Lynn, Loretta (Contemporary Musicians)
With 26 number-one songs to her credit and a career that has spanned more than four decades, singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn has become known as the Queen of Country. Many of the feisty performer's works appeal to a female fan base because of their gritty but often upbeat tales of betrayal, hard times, raising kids, and other real-life topics. With a hardscrabble upbringing, a devoted yet troubled 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 Oscar-winning film starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. Though 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.
Born Loretta Webb in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Lynn's birthday is April 14, but she is secretive about the year. Most sources put it at 1934, while others have said 1932, 1936, or 1938. She grew up during the Depression. Her father, Melvin, whom everyone knew as Ted, worked on road construction for the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, but when the economy improved, he found a job in the coal mines. Her mother, Clara (Butcher) Webb, was Irish and Cherokee and raised eight children. Lynn was the second child; the youngest, Brenda, changed her name to Crystal Gayle and went on to a successful singing career of her own.
Lynn grew up in a rustic home in the mountains with no electricity or water. Later, after getting a job in the mines, her father was able to buy a four-room home in a big clearing down in the hollow, or "holler," as she calls it. Each week, the family listened to the Grand Ole Opry on a battery-powered radio. "I can't say that I had big dreams of being a star at the Opry," Lynn wrote in Coal Miner's Daughter. "It was another world to me. All I knew was Butcher Holleridn't have no dreams that I knew about." She was 12 before she rode in a car.
While growing up, Lynn helped her mother take care of her siblings, and that is how she began singing. "I'd sit on the porch swing and rock them babies and sing at the top of my voice," she recalled in her autobiography. She got an education in a one-room schoolhouse, and met her husband there at a pie social one night when she was 13. He had already served in World War II, and was dressed in his uniform. He bid a whopping $5 for her pie, which she baked with salt instead of sugar by accident. Despite the mix-up, he walked her home and asked for a kiss, and she fell in love immediately.
Oliver Vanetta Lynn was nicknamed "Mooney" because he once ran moonshine, but Lynn called him "Doo" because of his other nickname, "Doolittle," which he had since age two. "Nobody knows whyaybe because he was always a little feller," she noted in Coal Miner's Daughter. She pointed out that it was not because he was a layabout; she wrote that he worked hard running their ranch and managing her career and touring schedule.
The pair married on January 10, 1948, a few weeks before Lynn turned 14. She noted in Newsweek, "I told Momma, 'I'm getting married so I won't have to rock all them babies.' Momma cried all night. Then bang, bang, bang, bang, I had four children in four yearsefore I was 18." After having Betty Sue, Jack Benny, Carla, and Ernest Ray, Lynn later gave birth to twins Peggy and Patsy. By age 30, she became a grandmother when her eldest daughter married and had a child.
Soon after they married, Lynn and her husband moved to Washington state, where he had lived when he was young. The coal industry was declining and he found a better job in the timber industry. She helped support the family by picking strawberries with migrant workers and doing laundry. Thanks to the farming family they worked and lived with, she learned how to cook. He later worked as an auto mechanic.
When their oldest daughter was ten, Lynn's husband bought her a guitar. Her brother and two of her sisters were already performing in clubs in Indiana, where the family had moved after her father was laid off from the mines. Doo Lynn had heard his wife singing along with the radio and thought she was talented. "I was proud to be noticed, to tell you the truth, so I went right to work on it," she commented in her autobiography.
Encouraged by Her Husband
At first, Lynn sang Kitty Wells tunes, but soon started writing her own material. After a couple months, her husband suggested she could earn some money by playing for patrons at the local bars. Though she was extremely bashful, she went along with it. "He said I could do it, and he said he'd set me up at some club," Lynn wrote in Coal Miner's Daughter."SoIdiditecause he said I could. He made all the decisions in those days." She added, "Now that's what I mean when I say my husband is responsible for my career. It wasn't my idea: he told me I could do it. I'd still be a housewife today if he didn't bring that guitar home and then encourage me to be a singer."
Lynn's career began at Delta Grange Hall, where she first appeared at a party with the governor of Washington in attendance. She then started appearing with the Penn Brothers. Soon, with help from her husband, she formed her own group, Loretta's Trail Blazers. Before long, she was playing six nights a week at a tavern and on Sundays would perform at Air Force bases and mental hospitals. After winning first prize at the Northwest Washington District Fair, she and her husband decided to try to make it in Nashville.
