"To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different," says American music icon Loretta Lynn. "And I was the first to ever go into Nashville, singin' it like the women lived it."
Loretta first arrived in Nashville 58 years ago, signed her first recording contract on February 1, 1960, and within a matter of weeks, was already singing at her first recording session.
A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, Lynn became one of the most distinctive performers in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, shaking up the status quo by writing her own songs, many of them tackling boundary-pushing topics drawn from her own life experiences as a wife and mother.
In addition to being "first," she was also "great" and "different." Loretta Lynn's instantly recognizable delivery is one of the defining sounds of American country music. As for "different," no songwriter has a more singular or personal body of work. In her lyrics for songs 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 ("Wings Upon Your Horns"), divorce ("Rated X"), alcohol ("Wouldn't It Be Great") or war ("Dear Uncle Sam"). "The Pill," 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 winning 1980 film treatment are aware, Loretta is a Coal Miner's Daughter who 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.
"I thought everybody sang, because everybody up there in Butcher Holler did," she recalls. "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 famously married Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn when she was a barely schooled child of 13. "Doo" 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 Appalachia to Custer, Washington. By age 18, she had four children (two more, twins, came along in 1964). Isolated from her native culture and burdened with domestic work, she turned to music for solace.
"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 heard her singing at her chores and declared that she sounded just as good as anyone he heard on the radio. He bought her a guitar and told her to learn how to play it and write songs with it. Loretta says her songs were so forthright because she didn't know any better.
"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."
Doo began pushing her to perform in area nightclubs. Executives from Zero Records heard her in a nightspot across the border in Vancouver, Canada. She soon recorded her debut single, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," for the little label. Loretta made herself a fringed cowgirl outfit, and she and Doo drove across the country in his old Mercury sedan promoting the single at station after station.
Astonishingly, it worked. The disc hit the popularity charts in the summer of 1960 and brought the couple to Music City. She began singing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry after her debut on Oct. 15, 1960. The show's Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings. Teddy Wilburn helped to polish Loretta's startlingly original songwriting style. Brother Doyle Wilburn took a tape of her singing "Fool #1" to producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records. Owen liked the song, but was already working with Kitty Wells, Goldie Hill, Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline and said he didn't need another female singer. Teddy told him that he couldn't have the song if he didn't sign its singer. As a result, Brenda had a smash pop hit with "Fool #1," and Loretta got a Decca Records contract.
Like everyone else who encountered her, Owen Bradley 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."
Loretta's Decca chart debut came with 1962's "Success." It became the first of her 51 top-10 hits and led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry cast later that year. Her fellow Opry cast member Patsy Cline taught her how to dress, style her hair and wear make-up. The Wilburns began featuring her on their nationally syndicated TV series. She sang a series of sassy domestic ditties with her childhood hero, Ernest Tubb. As a solo artist, she hit her stride with "Wine, Women and Song" (1964) and "Happy Birthday" (1965), both of them feisty, don't-step-on-me numbers.
"She's the spokesman for the ladies," observed the late Owen Bradley. "Loretta had a lot of different ideas, and they were very fresh. Women's lib was also coming on at that time. You have to be in the right place at the right time. And I think Loretta was standing right there."
"Most of my songs were from the women's point of view," Loretta wrote in her best-selling autobiography. "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."
Among Loretta's finest moments on disc are such empowering female statements as "You Wanna Give Me Lift" (1970), "I Wanna Be Free" (1971), "We've Come a Long Way Baby" (1978), "Hey Loretta" (1973), "Love Is the Foundation" (1973) and the hilarious "One's on the Way" (1972). She memorably romanced and sassed Conway Twitty in a number of hugely popular duet performances in 1970-1982.
In 1967, she began picking up various Female Vocalist of the Year trophies. She and Conway also won a long string of Duet of the Year awards beginning in 1971, the industry showered her with BMI songwriting honors, Gold Record plaques, a Grammy Award and other accolades. In 1972, she became the first woman in history to win the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year trophy.
By the mid-1970s, Loretta Lynn was an undeniable superstar. She was featured on the covers of Newsweek (1973), Redbook (1974) and many other mainstream national publications. With her kookie humor, scrambled grammar and unpretentious manner, she became a TV talk-show favorite.
Loretta continued to dominate the charts as the '70s drew to a close, scoring major hits with 1976's "Somebody Somewhere," 1977's "Out of My Head and Back in My Bed" and 1979's "I've Got a Picture of Us on My Mind." Her 1982 smash hits "I Lie" and "Making Love From Memory" carried her into the new decade.
