Loretta Lynn born Loretta Webb (April 14, 1932 – ) is an American country music performer. One of the leading country vocalists and songwriters of all time, Lynn ruled the charts during the 1960s and 1970s, compiling more than 70 hits as a solo artist and a duet partner.
With an impoverished upbringing, a devoted yet troubled marriage, Lynn’s own life often provided the grist for her popular tunes. Her best-selling 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, was made into an Oscar-winning hit film starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones.
Although she withdrew from performing for a few years while taking care of her husband, who died in 1996, Lynn returned to touring in 1998. In 2000, she released her first album of original solo material since 1988. Lynn has acquired 16 number-one country hits over the course of her career, as a solo and duet artist. She has won numerous awards, including an honorary doctorate, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
Childhood & early adulthood
Loretta Webb Lynn claimed to have been born on April 14, 1935 (although a birth certificate on file at the state Office of Vital Statistics in Frankfort, Kentucky shows that she was born on April 14, 1932) to Melvin “Ted” Webb (1906–1959) and Clara Marie (Ramey) Webb (1912–1982) and named in honor of Loretta Young, Loretta Webb was the second of eight children. Her youngest sister is country singer Crystal Gayle.
Lynn grew up in Butcher Hollow, a section of Van Lear, a mining community near Paintsville, Johnson County, Kentucky. Her mother, Clara, was of Scots-Irish and Cherokee ancestry. Her father, Ted, was a coal miner, storekeeper, and farmer. The community had no motor vehicles, paved roads, or flush toilets, and growing up with such humble roots had a major effect on Lynn’s life and heavily influenced her music as an adult.
She was married to Oliver Vanetta Lynn, commonly known as “Doolittle,” “Doo,” or “Mooney” (for running moonshine), on January 10, 1948; he was 21 and she was a teenager (her autobiography states she married at 13; her birth certificate makes her 15). In an effort to break free of the coal-mining industry, Lynn and her husband moved to the logging community of Custer, Washington. The Lynns had six children. Even though they were married for nearly 50 years, the Lynn’s marriage was not an easy one. In her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough, Lynn recounts how her husband cheated on her regularly and once left her while she was giving birth.
Before getting married, Loretta regularly sang at churches and in local concerts. After marrying, she stopped singing in public. However, her husband bought her a guitar which she taught herself to play. She soon began singing in local clubs and later with a band, The Trailblazers, which included her brother Jay Lee Webb. After several years, Lynn got a major break when she appeared in a televised Tacoma, Washington talent contest, hosted by Buck Owens, which was seen by Norm Burley, one of the founders of Zero Records.
1960 – 1966: Early country success
Lynn signed her first contract with the Zero label on February 1, 1960. She recorded her first release in March of that year, with bandleader Speedy West on steel guitar, Harold Hensely on fiddle, Roy Lanham on guitar, Al Williams on bass, and Muddy Berry on drums.
During her first sessions, Lynn recorded “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” The Lynns toured the country to promote the release to country stations. By the time they reached Nashville, the song was a minor hit, climbing to number 14 on Billboard’s country and western chart.
Lynn soon began cutting demo records for the Wilburn Brothers’ Publishing Company. Her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, beginning in 1960, won the hearts of country music’s largest audience and Lynn become the number-one female recording artist in country music. In 1960, Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Jean Shepard were the top female country stars. By the end of 1962, it was clear that Lynn was on her way to becoming the fourth. Lynn credits Cline as her mentor and best friend during those early years.
Lynn released her first Decca single, “Success,” in 1962, and it went straight to number six, beginning a string of top-ten singles that would run through the next two decades. Her style was that of a straightforward honky tonk singer for the first half of the 1960s and rarely strayed from the genre. She scored major hits in 1964, with “Before I’m Over You,” which peaked at number four, followed by “Wine, Women, and Song,” which reached number three.
In late 1964, Lynn also recorded a duet album with country star, Ernest Tubb. The album’s lead single, “Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be” peaked within the top 15. Together, the pair recorded two more albums, Singin’ Again (1967) and If We Put Our Heads Together (1969). In 1965, Lynn’s solo career continued with three major hits: “Happy Birthday,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” and “The Home You’re Tearing Down.” Lynn’s label issued two albums that year, Songs from My Heart and Blue Kentucky Girl. While most of these songs were top-TEN Country hits, none of them reached number one.
Her first self-penned song to crack the top ten, 1966’s “Dear Uncle Sam.” “Dear Uncle Sam” was among the very first recordings to recount the human costs of the Vietnam War. In the latter half of the decade, her sound became more personal, varied, and ambitious, particularly lyrically. Beginning with 1966’s number-two hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” Lynn began writing songs with a feminist viewpoint, which had been virtually unheard of in country music since Kitty Wells first broke into the genre in the 1950s with “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.”
1967–1980: At the top
In 1967, Lynn first reached number one with “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” Her next album, Fist City was released the same year. The title track became Lynn’s second number-one hit in early 1968 and the other single from the album, “What Kind of a Girl (Do You Think I Am)” peaked within the top 10. In 1968, her next studio album, Your Squaw Is on the Warpath spawned two top-five country hits, and in 1969, “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)” was Lynn’s third chart-topper, followed by a subsequent top 10, “To Make a Man (Feel Like a Man).” The song, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” inspired by a woman she suspected was flirting with her husband, was an instant hit and became one of Lynn’s all-time best sellers.