A lucky break came after Lynn won an amateur contest on Buck Owens's television show when he was just starting out himself. A Vancouver businessman saw the show and offered to put up the money to cut a record. She went to Los Angeles and managed to get into a studio, where they recorded "Honky Tonk Girl," for the small Zero Records label. Doo Lynn took a picture of his wife and mailed 3,500 copies of the single and Lynn's photo to radio stations around the country. The song made it to number 14 on Billboard 's country charts on July 25, 1960. She soon took off on a crosscountry promotional tour to talk herself up at radio stations.
First Gold Record
By October of 1960, Lynn was performing with the Grand Ole Opry. She signed a contract with Decca Records and moved to Nashville in 1961. She became good friends with Patsy Cline, one of the reigning country stars of the time, and the two shared secrets and went shopping together. Cline died in 1963 in a plane crash, the year that Lynn's first album, Loretta Lynn Sings, went to number one and became the first album by a female country artist to be certified gold. It featured the hit single, "Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (with Lovin' on Your Mind)."
This song was indeed a tribute to Lynn's husband, whom she admits had problems with alcohol. "I think one of the reasons he drinks is he's lonesome when I'm away so much," she told Phyllis Battelle in Ladies Home Journal. He even showed up drunk at the premiere of Coal Miner's Daughter, and Lynn has hinted that he was not always faithful. But not all of her songs are directly about her life. She admitted that the tune "Fist City," about a woman who plans to fight to keep her man from another woman's attentions, was autobiographical, but said that another, "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" was actually about a distraught fan she met one night backstage.
Indeed, Lynn recounts many tender stories about her husband in Coal Miner's Daughter. Just after signing with Decca, Lynn and her husband bought a sprawling 1,450-acre ranch about 65 miles outside Nashville. It was actually an old mill town called Hurricane Mills, and the house on the property reminded Lynn of the house "Tara" in Gone with the Wind. Her husband discovered it was structurally unsound, but he worked diligently to get it back into shape because he knew how much she wanted it. But there were other problems, too. "Right after we moved in [in April 1967], I found out the place was haunted," Lynn told Battelle in Ladies Home Journal. She refused to be alone in the home after seeing spirits. In 1975, they opened a dude ranch on the property.
Meanwhile, by the mid-1960s, Lynn had racked up several number-one hits and best-selling albums. From the late 1960s to the late 1970s she amassed numerous country awards, including many for duets with Conway Twitty. Rumors abounded that Lynn was responsible for breaking up Twitty's marriage, but in her autobiography she steadfastly denied ever having an affair.
In 1972, Lynn was honored as Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association. Before the televised ceremonies, some warned that if she won, she should not to touch presenter, Charley Pride, in order to maintain her "image in rural white America," as George Vecsey wrote in the New York Times. She disregarded the advice and embraced him. In 1973, Lynn became the first country artist to appear on the cover of Newsweek.
By the late 1970s, spending 10 months a year of the road appeared to be catching up with Lynn. She suffered from exhaustion, illness, high blood pressure, ulcers, and chronic migraines, and began to pass out on stage. Rumors flew that she was drinking heavily or addicted to pills. In her book, she has insisted her troubles were due to an allergy to aspirin, but Dalma Heyn reported in McCall's that she was addicted to Valium. Lynn denied this to Bob Allen in Country Music, telling him that she did, however, take Librium for nerves. She also has had trouble with unexplained seizures but has said doctors ruled out epilepsy. Also, in 1972 doctors found tumors in her breast and she was in the hospital a total of nine times for that.
As her career was building, Lynn's husband took care of the children for the most part. They had babysitters, too, because he was often on the road with her. She wrote in her book, "If I could start over again, I would still go into show business. But if I could change just one thing, I would be with my children more."
A Year of Tragedy
Lynn was devastated in 1984 when her son Jack drowned in an accident on her family ranch. He went out horseback riding, and the police later found the horse standing beneath a river bluff with Jack's body nearby. She was in intensive care at the time after having one of her seizures on tour. This followed on the heels of plenty of other bad news for the family. The same year, Lynn's other son had a kidney removed, and the previous year, his wife gave birth to stillborn twins. In addition, two of her daughters, including one who married at 15, got divorced.
After the death of her son, Lynn did not record anything for two years and she cut back on her touring. The album Just a Woman, which was recorded before the accident, came out in 1985, but then she went back to the studio and released Who Was That Stranger in 1988. That same year, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the most-awarded female in country music history. Subsequently, though, Lynn dropped out of circulation for a few years to take care of Doo Lynn, who had heart surgery in the early 1990s.
