Revered music icon Loretta Lynn died on Tuesday (Oct. 4) at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. She was 90.
A statement from Lynn’s family reads: “Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills.”
Known to millions as “The Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the iconic singer-songwriter rose from mountain poverty to become a member of The Country Music Hall of Fame. Her feisty songs made her a feminist heroine. The film based on her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, took her story around the world and won an Academy Award.
Among her enduring compositions are such country evergreens as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin,’” “Fist City,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” as well as her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
She also immortalized songs by others, such as “One’s On the Way,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “The Pill” and “Love Is the Foundation.” In addition, Lynn had strings of hits as the duet partner of her fellow Hall of Fame members, Ernest Tubb (1914-1984) and Conway Twitty (1933-1993).
Born Loretta Webb in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, she was raised in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters. She was just a teenager when she married Oliver “Doolittle”/”Mooney” Lynn (1927-1996). He believed in her singing talent, bought her a guitar, urged her to begin writing songs, pushed her to perform live and entered her in talent contests near their home in Washington State.
Buck Owens (1929-2006) began to feature her on his Takoma television show. A Canadian businessman saw her on it and financed a trip to L.A. to record her self-penned 1960 debut single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Husband “Doo” found a list of country radio stations and drove her across the country to visit them one-by-one.
Released on tiny Zero Records, the single made the national country charts and brought her to Nashville. Lynn made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry singing it on Oct. 15, 1960.
Established Opry stars The Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings and signed her to management and publishing contracts. Teddy Wilburn (1931-2003) helped her polish her songwriting. Doyle Wilburn (1930-1982) engineered a Decca Records contract with producer Owen Bradley (1915-1998). The duo promoted her and her resulting Decca singles on their nationally syndicated TV series.
Produced by Bradley, “Success” became her first Decca success. On the strength of that 1962 hit, the Wilburns lobbied the Opry to add her to its cast. She became an Opry member on Sept. 24, 1962. “Before I’m Over You” (1963) and “Wine, Women and Song” (1964) were her next big hits.
Superstar Ernest Tubb chose her as his duet partner, and the team succeeded with “Mr. and Mrs. Used To Be” (1964), “Our Hearts Are Holding Hands” (1965), “Sweet Thang” (1967) and “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out” (1969). Lynn’s solo singles continued to thrive as well. “Happy Birthday,” “Blue Kentucky Girl” and “The Home You’re Tearin’ Down” all became hits in 1965.
By the late 1960s, Loretta Lynn was steamrolling the country charts. “Dear Uncle Sam” (1966), “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (1966), “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” (1967), “If You’re Not Gone Too Long” (1967) and “What Kind of Girl” (1967) led to a CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1967.
Owen Bradley called her “the female Hank Williams.” He continued to produce such disc classics as “Fist City” (1968), “You’ve Just Stepped In” (1968), “Your Squaw Is On the Warpath” (1968), “Woman of the World” (1969), “To Make a Man” (1969) and “Wings Upon Your Horns” (1969).
Decca hoped lightning would strike twice by signing her brother Jay Lee Webb (1937-1996) and sister Peggy Sue, both of whom had country chart hits. Baby sister Crystal Gayle (Brenda Gail Webb) also began her career at Decca, but didn’t rise to stardom until the 1970s on United Artists.
Loretta Lynn’s own star rose ever higher in the 1970s. She began the decade with 1970’s “I Know How,” “You Wanna Give Me a Lift” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” all major hits.
She began singing duets with Conway Twitty and instantly hit the top of the charts with 1971’s “After the Fire Is Gone,” which won a Grammy Award. The two went on to have more than a dozen hits together, including “Lead Me On” (1971), “Louisiana Woman Mississippi Man” (1973), “Feelin’s” (1975), “I Can’t Love You Enough” (1977), “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly” (1978) and “Lovin’ What Your Lovin’ Does to Me” (1981). The team earned four Duo of the Year awards from the CMA in 1972-75.
In 1971-73, Lynn scored such solo blockbusters as “I Wanna Be Free,” “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” “One’s on the Way,” “Here I Am Again,” “Rated X,” “Love Is the Foundation” and “Hey Loretta.” These resulted in Female Vocalist of the Year honors from the CMA in 1972 and 1973. Furthermore, in 1972, she became the first woman to win the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year prize.
