Loretta Lynn is an iconic country music star with a rags-to-riches story that country music is based on. Lynn was born into a poor family in a Kentucky mining town. She didn’t pick up a guitar until she was 15 and already married and pregnant! But a little setback like a baby on the way didn’t stop Loretta from becoming a star in the music world. She was a natural and destined for stardom.
The homemaker and mother of six was juggling her chores around the house with a huge, hectic career in a cut-throat industry, but she never gave up. Loretta became a grandmother before she turned 40 and dealt with pain that no mother should ever have to experience. From a toxic marriage and devastating losses to hit singles and superstardom, this is the life and career of Loretta Lynn.
Down in the Holler
With her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” it doesn’t come as a surprise that Loretta Lynn really was the daughter of a coal miner. Her coal miner father Melvin Theodore “Ted” Webb and his wife Clary had eight children. Loretta, the eldest, was born on April 14th, 1932.
The Webb family lived in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, and they had some tough times. Clary Webb would glue together pages of Sears catalogs to the walls because they couldn’t afford to buy wallpaper. Despite her humble upbringing, Loretta grew up in a loving family.
Lynn was at the tender age of 15 when she met and married 21-year-old moonshiner Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn (also Doo and Mooney), from Butcher Holler. The couple only dated for a month before tying the knot. Things moved quickly, and Loretta already had three of her six children by the time she was 17.
As you can imagine, their relationship wasn’t picture-perfect. Doolittle drank excessively, and his playboy attitude gave Lynn plenty of material for her songs. Despite the toxicity of their relationship, the duo made it work. They stayed together until Doolittle passed away in 1996.
Lying About Her Age
For years, Loretta stated that she was 13 years old when she married her hubby, Doolittle Lynn. She even wrote about it in her biography, Coal Miner’s Daughter. However, when journalists discovered Lynn’s real birth certificate, they uncovered her lie. Loretta was actually 16 years old when she walked down the aisle. To be fair, that’s still extremely young.
The Associated Press obtained Lynn’s birth certificate, which shows she was off by about three years. In addition, Lynn’s marriage license found by the Associated Press at the Johnson County clerks office lists her as 15 when she got married on January 10th, 1948. Although she isn’t the first star to lie about her age, the reason why is still unclear.
A Consolation Prize
During her first pregnancy, Loretta and Doolittle moved to Custer, Washington, where Oliver worked in the logging industry. Since he moved his wife to the other side of the country, Oliver got Loretta her first guitar. It was a $17 model that he bought from a Sears catalog to help Loretta cope with her homesickness.
Lynn immediately gravitated to the instrument and taught herself how to play. Before she knew it, she was writing songs of her own, her first being “Whispering Sea.” She got inspired during a family fishing trip. She came up with “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” while she was working on a strawberry farm, picking berries for five cents a crate. The lyrics were written on a humble paper bag.
Lynn eventually went on to write over 160 songs, with more than half of them becoming chart hits. But before her success, Doolittle encouraged his wife to share her music with the world, and he acted as her manager. Loretta then formed a band called The Trailblazers. They performed at nightclubs around Washington and eventually made it to the radio and TV.
Loretta was playing gigs, writing music, promoting her band while also being a housewife and mother. Superstardom was exciting but also exhausting. The music industry finally recognized Lynn’s talent in 1960. She was invited by a Canadian record company to record a few songs, including “Whispering Sea” and “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.”
Moving to Country Town
Lynn was ecstatic when the label liked her songs but disappointed when they failed to promote them. She took matters into her own hands and drove around Washington, delivering her record to radio stations. The singer’s hard work finally paid off and “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” made it to #14 on Billboard’s Country and Western charts.
Loretta was a rising star, and the Lynns were moving again – this time to Music City, USA. The family settled down in Nashville, Tennessee, right in the middle of the country music world. Loretta signed with Decca Records and was invited to appear on the famed Grand Ole Opry.
Best Friends Forever
Like many other county fans, Loretta Lynn idolized Patsy Cline, the most popular female country singer in the country. Lynn recorded a cover of Cline’s famous song “I Fall to Pieces,” and it sparked a life-long friendship. Cline was in a terrifying car crash and was at the hospital recovering when she heard the cover. Cline loved it so much that she made her husband find Lynn for her so she could tell her. The pair remained friends for the rest of Cline’s life.
