Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky coal miner’s daughter who became a pillar of country music, has died
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky coal miner’s daughter whose frank songs about life and love as a woman in Appalachia pulled her out of poverty and made her a pillar of country music, has died. She was 90.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lynn’s family said she died Tuesday at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the family said in a statement. They asked for privacy as they grieve and said a memorial will be announced later.
As a songwriter, she crafted a persona of a defiantly tough woman, a contrast to the stereotypical image of most female country singers. The Country Music Hall of Famer wrote fearlessly about sex and love, cheating husbands, divorce and birth control and sometimes got in trouble with radio programmers for material from which even rock performers once shied away.
Her biggest hits came in the 1960s and ’70s, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “Rated X” and “You’re Looking at Country.” She was known for appearing in floor-length, wide gowns with elaborate embroidery or rhinestones, many created by her longtime personal assistant and designer Tim Cobb.
Her honesty and unique place in country music was rewarded. She was the first woman ever named entertainer of the year at the genre’s two major awards shows, first by the Country Music Association in 1972 and then by the Academy of Country Music three years later.
“It was what I wanted to hear and what I knew other women wanted to hear, too,” Lynn told the AP in 2016. “I didn’t write for the men; I wrote for us women. And the men loved it, too.”
In 1969, she released her autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which helped her reach her widest audience yet.
“We were poor but we had love/That’s the one thing Daddy made sure of/He shoveled coal to make a poor man’s dollar,” she sang.
Long after her commercial peak, Lynn won two Grammys in 2005 for her album “Van Lear Rose,” which featured 13 songs she wrote, including “Portland, Oregon” about a drunken one-night stand. “Van Lear Rose” was a collaboration with rocker Jack White, who produced the album and played the guitar parts.
Reba McEntire was among the stars who reacted to Lynn’s death, posting online about how the singer reminded her of her late mother. “Strong women, who loved their children and were fiercely loyal. Now they’re both in Heaven getting to visit and talk about how they were raised, how different country music is now from what it was when they were young. Sure makes me feel good that Mama went first so she could welcome Loretta into the hollers of heaven!”
Born Loretta Webb, the second of eight children, she wrote that her birthplace was Butcher Holler, near the coal mining company town of Van Lear in the mountains of east Kentucky. She literally put the place on the map, according to Peter Cooper, senior director, producer and writer at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. He wrote in his 2017 book “Johnny’s Cash and Charley’s Pride: Lasting Legends and Untold Adventures in Country Music” that she made up the name for the purposes of the song based on the names of the families that lived there.
Her daddy played the banjo, her mama played the guitar and she grew up on the songs of the Carter Family. Her younger sister, Crystal Gayle, is also a Grammy-winning country singer, scoring crossover hits with songs like “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” and “Half the Way.” Lynn’s daughter Patsy Lynn Russell also was a songwriter and producer of some of her albums.
She wrote in her autobiography that she was 13 when she got married to Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, but the AP later discovered state records that showed she was 15. Tommy Lee Jones played Mooney Lynn in the biopic.
Her husband, whom she called “Doo” or “Doolittle,” urged her to sing professionally and helped promote her early career. With his help, she earned a recording contract with Decca Records, later MCA, and performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Lynn wrote her first hit single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” released in 1960.
She also teamed up with singer Conway Twitty to form one of the most popular duos in country music with hits such as “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “After the Fire is Gone,” which earned them a Grammy Award. Their duets, and her single records, were always mainstream country and not crossover or pop-tinged.
And when she first started singing at the Grand Ole Opry, country star Patsy Cline took Lynn under her wing and mentored her during her early career.
The Academy of Country Music chose her as the artist of the decade for the 1970s, and she was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. She won four Grammy Awards, was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
She moved to Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, outside of Nashville, in the 1990s, where she set up a ranch complete with a replica of her childhood home and a museum that is a popular roadside tourist stop. The dresses she was known for wearing are there, too.
Lynn knew that her songs were trailblazing, especially for country music, but she was just writing the truth that so many rural women like her experienced.
“I could see that other women was goin’ through the same thing, ‘cause I worked the clubs. I wasn’t the only one that was livin’ that life and I’m not the only one that’s gonna be livin’ today what I’m writin’,” she told The AP in 1995.
Even into her later years, Lynn never seemed to stop writing, scoring a multi-album deal in 2014 with Legacy Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. In 2017, she suffered a stroke that forced her to stop touring, but she released her 50th solo studio album, “Still Woman Enough” in 2021.