The mainstream media took notice. She was featured in Ms magazine and made the covers of Newsweek (1973) and Redbook (1974). Her infectious personality, plain-spoken honesty and down-home wit made her a favorite on the TV talk-show circuit. She starred in national TV commercials for Crisco. Her 1976 autobiography became a New York Times best-seller.
Her fan club became an industry model. It morphed into the umbrella International Fan Club Organization (IFCO) and backed the establishment of Fan Fair (now the CMA Music Festival) in 1972.
Lynn’s devotion to her fans became legendary, but it came at a price. The pressures of stardom, constant travel and unending work took a toll on her physical and mental health. In 1976, she suffered a complete breakdown while on stage in Illinois. She was hospitalized several times for exhaustion.
But the country hits continued uninterrupted as Lynn scaled the charts with “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like My Daddy” (1974), “Trouble in Paradise” (1974), “The Pill” (1975), “When the Tingle Becomes a Chill” (1976) and “Somebody Somewhere” (1976).
Patsy Cline (1932-1963) had been Lynn’s female mentor early in her career. Loretta Lynn’s tribute LP to the legendary singer resulted in the 1977 hits “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You.”
Lynn finished the decade with the country hits “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed” (1977), “Spring Fever” (1978), “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby” (1978), “I Can’t Feel You Anymore” (1979) and “I’ve Got a Picture of Us in My Mind” (1979).
Coal Miner’s Daughter became a film triumph in 1980, and Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for portraying Lynn. Another wave of media attention ensued.
Lynn formed her own booking agency and song publishing company. She established western-wear clothing stores and opened the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch on her antebellum property in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
The hits slowed in the 1980s, but she still scored top-20 hits with “Cheatin’ on a Cheater” (1980), “Somebody Led Me Away” (1981), “I Lie” (1982), “Making Love From Memory” (1982) and “Heart Don’t Do This to Me” (1985).
During this same period, a series of major honors and accolades commenced. In 1980, the Academy of Country Music named her its Artist of the Decade for the 1970s. She was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983. She entered the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
Collaborations with others also kept her in the news. In 1987, the Grammy-nominated “Honky Tonk Angels Medley” teamed her with k.d. lang, Brenda Lee and Kitty Wells. Also applauded and Grammy nominated was her 1993 collaboration with Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, Honky Tonk Angels and its single/video “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”
A famously hard-working concert artist, Loretta Lynn largely stayed off the road between 1991 and 1996 to care for her ailing husband. After his death, she was so numb with grief that she became almost completely uncommunicative for a year.
She rebounded on disc with her CD Still Country (2000), which contained songs about her mourning. She made the charts with its single, “Country in My Genes.” She was 68 years old at the time, which made her country’s senior charting female artist.
Lynn received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. The following year, she was given a BMI Icon Award. She issued two more books, Still Woman Enough (2002) and You’re Cookin’ It Country (2004).
Even more notoriety came with the release of her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. Produced by rock star Jack White, it won two Grammy Awards. She was inducted into New York’s mainstream Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008 and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. President Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
A 2010 Loretta Lynn tribute album resulted in her last chart appearance to date, a remake of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow. This made her the only female country artist to chart in six consecutive decades.
Since then, Lynn has published another book, 2012’s Honky-Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics. She resumed her recording career with Full Circle (2015), White Christmas Blue (2016) and Wouldn’t It Be Great (2018). These were co-produced by John Carter Cash and daughter Patsy Lynn, the latter of whom also served as her mother’s manager in recent years.
Loretta Lynn has released more than 60 albums, written more than 160 songs, had 16 No. 1’s and 50 top-10 hits, been awarded six Gold Records and charted 82 titles. She has sold a reported 45 million units.
In May 2017, the superstar suffered a stroke. She recovered enough to induct Alan Jackson into the Country Music Hall of Fame five months later. In January 2018, Lynn fell and broke her hip. She began making media appearances to promote Wouldn’t It Be Great that fall, but was briefly hospitalized with a respiratory infection in October 2018.
Her oldest son, Jack Benny Lynn, died in a drowning accident in 1984. Her songwriter daughter, Betty Sue, passed away in 2013. She is survived by son Ernest Ray Lynn, who worked as her opening act on the road. Lynn is also survived by daughters Cissy and her singing twins Peggy and Patsy, as well as by 27 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Lynn was buried in her family’s cemetery on her Hurricane Mills on Oct. 7. A public memorial is expected to follow.
The family has asked for privacy during this time, as they grieve. In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to be made to the Loretta Lynn Foundation.
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