In the beginning I will make this statement: If the Country Music industry would have been allowed one icon, Loretta Lynn would have been a good choice. It is said Loretta Lynn is the definition of Country Music.
In the early years of her career, the famous Owen Bradley of Decca Records was smitten with Loretta’s innocence, individualism, infectious wit, independent spirit, humorous candor, refreshing frankness and immense talent. In fact, he came to regard her as “the female Hank Williams”.
She was raised in dire poverty in a remote Appalachian Kentucky hamlet living in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters. She was surrounded by music as a child. She said, “I though everybody sang because everybody up there in Butcher Holler did, everybody in my family sang, so I really didn’t understand until I left Butcher Holler that there’s some people who couldn’t, and was kind of a shock to me.”
She famously married Oliver Lynn when was was 13 years old. Oliver was a 21-year-old war veteran with a reputation as a hell raiser.
When she was seven months pregnant with her first child, they moved far away from Appalachian to Custer, Washington. Two more, twins, came along in 1964. Isolated from her native culture and burdened with domestic work, she turned to music for solace. I am told two of her young daughters would spend summers with a Blanchard family here in Plaquemine.
“Before I was singing, cleaned houses, took in laundry, I picked berries,” Lynn said. “I worked seven days a week. I was a housewife and mother for 15 years before I was an entertainer.
“And it wasn’t like being a housewife today. It was doing hand laundry on a board and cooking on an old coal stove. I grew a garden and canned what I grew. That’s what’s real. I know how to survive.”
Loretta first arrived in Nashville 55 years ago, signing her first recording contract on February 1, 1960, and within a matter of weeks, she was at her first recording session.
A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, Loretta became one of the most distinctive performers in Nashville history, shacking things by writing her own songs, many of which tackled boundary-pushing topics drawn from her own life experiences as a wife and mother. She said she was writing about things nobody talked about.
“To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different,” says living country legend Loretta Lynn. “And I was the first to ever go in to Nashville, singin’ it like the women lived it.”
In addition to being “first” she was also “great” and “different”. Loretta Lynn’s instantly recognizable delivery is one of the greatest voices in music history.
As for “different”, no songwriter has a more distinctive body of work. In lyrics such as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” and “Your Squaw is on the War Path”, she refused to be any man’s doormat. She challenged female rivals in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Fist City”.
She showed tremendous blue-collar pride in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country”. She is unafraid of controversy whether the topic is sex or war such as “Wouldn’t It Be Great” and “Dear Uncle Sam”. Her celebration of sexual liberation was banned by many radio stations. Like the lady herself, Loretta Lynn’s songs shoot from the hip.
As millions who read her 1976 autobiography or saw its Oscar winnings 1980 film treatment are aware, Loretta is a Coal Miner’s Daughter who was raised in dire poverty in a remote Appalachian Kentucky hamlet. Sissy Spacek, who portrayed Loretta in the movie, amazingly sang all the songs herself.
Other songs that followed included “I Wanna Be Free”, “You Wanna Give Me a Lift”, “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”, “Hey, Loretta”, “Love is the Foundation”, “Wine, Women and Song” and “Somebody Somewhere”. She and Conway Twitty won a long string of Duet of the Year awards.
Loretta began picking up various Female Vocalist of the Year awards. The industry showered her with BMI songwriting honors, gold record plaques, four Grammy Awards and other accolades.
By the mid-1970s, Loretta Lynn was an undeniable super star. She was featured on the covers of Newsweek, Redbook and many other national publications. With her kookie humor and scrambled grammar, she became a TV talk-show favorite.
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Loretta received Kennedy Center honors, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
We saw her in concert two months ago. She sang her songs sitting in a chair, but stood up to sing her final song “Coal Miner’s Daughter”. Loretta is truly the greatest.