The Sound Cafe
The Country-Music Star Loretta Lynn Has Died At The Age Of 90
The country-music star Loretta Lynn has died at the age of 90.
Her family confirmed that she died at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, on October 4.
"Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills," they said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Loretta Lynn has long been established as the undisputed Queen of Country Music, with more than 60 years of recording and touring to her name. A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, Lynn was one of the most distinctive performers in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s. She shook up Nashville by writing her own songs, many of which tackled boundary-pushing topics drawn from her own life experiences as a wife and mother. “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” are just three of 16 country No. 1 singles.
She is also one of the most awarded musicians of all time. Loretta has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist, including The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1972. Lynn received Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. In 2015, she was named recipient of Billboard’s inaugural Women in Music “Legend” Award. With 18 nominations spread out over every single decade for the last six decades, Lynn has won four Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and her most recent in 2019. She has sold more than 45 million records worldwide.
In January 2021, Still Woman Enough, the American music icon’s 50th studio album (excluding her 10 studio duet collaborations with Conway Twitty) became her latest. In it she celebrates women in country music. From her homage to the originators, Mother Maybelle Carter and the Carter Family (via her cover of “Keep On The Sunny Side”), through a new interpretation of her very first single, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl
The album hit #1 in Country, #5 on Billboard’s top albums, #3 on Americana charts, #1 on Apple Music, and #1 on Amazon music when released! Her powerful vocals, six decades into her career, will still leave you both awed and delighted.
Loretta Lynn signed her first recording contract on February 1, 1960, and within a matter of weeks, she was at her first recording session. Fans fell in love with Loretta’s instantly recognizable delivery as one of the greatest country-music voices in history. No songwriter has a more distinctive body of work. In lyrics such as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” and “Your Squaw Is on the Warpath”, she refused to be any man’s doormat. She challenged female rivals in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Fist City.” She showed tremendous blue-collar pride in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country.” She is unafraid of controversy, whether the topic is sex (“Wings Upon Your Horns”), divorce (“Rated X”), alcohol (“Wouldn’t It Be Great”) or war (“Dear Uncle Sam”). “The Pill,” her celebration of sexual liberation, was banned by many radio stations. Like the lady herself, Loretta Lynn’s songs shoot from the hip.
As millions who read her 1976 autobiography or saw its Oscar winning 1980 film treatment are aware, Loretta is a Coal Miner’s Daughter who was raised in dire poverty in a remote Appalachian Kentucky hamlet. Living in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters, she was surrounded by music as a child.
“I thought everybody sang, because everybody up there in Butcher Holler did,” she recalls. “Everybody in my family sang. So I really didn’t understand until I left Butcher Holler that there were some people who couldn’t. And it was kind of a shock.”
She famously married Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn at 15 years old. “Doo” was a 21-year-old war veteran with a reputation as a hell raiser. When she was seven months pregnant with her first child, they moved far away from Appalachia to Custer, Washington. By age 20, she had four children (two more, twins, came along in 1964). Isolated from her native culture and burdened with domestic work, she turned to music for solace.
“Before I was singing, I cleaned house; I took in laundry; I picked berries. I worked seven days a week. I was a housewife and mother for 15 years before I was an entertainer. And it wasn’t like being a housewife today. It was doing hand laundry on a board and cooking on an old coal stove. I grew a garden and canned what I grew. That’s what’s real. I know how to survive.”
Doo heard her singing at her chores and declared that she sounded just as good as anyone he heard on the radio. He bought her a guitar and told her to learn how to play it and write songs with it. Loretta says her songs were so forthright because she didn’t know any better.
“After he got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup. I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’ I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.”
Doo began pushing her to perform in area nightclubs. Executives from Zero Records heard her in a nightspot across the border in Vancouver, Canada. She soon recorded her debut single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” for the little label. Loretta made herself a fringed cowgirl outfit, and she and Doo drove across the country in his old Mercury sedan promoting the single at station after station.
Astonishingly, it worked. The disc hit the popularity charts in the summer of 1960 and brought the couple to Music City. She began singing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry after her debut on Oct. 15, 1960. The show’s Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings. Teddy Wilburn helped to polish Loretta’s startlingly original songwriting style. Brother Doyle Wilburn took a tape of her singing “Fool #1” to producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records. Owen liked the song, but was already working with Kitty Wells, Goldie Hill, Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline and said he didn’t need another female singer. Teddy told him that he couldn’t have the song if he didn’t sign its singer. As a result, Brenda had a smash pop hit with “Fool #1,” and Loretta got a Decca Records contract.
Like everyone else who encountered her, Owen Bradley was smitten with Loretta’s innocence, individualism, infectious wit, independent spirit, humorous candor, refreshing frankness and immense talent. In fact, he came to regard her as “the female Hank Williams.”
Loretta’s Decca chart debut came with 1962’s “Success.” It became the first of over 50 top-10 hits and led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry cast later that year. Her fellow Opry cast member Patsy Cline taught her how to dress, style her hair and wear make-up. The Wilburns began featuring her on their nationally syndicated TV series. She sang a series of sassy domestic ditties with her childhood hero, Ernest Tubb. As a solo, she hit her stride with “Wine, Women and Song” (1964) and “Happy Birthday” (1965), both of them feisty, don’t-step-on-me numbers.