One of the most remarkable things about Loretta Lynn is how she renews her creativity time and again. Two years after she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, she was back on the charts with the hit, "Heart Don't Do This to Me." In 1988, the year she entered the Country Music Hall of Fame, Loretta recorded with k.d. lang. She earned a Gold Record in 1994 with Honky Tonk Angels, a trio CD with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette.
Doo died in 1996. Numb with grief, Loretta admits that she was lost in a fog for more than a year. But she came back again with a 2000 CD titled Still Country. She also returned to the concert trail.
"It's a good thing, too," she says. "Because if I hadn't, I would have been nuts by now. I would have been completely nuts."
Loretta published a second memoir, Still Woman Enough, in 2002. She was honored at The Kennedy Center in 2003, yet pushed forward again the following year by winning two Grammy Awards for Van Leer Rose, a collaboration with rocker Jack White. Also in 2004, she published a book of recipes and anecdotes titled You're Cookin' It Country.
In March 2016, PBS broadcast the nationwide premiere of American Masters — Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl, a documentary chronicling Loretta's life and career, exploring her hard-fought road to stardom. From her Appalachian roots to the Oscar-winning biopic, "Coal Miner's Daughter," Lynn has struggled to balance family and her music career and is still going strong more than 50 years later.
That same month, Legacy Recordings released Full Circle, Loretta's first new studio album in more than a decade. Produced by Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash, and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, the album took listeners on a journey through Loretta's life and music, from the Appalachian folk songs and gospel she learned as a child to new interpretations of her classic hits and country standards to songs newly-written for the project.
A powerful return-to-form, acclaimed by fans and critics alike, Full Circle debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's country charts (Loretta's 40th Top 10 country album and her highest-charting album ever on the Billboard 200) and was nominated for Best Country Album at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. Loretta followed Full Circle that same year with White Christmas Blue, an album sending listeners on seasonal trip to Lynn's hometown of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky for the yuletide.
On April 14, 2017, Loretta turned 85 and performed two sold out, celebratory birthday shows at the fabled Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on April 14 and April 15. On August 25, as part of its 50th anniversary commemoration, the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum mounted a major exhibition, which focused on the life, art and music of Loretta Lynn. The exhibit is scheduled to run through August 2018.
On September 28, 2018, Legacy Recordings will release Wouldn't It Be Great, a new studio album from Loretta Lynn. One of the most deeply personal albums of her career, Wouldn't It Be Great is comprised entirely of songs written (or co-written) by Loretta, premiering new compositions nestled alongside select soulful reinterpretations of enduring classics from her catalog. Like its predecessor, the critically-acclaimed, Grammy-nominated Full Circle (released March 2016), Wouldn't It Be Great was mainly recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with producers Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash.
An exploration of Loretta's songwriting, Wouldn't It Be Great finds her communicating the universality of human experience--love in all its intoxication and heartbreak, the things of the soul and spirit that abide, the transformative power of making music and connecting. Wouldn't It Be Great debuts new songs--"Ruby's Stool," "Ain't No Time To Go," "I'm Dying For Someone To Live For"--alongside newly recorded renditions of recent compositions ("God Makes No Mistakes," from Lynn's 2004 Grammy-winning Jack White-produced Van Lear Rose) and immortal classics like "Coal Miner's Daughter" (the song Loretta says she's most proud to have written, also the title of her 1976 memoir and subsequent Oscar-winning 1982 film adaptation) and "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)," her first of 16 career No. 1 country singles.
A groundbreaking singer, songwriter and performer, Loretta Lynn is an archetype of American music, a singular artist whose music defined a genre and whose songs continue to inform new generations of musicians.
Loretta Lynn has long been established as the undisputed Queen of Country Music, with more than 50 years of recording and touring to her name. A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, Lynn was one of the most distinctive performers in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s. She shook up Nashville by writing her own songs, many of which tackled boundary-pushing topics drawn from her own life experiences as a wife and mother. "Coal Miner's Daughter," "Fist City" and "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)" are just three of 16 country No. 1 singles.
She is also one of the most awarded musicians of all time. Loretta has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist, including The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was the first woman to be named the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year in 1972. Lynn received Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. In 2015, she was named recipient of Billboard's inaugural Women in Music "Legend" Award. Lynn has won four Grammy Awards (including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010) and sold more than 45 million records worldwide.