Loretta Lynn, the “coal miner’s daughter” whose bold lyrics and nasal, local voice made her a country music queen for seven decades, has died. She was 90 years old.
Lynn’s family said in a statement to CNN that she died Tuesday at her home in Tennessee.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4, in her sleep at home on her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the statement read.
They asked for confidentiality during their mourning and said a memorial would be announced later.
Lynn, who had no formal musical training but spent hours every day singing her babies to sleep, was known for producing fully textured songs in minutes. She just wrote down what she knew.
She lived in poverty for much of her youth, started having children at 17, and spent years married to a man prone to drinking and running – all of which became the material for her simple songs. Lynn’s life was rich with experiences that most country stars of the time didn’t have for themselves – but her female fans knew them intimately.
“So when I sing these country songs about women struggling to get things done, you could say I’ve been there,” she wrote in her first memoir, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “Like I said, I know what it’s like to be pregnant, nervous and poor.”
Lynn scored hits with fiery songs like “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”, which topped the charts. country in 1966 and made her the first country singer to write a No. 1 hit.
His songs told family history, skewered bad husbands, and sympathized with women, wives, and mothers around the world. His tell-it-like-it-is style saw tracks such as “Rated X” and “The Pill” banished from radio, despite becoming beloved classics.
“I wasn’t the first woman in country music,” Lynn told Esquire in 2007. “I was just the first to stand up and say what I thought, what life was about.”
She was born Loretta Webb in 1932, one of eight Webb children raised in Butcher Hollow in the Appalachian mining town of Van Lear, Kentucky. Growing up, Lynn sang in church and at home, even as her father protested that everyone in Butcher Hollow could hear.
His family had little money. But those early years are some of her fondest memories, as she recounts in her 1971 hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”: “We were poor but we had love; It’s the only thing Dad made sure of.
As a young teenager, Loretta met the love of her life in Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, whom she affectionately called “Doo”. The couple married when Lynn was 15 – a fact that was cleared up in 2012, after the Associated Press discovered that Lynn was a few years older than she said in her memoir – and Lynn gave birth to their first of six children the same year.
“When I got married, I didn’t even know what it meant to be pregnant,” said Lynn, who had four children in the first four years of marriage and twins years later.
“I was five months pregnant when I went to the doctor and he said, ‘You’re having a baby.’ I said, ‘No way. I can’t have a baby. He said, ‘Aren’t you married?’ Yeah. He said, ‘Are you sleeping with your husband?’ Yeah. “You’re having a baby, Loretta. Trust me.” And I did.”
The couple quickly traveled to Washington State in search of employment. Music was not a priority for the young mother at first. She spent her days working, mostly picking strawberries in Washington state while her babies sat on a blanket nearby.
But when her husband heard her humming tunes and putting their babies to sleep, he said she sounded better than the singers on the radio. He bought her a $17 Harmony guitar and offered her a gig at a local tavern.
It was not until 1960 that she would record what would become her first single, “Honky Tonk Girl”. She then took the song on the road, playing country music stations across the United States.
After years of hard work and child-rearing, storytelling with his guitar felt like a break.
“Singing was easy,” Lynn told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2010. “I thought, ‘Gee whiz, that’s easy work.’ ”
The success of her debut single landed Lynn on the Grand Ole Opry stage in Nashville and, soon, a deal with Decca Records. She quickly befriended country star Patsy Cline, who guided her through country stardom fame and fashion until her shocking death in a plane crash in 1963.
Cline “was my only girlfriend at the time. She took me under her wing, and when I lost her, it was something else. I still miss her to this day,” Lynn told the Denver Post in 2009. “I wrote ‘You’re not woman enough to take my man’ and she said, ‘Loretta, that’s a fucking hit”. It shocked me, because you don’t expect someone like Patsy Cline to tell you you have a hit. Right after he died, I released the record and it was a hit.
Lynn’s struggle and success has become legendary, an oft-repeated tale of youth, naivety and poverty.
From “Fist City” to “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” Lynn has always sung from the heart, whether she’s chiding a woman interested in Doo or honoring her Appalachian roots. But his music was far from conventional.
She angered the conservative country establishment with songs like ‘Rated X’, about the stigma of fun-loving women post-divorce, and ‘The Pill’, in which a woman toasts her newfound freedom thanks to birth control – “They didn’t have any of those pills when I was younger, or I would have swallowed them like popcorn,” Lynn wrote in her memoir.
She documented her upbringing in the bestselling 1976 memoir “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” co-written with George Vecsey. A 1980 biopic of the same name won an Oscar for actress Sissy Spacek and made Lynn more famous. Lynn’s success also helped launch the music careers of her sisters, Peggy Sue Wright and Crystal Gayle.
Lynn’s legend was challenged in 2012 when The Associated Press reported that in census records, a birth certificate, and a marriage license, Lynn was three years older than most biographies indicated. It didn’t spoil Lynn’s success, but it did make the oft-repeated stories of her marriage and teenage motherhood less extreme.
“I never, ever thought about being a model,” Lynn told the San Antonio Express-News in 2010. “I wrote from life, how things happened in my life. I never could understand why the others did not write what they knew.
Lynn has always credited her husband with giving her the confidence to take her first steps on stage as a young performer. She has also spoken in interviews and in her music about the pain he caused during their nearly 50 years of marriage. Doolittle Lynn died in 1996 after years of complications from heart problems and diabetes.
In her 2002 memoir, “Still Woman Enough”, Lynn wrote that he was an alcoholic who cheated on her and beat her, even as she hit him. But she stayed with him until his death and told NPR in 2010 that “he’s in there somewhere” in every song she wrote.
“We had a fight one day and we’d love the next, so I mean…for me, it’s a good relationship,” she told NPR. “If you can’t fight, if you can’t tell each other what you think – why, your relationship isn’t much anyway.”
Lynn has won numerous awards throughout her career, including three Grammys and numerous honors from the Academy of Country Music. She won Grammys for her 1971 duet with Conway Twitty, “After the Fire is Gone,” and for the 2004 album “Van Lear Rose,” a collaboration with Jack White of the White Stripes that introduced her to a new generation of fans.
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and her song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. She received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and in 2013 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
President Barack Obama said Lynn “gave a generation a voice, singing what no one wanted to talk about and saying what no one wanted to think about”.
Her career and legend only continued to grow in her later years as she recorded new songs, toured regularly, and garnered a loyal following well into her 80s. A museum and ranch are dedicated to Lynn at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
“Working keeps you young,” she told Esquire in 2007. “I’ll never stop. And when I do, it’ll be on stage. That’ll be it.
Lynn was hospitalized in 2017 after suffering a stroke at her home. The following year, she broke her hip. Her health forced her to stop filming.
In early 2021, at the age of 89, she recorded her 50th album, “Still Woman Enough”.
The title track, which she sang alongside her successors Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire, sounded like a mission statement that captured the ethos of her career:
“I’m still quite a woman, I still have what it takes inside;
I know how to love, lose and survive;
There’s not much I haven’t seen, haven’t tried;
I was knocked down, but never out of the fight;
I am strong, but I am tender;
Wise, but I’m hard;
And let me tell you when it comes to love;
I am still quite a woman.