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. Also, 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. Doo Lynn died in August of 1996, after suffering from heart disease and diabetes. He had both legs amputated by the time he died.
Lynn went back on the road in 1998 and with Patsy Bale Cox co-wrote another memoir, Still Woman Enough, which picks up where Coal Miner's Daughter leftoff. In 2000, she released her first collection of solo original songs in twelve years, Still Country. The release features her trademark twang and homespun lyrics. Though some felt her rootsy music was out of place in the new, glitzier Nashville atmosphere, she told Miriam Longino in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, "I never left country music; everybody else did. It's made me a good livin'. Why should I go in another direction?"
Loretta Lynn Sings, Decca, 1963.
Before I'm Over You, Decca, 1964.
Songs from My Heart, Decca, 1965.
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn, Decca, 1965.
Hymns, MCA, 1965.
I Like 'Em Country, Decca, 1966.
A Country Christmas, MCA, 1966.
You Ain't Woman Enough, MCA, 1966.
Singin' with Feelin', Decca, 1967.
Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn Singin' Again, Decca, 1967.
Don't Come Home a Drinkin', MCA, 1967.
Fist City, Decca, 1968.
Here's Loretta Lynn, Columbia, 1968.
Who Says God Is Dead!, MCA, 1968.
Your Squaw Is on the Warpath, Decca, 1969.
A Woman of the World, Decca, 1969.
If We Put Our Heads Together, Decca, 1969.
Loretta Lynn Writes 'Em and Sings 'Em, Decca, 1970.
Wings Upon Your Horns, Decca, 1970.
I Wanna Be Free, Decca, 1971.
One's on the Way, Decca, 1971.
You're Lookin' at Country, Decca, 1971.
Coal Miner's Daughter, MCA, 1971.
We Only Make Believe, MCA, 1971.
Lead Me On, MCA, 1971.
God Bless America Again, Decca, 1972.
Here I Am Again, Decca, 1972.
Alone with You, MCA, 1972.
Louisiana Woman/Mississippi Man, MCA, 1973.
Country Partners, MCA, 1974.
Back to the Country, MCA, 1975.
Blue-Eyed Kentucky Girl, Decca, 1976.
I Remember Patsy, MCA, 1977.
Lookin' Good, MCA, 1980.
Two's a Party, MCA, 1981.
Making Love from Memory, MCA Special, 1982.
Lyin' Cheatin' Woman Chasin' Honky Tonkin', MCA, 1983.
Loretta Lynn, MCA, 1984.
Just a Woman, MCA, 1985.
Making Believe, MCA, 1988.
Who Was That Stranger, MCA, 1989.
I'll Just Call You Darlin', MCA, 1989.
Peace in the Valley, MCA, 1990.
The Old Rugged Cross, MCA, 1992.
Sings Patsy Cline's Favorites, MCA Special, 1992.
Hey Good Lookin, MCA Special, 1993.
Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection, MCA, 1994.
An Evening with Loretta Lynn, Musketeer, 1995.
Loretta Lynn & Patsy Cline On Tour, Vol. 1 (live album), MCA Special, 1996.
Loretta Lynn & Patsy Cline On Tour, Vol. 2 (live album), MCA Special, 1996.
Honky Tonk Girl, MCA Home Video, 1996.
Still Country, Audium, 2000.
Legends of Countryoretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, MPI Home Video, 2001.
Coal Miner's Daughter: In Concert, Empire Music Group, 2002.
All Time Greatest Hits, MCA, 2002.
Van Lear Rose, Interscope, 2004.
Lynn, Loretta, with George Vecsey, Coal Miner's Daughter, Regnery, 1976; reissued, Da Capo, 1996.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 10, 2000, p. L1.
Country Music, November-December 1985, p. 40; September-October 1988, p. 30.
Dallas Morning News, June 9, 1997, p. 21A.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 24, 1995.
Ladies Home Journal, June 1984, p. 36.
McCall's, March 1985, p. 88; June 1988, p. 86.
Ms., May 1980, p. 37.
Newsweek, December 4, 1972, p. 67; March 17, 1975, p. 90.
New York Times, October 25, 1972, p. 36.
People, August 13, 1984, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1999, p. 16.
Reader's Digest, January 1977, p. 83.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), August 24, 1996.
USA Today, July 21, 1997, p. 5D.
"Loretta Lynn," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com (January 31, 2004).
Loretta Lynn Official Website, http://www.lorettalynn.com (January 31, 2004).
eri Koeppel and Ken Burke