“Pioneer” still doesn’t even feel like the right word to describe everything Loretta Lynn was.
She sadly passed away on Tuesday at the age of 90, at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, and it’s been difficult to put into words just how seismic and important her impact on country music has been and will continue to be.
She famously had 14 songs banned from country radio throughout her career, which I always found so fascinating, because every single last one them was really just the God’s honest truth.
Loretta sang about life as a homemaker and wife in Appalachia, and it’s something women all over the world could relate to because she got to the heart of the emotions and struggles that come along with those roles.
In her 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, she famously noted that, to ever really reach the kind of success levels she saw in her life:
“You either have to be first, best or different.”
She was one of very few people who was all three and so much more; she was a true original and a trailblazer in every sense.
Many of her song topics were considered very edgy at the time, and her 1975 hit “The Pill” often comes up as an example. It was banned by radio stations across the country for it’s topic surrounding birth control and access for women.
Loretta was married at age 15 to her husband of almost 50 years, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, and she had four kids by the age of 20, and became a grandma by the age of 29.
Her life story is incredible, as she grew up dirt poor in the hills of Appalachia in Butcher Holler, Kentucky.
She pulled from those experiences in her music, which is why her songs resonated so deeply.
But Loretta was never trying to make a political statement or take any sort of stance… she just grew up loving to sing, because it’s what everyone did all the time back home:
“I thought 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 were some people who couldn’t. And it was kind of a shock.”
She had no idea what she was singing about was considered “controversial,” and in the early years of her marriage, she never even imagined she would ever sing country music for a living.
She grew a garden, cleaned the house, did laundry, and cooked on a coal stove in order to take care of her family:
“Before I was singing, I cleaned house; I took in laundry; I picked berries. 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.”
Doo would always hear her singing when she did house chores, and he immediately knew she was destined to be a star. He bought her a cheap guitar, and told her to learn how to play it and write songs.
And as soon as she picked it up, she knew she had a natural inclination for writing and singing.
Though, ironically, as she had grown up in poverty, working hard for everything she and her family had, she was relatively sheltered and isolated back in those hollers and hills.
She really and truly had no idea what she was saying in her lyrics touched on topics people didn’t discuss in public… she just wrote about her life:
“After he got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup. I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’
I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t.
I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.”
There will never be another one like her, that’s for sure. They simply don’t make ’em like Loretta anymore.
Eventually, the husband and wife began driving to radio stations across the country promoting her song “Honky Tonk Girl” for three months, which ultimately became her first radio hit, as it peaked at #14 on the U.S. Hot Country Songs… not too shabby for a mountain girl with no record label and no real name recognition whatsoever.
She always understood who her audience was, and added that she was more than happy to be writing on behalf of women everywhere, because at the time, the unabashed honesty with which she deliver her truth was unheard of.
In her book, she explained:
“Most of my songs were from the women’s point of view.
That’s who I’m singing about and singing to during my shows. And the girls know it….Most of my fan club is women, which is how I want it.”
It’s impossible to overstate just how significant her accomplishments are, as the Country Music Hall of Famer boasts a whopping 51 Top 10 hits, she’s won multiple Grammy Awards, and she was the first woman to win the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music awards for Entertainer of the Year.
She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, and was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. She sold over 45 million albums worldwide.
The ever-humble Mrs. Loretta would never accept the word “legend,” though, as she stated very clearly that she was just a woman who sang about the true and authentic things she experienced in life — to her, it was nothing more and nothing less:
“I ain’t a star – a star is something up in the night sky.
People say to me, ‘You’re a legend.’ I’m not a legend. I’m just a woman.”
In the words of the great Randy Travis,
“We will never have another Loretta Lynn…this world isn’t good enough for two of her.”
RIP country queen.
I’ve found myself listening her recitation of her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” a lot this week, because I think it perfectly encapsulates her salt of the earth warmth and the essence of who she was: