Loretta Lynn (born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1935) is an American country music singer-songwriter; she was one of the leading country vocalists and songwriters during the 1960s and 1970s and is revered as a country music cultural icon.
Lynn ruled the charts during the '60s and '70s, racking up over 70 hits as a solo artist and a duet partner.
With an impoverished upbringing, a troubled yet devoted marriage, chronic illness and exhaustion due to her hectic pace, and several tragedies through the years, Lynn's own life often provided the grist for her popular tunes. Her best-selling 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, was made into a hit Academy Award-winning film starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones in 1980.
Although she was out of the loop 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 since 1988 to contain original solo material. Including solo and duet work, Loretta Lynn has acquired sixteen number one country hits over the course of her career.
Childhood and early adulthood
Born to Melvin "Ted" Webb (1906?1959) and Clara Marie (Ramey) Webb (1912?1976) and named in honor of Loretta Young, Loretta Webb was the second of eight children; her youngest sister is country singer Crystal Gayle. She is also, on her mother's side, distantly related to country singer Patty Loveless. 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. Growing up with such humble roots had a huge effect on Lynn's life and heavily influenced her music as an adult. Her autobiography describes how, during her childhood, the community had no motor vehicles, paved roads, or flush toilets.
She was married to Oliver Vanetta Lynn, commonly known as "Doolittle," "Doo," or "Mooney" (for running moonshine), on , 1949, at 13 years of age. In an effort to break free of the coal mining industry, Lynn moved to the logging community Custer, Washington, with her husband, at the age of 15. The Lynns had four children - Betty Sue, Jack Benny, Cissy and Ernest Ray - by the time Loretta was 17, and subsequently had twin girls, Peggy and Patsy (named after Patsy Cline).
Lynn always had a passion for music. Before getting married, she regularly sang at churches and in local concerts. After she married, she stopped singing in public, wishing rather to focus on her family life. Instead, she passed her love of music on to her children, often singing to them around the house. When Loretta was 18, Doolittle bought her a guitar as an anniversary present, which she taught herself to play.
Childhood home of Loretta Lynn
Even though they were married for nearly 50 years and had six children together, the Lynn's marriage was reportedly rocky up to Doolittle's death in 1996. In her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough, and in an interview with CBS News the same year, Lynn recounts how her husband cheated on her regularly and once left her while she was giving birth. Lynn and her husband also fought frequently, but, she said, "he never hit me one time that I didn?t hit him back twice."
1960 ? 1966: Early country success
Lynn began singing in local clubs and later with a band, The Trailblazers, which included her brother Jay Lee Webb. Lynn 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.
Zero Records president Don Grashey arranged a recording session in Hollywood, where four of Lynn's own compositions were recorded: "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl," "Whispering Sea," "Heartache Meet Mister Blues," and "New Rainbow." Her first release featured "Whispering Sea" and "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." With their initial support, Lynn went on to become one of country music?s greats.
Lynn signed her first contract on , 1960, with Zero Records. 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. The material was recorded at Western Recorders, engineered by Don Blake and produced by Grashey.
In 1960, under the Zero label, Lynn recorded "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." The Lynns toured the country to promote the release to country stations, while Grashey and Del Roy took the music to KFOX in Long Beach, California. When the Lynns reached Nashville, the song was a minor hit, climbing to #14 on Billboard's C & W Chart, and Lynn began cutting demo records for the Wilburn Brothers' Publishing Company. Through the Wilburns, Lynn was able to secure a contract with Decca Records.
Her relationship with the Wilburn Brothers and her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, beginning in 1960, helped Lynn become the number one female recording artist in country music. Lynn's contract with the Wilburn Brothers gave them the publishing rights to her material. She was still fighting to regain these rights 30 years after ending her business relationship with them, but was ultimately denied the publishing rights. Lynn stopped writing music in the 1970s because of these contracts.
Although Kitty Wells had become the first major female country vocalist during the 1950s, by the time Lynn recorded her first record, only three other women - Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Jean Shepard - had become top 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, and as fate would have it, Lynn would follow her as the most popular country vocalist of the early '60s and, eventually, the 1970s.
