It’s been a year now since the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” suffered from a stroke that forced her to cancel her scheduled concerts and tours and postpone an upcoming album’s release. Thankfully, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter has recovered a few months later. At the onset of this year, Loretta Lynn was reported to have faced another setback in her life. The 86-year-old country icon broke her hip after a falling incident on New Year’s Day. As of this writing, we haven’t heard any update from her camp but we believe that she’s on her way to full recovery. While she’s taking her time to rest and cope with her accident, we pray with conviction that she’ll be up to stun her fans again in the near future. In addition to our prayers, our full support goes out to the “Dear Uncle Sam” singer through the continuous patronage of her music.
Now in her mid-80s and despite going through tough times recently, the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee remains strong and surviving. Indeed, her life is a living proof that she’s a real epitome of strength. With that said, let’s take a look back at the colorful yet edgy journey of Lynn, her struggles, and triumphs that made her the woman she is today.
The Oscar-Nominated Tale of Her Life
Having born to a poor family of ten (including her parents) never made Loretta Lynn feel bitter about her life. Her father was a coal miner and she completely knew how hard his work was. Yet, she’s proud of her dad, his job, and their way of living. As a matter of fact, she wrote a song that declared to the whole world how lucky she is to have a family like hers. Her composition exactly mirrors their family’s life in Kentucky. Despite the simplicity and hardships they’ve endured, the whole family was able to keep love overflowing at home. That’s what their father taught them as she revealed on the following lines of her signature song.
We were poor but we had love,
That's the one thing that daddy made sure of.
Today, Lynn’s autobiographical song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” turns 48 since Decca Records released it. The song reached No. 1 on the country chart in December 1970 and earned Lynn an Entertainer Award of the Year a few years later. Eventually, the hit became the most significant one for her career.
In 1976, Lynn’s first autobiography, which was inspired by her original song, got published. Her book later turned into a best-selling work about someone’s personal and professional strife and feats. Four years later, her life’s story was adapted into a film of the same title. Directed by Michael Apted, Coal Miner’s Daughter was released in theaters on March 7, 1980. Actress and singer Sissy Spacek played the role of Lynn and her performance helped the movie earn both critical and commercial success. Spacek likewise won an Oscar award for it. Moreover, the film received multiple accolades and nominations from various award programs.
A Fighter Since Childhood
Lynn is considered a fighter since childhood. That’s vividly reflected in her best-known song. Apart from that, there are other accounts of her life proving her strength as a child and as a woman. When Lynn was a little girl, she’s been through a life-threatening situation. She got very sick and the doctor told her mother that she might die. Prior to this, her parents bought her a pair of little red shoes. To Lynn, those were the prettiest things she’s ever seen. Thus, thinking she’d never get to wear them, Lynn’s mom put those shoes away. Surprisingly, the young Lynn quickly recuperated from her illness that almost took her life.
“Well, I did get well and I did wear those shoes, and how I loved them,” she recalled.
Few months before turning 16, Lynn got married to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn whom she knew only a month before their marriage. Marrying and becoming a mother at such a young age may somewhat limit her right to enjoy her youth. But, there was never a mention about her regretting it. At the age of 20, the singer was already a mother of four. Giving birth almost every year was perhaps something she’s totally embraced. Be it coincidence or fate, this particular period in Lynn’s life showed perfect fitting with her motherhood-themed song, “One’s on the Way.”
Meanwhile, Lynn showcased another fighter side of her with her other feisty song “The Pill.” While the song was considered a country classic, it sparked controversies causing several radio stations to ban it. On the bright side, the song helped Lynn become “the spokeswoman for every woman who had gotten married too early, pregnant too often and felt trapped by the tedium and drudgery of her life.”
Her Persistence Helped Launch Her Singing Career
Singing is something that Lynn was born for. She began singing in church at a young age. Although she entered married life and motherhood too early, she never lost her love of music. While rearing kids and doing some odd jobs, Lynn started performing at local venues with her husband’s encouragement. Soon after, she landed her first recording contract with Zero Records. Under the said label, Lynn released her first single “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” in early 1960. Lynn and her husband promoted the song themselves. The couple spent three months on the road hopping from one radio station to another to promote the song. In the 2003 book, Finding Her Voice: The History of Women in Country Music, Lynn recalled the story of her record’s promotion.
“We were pitiful…Because we were too poor to stay in hotels, we slept in the car and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches in the parks…Then we’d go into the radio station and pester the DJ to play my record. We didn’t care if it was a 500-watt local station or a 50,000-watt clear-channel station. We’d hit them all.”
Fortunately, all their efforts paid off when the single entered the country songs chart’s Top 20 in summer that year. The song peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and it also charted in Music Vendor at No. 12 and Cash Box at No. 30.
The success of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” helped the singer establish a loyal fan base. In November 1960, Marry Cooper formed her first fan club. Aside from this, the record has opened more opportunities for Lynn. Several country music legends began inviting her to tour and perform with them. Also, her exposure led her to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and eventually landing a contract with Decca Records.