She and her husband were married nearly 50 years before he died in 1996. They had six children: Betty, Jack, Ernest and Clara, and then twins Patsy and Peggy. She had 17 grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.
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* * * * *
Loretta Lynn was more than a great songwriter –
she was a spokeswoman for
white rural working-class women
(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)
(THE CONVERSATION) Loretta Lynn’s death at the age of 90 marks the end of a remarkable life of achievement in country music.
Her dramatic life story – retold in the 1980 award-winning film “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” based on Lynn’s 1976 biography – made Lynn a household name. She grew up in poverty in a small Kentucky mining town, marrying and starting a family as a teenager before reaching unprecedented heights of commercial success as a recording artist of modern country music.
Speaking up, singing out
Lynn’s rise in the 1960s took place when country music appeared tied to conservative politics. It was a time when Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” with its attacks on counterculture, marijuana and draft-card burning, became a populist anthem for the country’s cultural conservatives.
Lynn’s songs defied societal expectations by connecting her musical representations of working-class and rural women to broader social issues affecting women across the U.S.
She aimed for her music to articulate the fears, dreams and anger of women living in a patriarchal society. It railed against those who idealized women’s domestic roles and demonized outspoken feminists.
‘There’s gonna be some changes’
Specifically, for a generation of predominantly white women in the 1960s and 1970s who did not identify as urban or college-educated feminists, Lynn’s music offered candid conversations about their private lives as wives and mothers.
As Lynn stated in her autobiography, her audience recognized her as a “mother and a wife and a daughter, who had feelings just like other women.”
Meanwhile, the song arrangements of Owen Bradley of Decca Records directed Lynn’s musical talents to a broad audience. He combined the edgier sound of honky-tonk instrumentation – electric guitars, pedal steels and fiddles – with the polish of the Nashville sound by including the smooth sounding vocal harmonies of the vocal quartet the Jordanaires, as heard in numerous country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll recordings.
This provided a sound of strength and conviction to accompany Lynn’s bold and forthright songs as she laid bare the double standards of gender roles.
With her assertive and resonant voice, Lynn, in her 1966 track “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” warns men not to expect women to be waiting at home, sexually available for them after they’d spent the night drinking:
Well, you thought I’d be waitin’ up when you came home last night
You’d been out with all the boys and you ended up half tight
Liquor and love, they just don’t mix
Leave that bottle or me behind
And don’t come home a drinkin’ with lovin’ on your mind
In a similar vein, Lynn, who claimed that her songs about wayward husbands were inspired by her fraught marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, confronted the “other woman” in songs such as 1966’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and 1968’s “Fist City.”
A lasting legacy
Fully aware that her personalized accounts became political messages for her fan base of women, Lynn co-wrote and recorded “The Pill” in 1975. It was a rare foray into the topic of women’s reproductive rights for country music. In typical fashion, though, Lynn approached the issue from the perspective of a rural working-class woman:
I’m tired of all your crowin’
How you and your hens play
While holdin’ a couple in my arms
Another’s on the way
This chicken’s done tore up her nest
And I’m ready to make a deal
And ya can’t afford to turn it down
‘Cause you know I’ve got the pill
The song’s sexual innuendos about cavorting roosters and hens incorporated the double entendres and humor of early blues and country, while providing a frank discussion about female sexual pleasure. It also addressed the right for women to take control over their bodies and reproduction.
The song came out just two years after the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, granting women the ability to govern their own reproductive health through abortion.
Indeed, Lynn commented on the Supreme Court’s ruling in her autobiography:
“Personally, I think you should prevent unwanted pregnancy rather than get an abortion. It would be wrong for me. But I’m thinking of all the poor girls who get pregnant when they don’t want to be, and how they should have a choice instead of leaving it up to some politician or doctor who don’t have to raise the baby.”
Her recording “The Pill” spoke to married women who wanted to be able to space out their children and prevent unwanted pregnancies so that they could pursue educational and professional opportunities.
In interviews, Lynn discussed at length how female listeners flocked to her after concerts, relieved to find a public figure with whom they felt comfortable to discuss birth control.
Not everyone was thrilled, though. Male country disc jockeys banned “The Pill” from the airwaves. Nonetheless, the recording became her biggest seller in 1975 and furthered Lynn’s reputation as a spokeswoman for white rural working-class women.
While all of country music will mourn the death of Lynn, it is perhaps her female fans who will feel the loss more acutely. Lynn gave them a social and political voice, and helped make country music a genre relevant to the complexities of women’s lives.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/loretta-lynn-was-more-than-a-great-songwriter-she-was-a-spokeswoman-for-white-rural-working-class-women-191932.
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