Distinguished Artist Recipient, 2015 Governor’s Arts Awards
For fifty years now, Loretta has fashioned a body of work as artistically and commercially successful—and as culturally significant—as any female performer you’d care to name. Her music has confronted many of the major social issues of her time, and her life story is a rags-to-riches tale familiar to pop, rock and country fans alike. The Coal Miner’s Daughter has journeyed from the poverty of the Kentucky hills to Nashville superstardom to her current status as an American icon.
Born in Butcher Holler, Kentucky as the second of Clara and Ted Webb’s eight children, Loretta married 21-year-old Oliver Lynn (aka Doolittle or Doo, or “Mooney” for moonshine) when she was barely 14. After moving to Custer, Washington with Doo in 1951, Lynn spent the next decade as a full-time mother of four kids. In her spare time, though, she learned to play the guitar and began singing in the area. Before long, Loretta and Doo hit the road cross-country, stopping every time they spotted a country radio station to push her first release, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” By the time they reached Nashville, the record was a hit and Loretta was soon cutting sides with Owen Bradley, producer at the time for Patsy Cline, Bill Anderson and Webb Pierce.
Strongly influenced by Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline, Lynn fashioned her distinctive style as a mature fusion of twang, grit, energy and romance. Throughout the 1960s, Loretta wrote a string of hits unprecedented for their strong women narrators. In “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Take My Man)” [#2, 1966], “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind)” [#1, 1967], and “Fist City” [#1, 1968], among others, Loretta presented a new character on the country scene: a woman unafraid to stand up for herself, just like real women did. Loretta’s brand of women’s liberation was attuned specifically to her blue-collar audience and life as it was lived.
In 1970 she released her signature song, chart-topper “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which chronicled for all time the strides women were making in these years—from country to city, from home to workforce and, in Lynn’s case, from “girl-singer” to superstar. The immense popularity of the songs, as well as other straight-shooting hits like “Your Squaw Is on the Warpath,” “Women of the World (Leave My World Alone),” and “You’re Looking at Country,” culminated in 1972 when Lynn won her second Best Female Vocalist award from the Country Music Association—and when she became the first woman to win the CMA’s most prestigious award, Entertainer of the Year.
Loretta continued to score hits during the next decade and became famous beyond her country base. In 1973, she appeared on the cover of Newsweek; in 1976 her autobiography (written with journalist George Vescey) became a New York Times Bestseller; in 1980 the book was made into an Oscar winning film. By the time of her last major hit—”I Lie,” in 1982—Lynn could count 52 Top 10 hits and 16 number 1’s, standing as the most awarded woman in country music.
Lynn’s latest album, the Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose, reminds the world yet again of Lynn’s power as a vocalist and her skill as a songwriter. As she puts it in “Story of My Life,” the new album’s closing track: “Not half bad for this ol’ KY girl, I guess…Here’s the story of my life. Listen close, I’ll tell it twice.
When Lynn isn’t touring, she can be found working in her garden at her 5,000 acre ranch located in Hurricane Mills. Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, located in Humphreys County, is one of Tennessee’s top tourist attractions of offering visitors tours, camping and other recreational activities.