Loretta Lynn, 1932-2022: An Appreciation

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HONKY TONK ANGEL: Loretta Lynn, who died Oct. 4 at 90, was more than a “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – she was an early, and fierce, voice for women in country music throughout a career that dates from singing in clubs in the late 1950s to her final album, Still Woman Enough, released in 2021. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

Loretta Lynn, country music’s beloved “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” died aged 90 on Oct. 4 in her Hurricane Mills, Tenn., home, marking the end of an epic life and career that touched parts of eight decades and triggered a flood of tributes from contemporaries like Jeannie Seely to the Grand Ole Opry’s newest invitee, Ashley McBryde.

“There is no monument, award, or musical performance that can ever begin to recognize the incredible woman Loretta Lynn was or the contributions she made,” said Dan Rogers, Opry vice president and executive producer.

Lynn’s last performance at the Opry took place Jan. 21, 2017. She performed “Fist City,” “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” The latter, of course, is the title of Lynn’s autobiography that was turned into a film of same name, winning an Academy Award for Best Actress for Sissy Spacek in the role of Loretta Lynn.

Even after her most productive recording period had passed, Lynn wasn’t content to retire. Rocker Jack White, of White Stripes and Raconteurs fame, produced a 2004 album, Van Lear Rose, for Lynn that was released on Interscope Records to critical acclaim, reaching No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and No. 24 on the Billboard 200. Over a span of 42 albums, Van Lear Rose would be the most successful crossover album of her career.

So much more than a “girl singer,” Lynn helped pave the way for women in a genre that up until her arrival had largely been the domain of male stars with some exceptions like the Carter Family including matriarch Mother Maybelle Carter, Dottie West, Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline and Jean Shepherd.
Nobody dared tell Loretta Lynn to “shut up and sing” – she spoke through her music and rattled cages (and earned some bans) for addressing then-taboo topics like sex and sexuality including 1972’s “Rated X,” and 1975’s “The Pill.” She wasn’t content to stand by her man – she spoke for wronged women by standing up to “the other woman,” too, in songs like “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Fist City.”

Friend, contemporary and fellow Grand Ole Opry stalwart Jeannie Seely told Pollstar that Lynn’s “The Pill” was a crucial component of her advocacy lobbying legislators to legalize contraception.

There was no misinterpreting Lynn’s declaration that “All these years I’ve stayed at home while you had all your fun / And every year that’s gone by another baby’s come / There’s a gonna be some changes made right here on nursery hill / You’ve set this chicken your last time, ‘cause now I’ve got the pill.”

“I was working behind the scenes, talking to these men, and they didn’t know what it meant for women. Then Loretta’s song came out,” Seely says, laughing. “She was a buddy. She was an ally, always. And she was so fun to be around. At that time, our careers were going in different directions and we weren’t often in the same place at any one time. There might be a television show where we’d be at and she was just a delight in the room.”

Lynn spent much of her life on the road until a 2017 stroke ended her touring career. Her last headlining appearance in Pollstar’s Boxoffice was a 2019 hometown show at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, where 12,791 fans bought tickets for a gross of $1,510,884.

Since 1999, Lynn reported 538 headline dates and, of those dates for which box office counts are available, sold 512,012 tickets and grossed more than $34.11 million.
In 1972, she became the first woman to be awarded the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year.

CMA chief executive Sarah Trahern said, “Loretta Lynn was always ahead of her time, and I think her CMA Entertainer of the Year win in 1972 speaks to that in a lot of ways … but I think the trail she blazed from that moment on speaks to her true legacy.

“You see a lot of her daring and courageous spirit in generations of artists, from those who stood alongside her like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, to the newer generation of artists like Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves. Our industry is certainly in mourning, but more so there’s a feeling of celebration and admiration for what Loretta contributed to Country Music.”

Ashley McBryde appeared at a Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum fundraiser in 2020 to sing Lynn’s “You’re Lookin’ at Country,” while playing Loretta’s 1956 Gibson J-50 guitar. She paid tribute to Lynn via Twitter just two days before being invited to join the Opry herself.

“It was the honor of my career to play your guitar and sing one of your songs. Your inspiration will live on through all of us girls. We promise. Thank you for the guidance. And thank you for the music. Rest now Miss Loretta.”