Her Rise to Fame
After the success of her debut single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, she began singing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry. The show’s Wilburn Brothers took her under their care. Teddy Wilburn helped to refine Loretta’s startlingly original songwriting style. Brother Doyle Wilburn took a recording of her singing “Fool #1” to producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records. Owen liked the song, however, he was already working with Kitty Wells, Goldie Hill, Brenda Lee and Patsy Cline and said he did not need another female singer. Teddy told him that he could not have the song if he did not sign its singer. To make things okay, Brenda had a smash pop hit with “Fool #1”, and Loretta got a Decca Records contract. Like everyone else who met her, Owen Bradley was enamored with Loretta’s goodness, uniqueness, wit, independent spirit, amusing frankness, and enormous talent. In fact, Owen regarded her as “the female Hank Williams”.
Loretta’s Decca chart debut came with 1962’s “Success”. The song was the first of her 51 top-10 hits and led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry cast. Her fellow Opry cast member, Patsy Cline, taught her how to dress, style her hair and wear make-up. The Wilburns then started featuring her on their nationally syndicated television series. Loretta sang a series of feisty domestic songs with her childhood hero, Ernest Tubb. As a solo, she advanced with “Wine, Women and Song” and “Happy Birthday”.
As what Bradley observed,
“She’s the spokesman for the ladies. Loretta had many 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.”
Continuing Success Amidst Struggles
In 1967, she began earning various Female Vocalist of the Year trophies. Moreover, Lynn was named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association in 1972 and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2010, she was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Therefore, she has received more inductions into more music halls of fame than any other female recording artist.
Despite those achievements, the singer also faced obstacles both in her career and personal life. The shift from country music to mainstream pop in the 1980's led to the decline of her booming career. Fortunately, her albums still acquired popularity. Additionally, Lynn had appearances on television shows and enjoyed success as a spokeswoman for a shortening company. In 1982, her single "I Lie" reached a massive success becoming the most notable hit of the decade.
Moreover, Lynn had her share of personal heartbreaks when her 34-year-old son died of drowning. Prior to learning her son's death, she suffered over fatigue and spent days at the hospital. After her 1988 induction, she also had to go on hiatus to care for her husband "Doolittle" who was suffering from heart troubles and diabetes. In 1996, her husband for 48 years, died.
Unfortunately, it was also the first in her life that he did not have the chance to witness her successes in the music industry. A year before the release of her debut single, her dad passed away.
A Treasured Partnership with Conway Twitty
Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty recorded eleven albums together over the course of their careers, including five hit songs. Due to the romantic content of their songs and the undeniable chemistry the two shared on stage, many wondered if they shared a real-life romance. She and Conway also won a long string of Vocal Duo of the Year beginning 1971. Since then, together, they won the Country Music Association award for every year. “After the Fire Is Gone" was their first hit song on the U.S. Country Chart. The other four songs that reached the charts were: "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone", "Lead Me On", Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man", and "Feelins'".
Coming Out Stronger Despite Deteriorating Health
The Coal Miner’s daughter just turned 86 years old last April 14. With her age, it is without doubt and fear that her health declines in time. Loretta has had her share of health issues since last year. In May 2017, Loretta's announcement of canceling two of her concert shows in Iowa made the fans sad. In May 2017, Lynn suffered a stroke and recovered for several months in a rehabilitation center. Her family members regularly assured fans she was improving. After the stroke, she made her first appearance in the 2017 Tennessee Motorcycle and Music Revival at her ranch. In October 2017, she again appeared at the 2017 Country Music Hall of Fame to induct her friend, Alan Jackson. She performed "Coal Miner's Daughter" while sitting in a chair surrounded by family.
Another accident happened this year in January at Loretta Lynn’s home. She fell down and broke her hip. In all incidents that happened to Loretta, she never failed to thank her supporters for wishing her well. All her gratitude reflected in the words she let out every time she talks to the public to update them on her well-being. Her forty-first studio album “Wouldn’t It Be Great” was supposed to be released in August 2017. Loretta Lynn took the liberty to express her regret in postponing its release date saying it is special for her and that it deserves her at her best. With just merely two months left of spring, we all hope we can hear from Lynn’s music again.
The True Epitome of Strength
Despite all the struggles she had been through from childhood until now, there were more fascinating aspects of Loretta Lynn’s life. Most country fans may know her as a great singer and songwriter who helped change the face of country music through her honest and poignant songs. Lynn's voice, strong but realistic, reinforced the home truths of her songs, and her success shone paths for other female country artists. Most of her songs touched double standards and challenges that women faced. In fact, in 2013, President Obama awarded Lynn the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recognizing her legacy of "courageously breaking barriers in an industry long dominated by men."
Now, for as long as Loretta can, she is still out there writing songs. The coal miner's daughter has really had one heck of a journey. Behind this strong-faced woman is a humble heart,
“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.”
Yes. You are a woman, but not just a woman. You are a strong woman. Thank you for teaching us how to be fierce and strong in our own ways. Thank you for inspiring us to create our own music.
Within her latest album "Full Circle" is "Everything It Takes," a light and folky country song that she describes as something more for a woman. Enjoy this piece of strength Loretta Lynn fostered in a song. She is still the feisty Loretta Lynn we all know after all.
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