In nearly six decades of performing and recording music, Loretta Lynn has become many things.
The first female Entertainer of the Year honoree from the Country Music Association (1972).
A member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
A singer-songwriter who has earned four Grammys and sold more than 45 million albums.
A Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree.
A singer and/or songwriter behind hits including “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “One’s On The Way,” “Fist City,” and more.
And above all, an inspiration for female artists who demand the creative freedom to make music their own way, write songs from a progressive perspective, as well as an example of the grit and talent required to rise from humble Kentucky roots to become a music icon.
Lynn was honored Tuesday night (Aug. 22) as those accomplishments took center stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as the organization previewed the upcoming exhibit Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl.
Modern troubadours, singer-songwriters who have borrowed from Lynn’s template of framing intelligent, unvarnished perspectives with bold, vivid lyrics and simple song constructs spoke and performed in tribute to Lynn.
Brandy Clark offered a rendition of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” while Margo Price offered “Fist City.”
Country Music Hall of Fame CEO Kyle Young recalled reaching out to Kacey Musgraves to pen the forward for an upcoming book based on the Lynn exhibit. It took Musgraves only two days to send in her thoughts, and she was on hand at the exhibit’s opening to share those thoughts.
“She’s probably had more songs banned than anyone in the country music business,” said Musgraves, referring to more controversial material from Lynn’s catalog, such as 1972’s “Rated X” and 1975’s “The Pill.”
“This is proof that when anyone in the music business chooses to stay within known successful lanes, avoiding creative risks and watering down content for ease of consumption in hopes of financial gain, they are not only damaging themselves but they are definitely damaging the rest of us, too.
“I can say that I would not be living the musical life as I know it without her example to follow,” Musgraves said. “When I think of the comments, reactions, and situations that I’ve been exposed to as a female artist in modern-day country music, I can only begin to imagine the odessey that she’s been on herself.”
Musgraves, herself known for sharp-witted, sometimes cynical songs such as her breakthrough, Grammy-winning tune “Merry Go ‘Round” and the CMA Award-winning “Follow Your Arrow,” says she took to heart Lynn’s boldness to write from her own perspective, regardless of what was popular on radio.
“When I sit down to write a song, the only compass I know to use is if an idea or a line makes me feel something, and I found that when you stick to speaking whatever truth you hold inside yourself, you will always end up connecting to others, whether you are from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, Berlin, or Holden, Texas. Songs like Loretta’s will stand the test of time, because at the core, they are all of us and we all crave to be heard.”
Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl chronicles Lynn’s 50-plus years in the country music industry, and will include her handwritten manuscript for the 1970 hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” along with the American DR-332 ribbon microphone used during her first recording session at Western Recorders Studio in Los Angeles in 1960. That session would yield her first single, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.”
Numerous dresses are on display, including the green chiffon gown Lynn wore to the 1972 CMA Awards, where she was named Entertainer of the Year. The red dress Lynn wore on the cover of her 1968 album Fist City, will also be included in the exhibit, as will the 1956 model 99 Singer sewing machine Lynn used to make her own stage clothes early in her career.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented to Lynn by President Obama in 2013, will also be on display.
Lynn was not in attendance at the media preview, having suffered a stroke on May 5. Her daughter Patsy Lynn Russell offered a few words on her behalf.
“It was devastating for all of us because she’s such a strong woman,” Patsy said of her mother’s stroke. “She is still that strong woman. People from Sony Legacy came over to see her, and are plotting out the new record release and when she can come see the exhibit here at the Hall of Fame. It’s like, ‘Wow you don’t stop, do you?’ She’s doing so well. My mom doesn’t do anything without doing it 100 percent. When she came into this business she said, ‘You have to be first, great or different.’ She is all of those things wrapped into one.”
Patsy also emphasized that her mother will be back.
Patsy said of the exhibit, “About a year ago, Mike Vaden came to me and said, ‘Kyle wants to talk to you about an exhibit at the Hall of Fame for your mom.’ For those of us on the outside, you don’t realize how much work goes into what this establishment does for these artists. To watch them build this exhibit from the ground up is an amazing blessing.”
Young perhaps summed the exhibit best, saying, “When you are looking at it, you are looking at country.”
Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl opens at the Country Music Hall of Fame on Aug. 25 and runs through Aug. 5, 2018.
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