammy Awards for their work together, for best country collaboration with vocals for the song "Portland, Oregon," and for best country album.
Following the success of Van Lear Rose, Lynn kept busy by playing numerous concerts each year, though she had to cancel some tour dates in late 2009 due to illness. However, she bounced back by January 2010 to perform at the University of Central Arkansas. Her son Ernest Ray performed at the concert, as did her twin daughters, Peggy and Patsy—known as the Lynns. A short time after the concert, Loretta was honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as well as a tribute album featuring cover versions of her songs by a range of artists, including the White Stripes, Faith Hill, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. In 2013 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
Amidst these and other accolades, tragedy struck Lynn again in July 2013, when her oldest daughter, Betty Sue, died of complications from emphysema. Betty Sue was 64 years old at the time of her death and was the second child Lynn has lost.
Still, Lynn, now in her 80s, has persevered, and in March 2016 she released the album Full Circle, which was produced by her daughter Patsy and John Carter Cash, who is the only child of Johnny Cash and June Carter. The album debuted at No. 4, returning Loretta Lynn yet again to her familiar place at the top of the country charts.
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