Lynn released her first Decca single, "Success," in 1962, and it went straight to Number 6, beginning a string of Top 10 singles that would run through the rest of the decade and throughout the next. She was a hard honky-tonk singer for the first half of the '60s and rarely strayed from the genre. Between this time, Lynn soon began to regularly hit the Top 10 after 1964 with "Before I'm Over You", which peaked at #4, followed by "Wine, Women, and Song", which peaked at #3. In late 1964, Lynn also recorded a duet album with Lynn's idol and Country performer, Ernest Tubb. Their 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 that year, "Happy Birthday", "Blue Kentucky Girl" (later recorded and made a Top 10 hit in the 70s by Emmylou Harris), 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 10 Country hits, none of them reached #1.
Her first self-penned song to crack the Top Ten, 1966?s "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, although she still worked within the confines of honky tonk, her sound became more personal, varied, and ambitious, particularly lyrically. Beginning with 1966's Number 2 hit "You Ain't Woman Enough," Lynn began writing songs with a feminist viewpoint, which was unheard of in country music.
1967 ? 1980: Breakthrough success
In 1967, she reached #1 with "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)". Lynn's album, Don't Come Home A' Drinkin, went to number one and became the first album by a female country artist to be certified gold. Lynn's next album, Fist City was released in 1967. The title track became Lynn's second #1 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 5 Country hits, the title track and "You've Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out on Me)". In 1969 her next single, "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)".
Lynn was reportedly once inspired to write a song about a real woman who she suspected was flirting with her husband. The song, "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" was an instant hit and became one of Lynn's all-time best. Despite some criticism, Lynn's openness and honesty drew fans from around the nation, including some who were not previously familiar with country music.
Lynn's career continued to be successful into the 1970s, especially following the success of Lynn's hit "Coal Miner's Daughter", which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1970. "Coal Miner's Daughter" tells the story of Lynn's life growing up in rural Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. The song would later serve as the impetus for the best-selling biography (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 chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #83. Lynn would have a series of singles that would chart low on the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1975.
In 1971, she began a professional partnership with Conway Twitty. As a duo, Lynn and Twitty had five consecutive Number 1 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). The hit-streak kick-started what would become one of the most successful duos of country history. 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 1 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 #1 solo hit, "One's on the Way", written by poet and songwriter, Shel Silverstein. The songs that didn't reach the top spot peaked within the Top 10 during this time, "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, "Rated X" peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Chart, and was considered one of Lynn's most controversial hits. The next year Lynn's next single, "Love Is the Foundation" also became a #1 Country hit from her album of the same name. The second and last single from that album, "Hey Loretta" became a Top 5 hit. Lynn continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, including with 1975's "The Pill", considered to be the first song to discuss birth control, other than an obscure 1967 song in French, Pilule d'Or (The Golden Pill) by Luc Dominique, the former Singing Nun.
Her unique material, which sassily and 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, as long as it spoke to other women, and many of her songs were autobiographical.
In 1977, Lynn recorded 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. "She's Got You", which formerly went to #1 by Cline in 1962, went to #1 again that year by Lynn. "Why Can't He Be You" peaked at #7 shortly afterward.
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; however, most of her music by the late '70s had a slick pop sound to it. Lynn had her last Number 1 hit in early 1978 with her solo single, "Out of My Head and Back In My Bed." In 1979, Lynn had two Top 5 hits, "I Can't Feel You Anymore" and "I've Got a Picture Of Us on My Mind," each from separate albums.
Lynn was always adored by her fans while she was touring on her bus named Loretta Lynn. She often would sit for an hour or more on a stage giving autographs to her fans after a performance. Once in Salisbury, Md., the town's newspaper editor interviewed her while she was signing autographs. Editor Mel Toadvine asked her why she took so much time to sign autographs while more than 100 people stood in line all the way to the front of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. "These people are my fans," she told Toadvine. "I'll stay here until the very last one wants my autograph. Without these people, I am nobody; I love these people," she said.
In 1976, Lynn released Coal Miner's Daughter, an autobiography whose title came from her #1 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 primetime specials on NBC.
1980 ? 1989: Continued success
The '80s featured more hits ("Pregnant Again," "Naked In The Rain," "Somebody Led Me Away"). Her 1980 and 1981 albums, Loretta and Lookin' Good spawned these hits. Lynn was the first woman in country music to have 50 Top 10 hits. Her last Top 10 record as a soloist was "I Lie" in 1982, but her releases continued to chart until the end of the decade. Lynn continued to have Top 20 hits throughout the 1980s. One of her last solo releases was 1985's "Heart Don't Do This to Me," which reached #19; her last Top 20 hit. 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.
