Loretta Lynn, the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” whose gutsy lyrics and twangy, down-home vocals made her a queen of country music for seven decades, has died. She was 90.
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 4th, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the statement read.
They asked for privacy as they grieve and said a memorial will be announced later.
Lynn, who had no formal music training but spent hours every day singing her babies to sleep, was known to churn out fully textured songs in a matter of minutes. She just wrote what she knew.
She lived in poverty for much of her early life, began having kids by age 17 and spent years married to a man prone to drinking and philandering – all of which became material for her plainspoken songs. Lynn’s life was rich with experiences most country stars of the time hadn’t had for themselves – but her female fans knew them intimately.
“So when I sing those country songs about women struggling to keep things going, you could say I’ve been there,” she wrote in her first memoir, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” “Like I say, I know what it’s like to be pregnant and 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 country charts in 1966 and made her the first female country singer to write a No. 1 hit.
Her songs recounted family history, skewered lousy husbands and commiserated with women, wives and mothers everywhere. Her tell-it-like-it-is style saw tracks such as “Rated X” and “The Pill” banned from radio, even as they became beloved classics.
“I wasn’t the first woman in country music,” Lynn told Esquire in 2007. “I was just the first one to stand up there 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.
Her family had little money. But those early years were some of her fondest memories, as she recounts in her 1971 hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”: “We were poor but we had love; That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of.”
As a young teenager, Loretta met the love of her life in Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, whom she affectionately called “Doo.” The pair married when Lynn was 15 – a fact cleared up in 2012, after the Associated Press discovered Lynn was a few years older than she had said she was 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 pregnant meant,” said Lynn, who bore four children in the first four years of marriage and a set of twins years later.
“I was five months pregnant when I went to the doctor, and he said, ‘You’re gonna have a baby.’ I said, ‘No way. I can’t have no baby.’ He said, ‘Ain’t you married?’ Yep. He said, ‘You sleep with your husband?’ Yep. ‘You’re gonna have a baby, Loretta. Believe me.’ And I did.”
The couple soon headed to Washington state in search of jobs. Music wasn’t a priority for the young mother at first. She’d spend 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 soothing their babies to sleep, he said she sounded better than the girl singers on the radio. He bought her a $17 Harmony guitar and got her a gig at a local tavern.
It wasn’t until 1960 that she’d record what would become her debut 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 raising kids, telling stories with her guitar seemed like a break.
“Singing was easy,” Lynn told NPR’s Terry Gross in 2010. “I thought ‘Gee whiz, this is an easy job.’ ”
The success of her first single landed Lynn on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and, soon, a contract with Decca Records. She quickly befriended country star Patsy Cline, who guided her through the fame and fashion of country stardom until her shocking death in a plane crash in 1963….