In the 1970s, Lynn’s openness and honesty drew fans from around the nation, including some who were not previously familiar with country music, especially following the success of Lynn’s number one hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The song tells the story of Lynn’s life growing up in rural Butcher Hollow, Kentucky and would serve as the impetus for the best-selling autobiography (1976) and the Oscar-winning biopic starring Sissy Spacek (1980), both of which share the song’s title. The song became Lynn’s first single to cross over to the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 83.
In 1971, Lynn began a singing partnership with Conway Twitty. As a duo, the pair had five consecutive number-one hits between 1971 and 1975: “After the Fire Is Gone” (1971), “Lead Me On” (1971), “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” (1973), “As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone” (1974), and “Feelins'” (1974). For four consecutive years (1972-1975), Lynn and Twitty were named the “Vocal Duo of the Year” by the Country Music Association. In addition to their five number-one singles, they had seven other top 10 hits between 1976 and 1981.
As a solo artist, Lynn’s career continued to be very successful into 1971, achieving her fifth number-one solo hit, “One’s on the Way,” written by poet and songwriter, Shel Silverstein. Other hits included “I Wanna Be Free,” “You’re Lookin’ At Country,” and 1972’s “Here I Am Again,” all released on separate albums. The next year, she became the first country star on the cover of Newsweek.
In 1973, one of Lynn’s most controversial hits, “Rated X,” also reached number one. The next year, “Love Is the Foundation” also became a number-one country hit from her album of the same name. Another single from that album, “Hey Loretta” became a top-five hit. Lynn continued to reach the top 10 until the end of the decade, including with 1975’s “The Pill,” the first popular song to discuss birth control. Her unique material, which bluntly addressed issues in the lives of many women (particularly in the South), made her stand out among female country vocalists. As a songwriter, Lynn believed no topic was off limits.
In 1977, she recorded a tribute album to friend and Country-pop singer, Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash in 1963. The album covered some of Cline’s biggest hits. The two singles Lynn released from the album, “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You,” became major hits.
Lynn enjoyed enormous success on country radio until the early 1980s, when a more pop-flavored type of country music began to dominate the market. Even so, Lynn was able to stay within the country top 10 up until the end of the 1970s. Lynn had her last number-one hit in early 1978 with her solo single, “Out of My Head and Back In My Bed.” In 1979, she had two top-five hits, “I Can’t Feel You Anymore” and “I’ve Got a Picture of Us on My Mind,” each from separate albums.
In 1976, Lynn released her autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, whose title came from her number-one record of 1970. It became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a film in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn and Tommy Lee Jones as her husband, Doolittle. Spacek won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the part. Due mostly to the critical and commercial success of the film, Lynn gained more mainstream attention in the early 1980s, starring in two prime-time specials on NBC.
In the early 1980s, Lynn had several more hits, including “Pregnant Again,” “Naked In The Rain,” and “Somebody Led Me Away.” She was thus the first woman in country music to have 50 top-ten hits. Her last top-ten record as a soloist was I Lie in 1982, but her releases continued to chart until the end of the decade. One of her last solo releases was 1985’s “Heart Don’t Do This to Me,” which reached number 19—her last top-20 hit. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
In 1993, Lynn stopped releasing singles and focused more on touring than promoting. As a concert artist, she remained a top draw throughout her career, but by the early 1990s she drastically cut down the number of personal appearances due to the fragile health of her husband, who died in 1996.
1990–present: Later career
Lynn returned to the public eye in 1993 with the trio album, Honky Tonk Angels, recorded with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, and the following year she released a three-CD boxed set chronicling her career. In 1995, Lynn taped a seven-week series on the Nashville Network (TNN) titled Loretta Lynn & Friends, and performed about 50 concert dates that year as well. Honky Tonk Angels became very successful for the trio, peaking at number four on the Top Country Albums chart and number 42 on the Billboard 200, selling enough copies to be certified “Gold” by the RIAA shortly after its release.
In 2000, Lynn released her first album in several years, entitled Still Country. In it, she included a song, “I Can’t Hear the Music,” as a tribute to her late husband. While the album gained positive critical notices, sales were low in comparison with her releases in the 1970s. In 2002, Lynn published her second autobiography, Still Woman Enough, and in 2004, she published a cookbook, You’re Cookin’ It Country.
In 2004, Lynn made a comeback with the highly successful album Van Lear Rose, the second album on which she either wrote or co-wrote every song. The album was produced by her “friend forever” Jack White of The White Stripes and featured guitar work and backup vocals by White. Her collaboration with White allowed Lynn to reach new audiences and generations, garnering high praise in magazines that specialize in mainstream and alternative rock music, such as Spin and Blender. Rolling Stone voted the album the second best of the year for 2004.
Lynn has written over 160 songs and released 70 albums. She has had 17 number-one albums and 16 number-one singles on the country charts, winning dozens of awards four Grammies, seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards, and ten Academy of Country Music awards.
In 1972, Lynn was the first woman named “Entertainer of the Year” by the Country Music Association, one of only five women ever to have received CMA’s highest award. She was named “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Lynn was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003. Lynn is also ranked sixty-fifth on VH1’s 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2002, Lynn placed at number three on CMT television’s special of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.
On March 17, 2007, Berklee College of Music presented Lynn an honorary doctorate of music degree for her contribution to the world of country music, presented to her on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. On June 19, 2008, Lynn was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York City.