Lynn's 1985 album, Just a Woman spawned a Top 40 hit. In 1987, Lynn lent her voice to a song on k.d. Lang's album, Shadowland with other Country stars, Kitty Wells and Brenda Lee called "Honky Tonk Angels Medley".
Lynn's 1988 album Who Was That Stranger would be her last solo album for a major record company until 2004. She remained one of country music?s most popular and well-loved stars. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
1990 ? present: Later music 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 released a three-CD boxed set chronicling her career. In 1995, she taped a seven-week series on the Nashville Network (TNN) titled Loretta Lynn & Friends, and performed about 50 dates that year as well. The album's charting single, a cover of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" reached #68. The album became very successful for the trio, peaking at #4 on the Top Country Albums chart and #42 on the Billboard 200 and sold 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. She also released her first new single in over 10 years from the album, "Country In My Genes". 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 Lynn 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, even 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. (White has long been an admirer of Lynn and claims she is his favorite singer. He has covered several songs of hers, including the controversial "Rated X.")
Loretta Lynn is working on the follow-up to 2004's Van Lear Rose, plus a new CD of re-recorded versions of her greatest hits over the past 40 years. Both CDs are set for release in 2009.
Marriage and children
Lynn has been married only once; to her husband "Doolittle Lynn". They were married in 1949, shortly before she reached the age of 14, in Kentucky. The Lynn family had four children before Loretta turned 18, and then had twins in the early 60s: Peggy and Patsy Lynn. Patsy Lynn was named in honor of Patsy Cline. Lynn's twin daughters formed their own Country music duo group, The Lynns, in 1998 and released two singles off their debut album on Reprise Records and were nominated for "Vocal Duo of the Year" by the Country Music Association.
On July 22, 1984, Jack Benny Lynn, Loretta's eldest son, drowned while trying to ford the Duck River at the family ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Jack was 34 at the time of his death.
In 2005, her son Ernest Ray pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in a DUI-related accident.
Lynn is the second of eight children. Some of her siblings, including Jay Lee Webb and Peggy Sue, have pursued short-lived country music careers in the past . The most successful of Lynn's siblings to gain success on the Country charts is Crystal Gayle, who is best-known for a series of Country-pop crossover ballads in the late 70s and 80s, including the #1 Country and #2 Pop hit, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue". Gayle had other #1 hits as well. Gayle and Lynn have previously toured together. Lynn is also distantly related to country singer Patty Loveless, who was raised around the same area Lynn had been raised as a child.
Current home and life
Lynn owns a ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, billed as "The 7th Largest Attraction in Tennessee," featuring a recording studio, museums, lodging, and other attractions. The ranch is centered around her large plantation home, along with a replica of her Butcher Hollow cabin. She no longer lives in the plantation home, but tours of the house are available. In 2006, Lynn underwent shoulder surgery after injuring herself in a fall.
Honors and awards
Main article: List of Loretta Lynn awards
Lynn has written over 160 songs and released 70 albums. She has had ten Number 1 albums and sixteen Number 1 singles on the country charts. Lynn has won dozens of awards from many different institutions, including four Grammy Awards, 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, and is one of five women 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 also the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 2003. Lynn is also ranked 65th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2001, VH1's television special 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll placed Lynn at #65 on their countdown. In 2002, Lynn also placed at #3 on CMT television's special of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, hosted by Billy Campbell. At Number 1 was Lynn's friend and mentor, Patsy Cline. 2001-Coal Miner's Daughter named among "NPR's 100 Most Significant Songs of the 20th Century".
On , 2007, Berklee College of Music presented Lynn an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree for her contribution to the world of country music. The degree was presented to her on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. On , 2008, Lynn was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York City.
In her heyday, Lynn was not a stranger to controversy. She possibly had more banned songs than any other artist in the history of country music, including "Rated X," about the double standards divorced women face, "Wings Upon Your Horns," about the loss of teenage virginity, and "The Pill," lyrics by T. D. Bayless, about a wife and mother becoming liberated via the birth control pill. Her song "Dear Uncle Sam," released in 1966 during the Vietnam War, describes a wife's anguish at the loss of a husband to war. It has been included in live performances during the current Iraq War.