Cline helped Loretta understand the ins and out of the music industry. She also gave Lynn her hand-me-downs, including a pair of underwear. Unfortunately, their friendship was cut short due to tragic circumstances.
In 1963, Patsy Cline died in a devastating plane crash. She was only 30 years old at the time. Needless to say, Lynn was heartbroken at the loss of her friend, idol, and mentor; she worked hard to keep the memory of Patsy Cline alive. She still speaks fondly about her dear late friend.
Loretta released a tribute album titled “I Remember Patsy.” She also wrote a memoir about her memories with Patsy and called it “Me and Patsy, Kicking Up Dust.” But that wasn’t even Lynn’s most touching tribute to her dear lost friend.
Sweet, Sweet “Success”
Appropriately enough, Lynn’s first recording for Decca was a track called “Success.” The catchy song was a top ten hit and helped propel Loretta’s debut album, “Loretta Lynn Sings,” to #2 on the country album charts. But what fans didn’t know is that despite writing a ton of her own music, her breakthrough song “Success” was written by Johnny Mullins.
Success was recorded in the honky-tonk, country music style, which also incorporated the more traditional elements of the genre. The single stayed on the Billboard Country Western and Sides chart for 16 weeks before peaking at number six!
Double Trouble on the Way
As her career was skyrocketing, Loretta was getting ready to bring a new bundle of joy into the family… or should I say two. The two youngest of her six kids were actually twin girls, born in 1964. One was named Peggy, and the other was named Patsy (after Patsy Cline).
Both girls followed in their superstar mother’s footsteps and embarked on a career in the entertainment industry. But one of Lynn’s daughters copied her mother in a different way: She eloped with her boyfriend when she was only 15. Unlike her parents’, this teenage romance ended in divorce.
Before her success, Loretta Lynn had her doubters. People claimed, “Loretta will be a grandmother before she has a #1 record.” Amusingly enough, that’s exactly what happened. When Loretta was 34 years old, her eldest daughter had a daughter of her own. Meanwhile, Loretta’s little twins became aunts when they were just toddlers.
In 1967, Loretta came out with one of her biggest hits, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” It was Loretta’s first #1 single and was also the first #1 hit on the country charts that was written by a woman.
A Brother’s Response
Lynn earned the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year Award thanks to that song, and it opened up plenty of doors for the singer. Over the course of her career, she ended up with 16 #1 hits. But before that happened, there was some sibling rivalry she had to deal with.
After she released the #1 hit, Loretta’s brother, Jay Lee Webb, released a reply. His song “I Come Home A-Drinkin’ (To a Worn-Out Wife Like You)” was an epic fail. Certainly not as successful as his sister’s famous and beloved single.
From Mama to Superstar
Lynn went from a married housewife to an essential part of the American music world in less than a decade! Her incredible album that featured “Don’t Come Home A-Drinking” was the first-ever record by a female country star to earn gold status. Not bad for a coal miner’s daughter.
She sold more than half a million copies! The album was an evident success, and so was the singer. Lynn was on top of the world, experiencing the highest of highs. Unfortunately, she would soon experience the lowest of lows too.
Singing Her Mind
Unlike most country musicians of the time, Lynn wrote her own songs. She gained inspiration from her own life as a working-class woman. Sometimes, that meant singing some controversial songs. The starlet wrote about the war in Vietnam, the unfair division of household labor, birth-control, and many other divisive topics.
Over a dozen of her songs were banned from the radio, including “The Pill,” which focused on birth control, and “Wings Upon Your Horns,” which talks about the double-standards women deal with when it comes to premarital sex.
A Tough Pill to Swallow
Despite its limited play, Lynn’s controversial song “The Pill” managed to make quite an impact. It reached #5 on the country charts, and a surprising number of fans admired the song. Rural doctors even admitted that the singer did a much better job advocating for birth control than trained medical professionals.
You might be wondering why the song got so much criticism. At the time, birth control was considered taboo, and nobody spoke about it. So, when Loretta sang about the pill, it wasn’t something the public was used to or comfortable with.
Loretta was an incredible songwriter but had no problems recording other people’s songs on her albums. Her 1965 album “Songs from my Heart” features compositions by 11 different songwriters. One of these writers was Loretta’s husband, Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn.
In a heartwarming gesture, he wrote his wife a song called “You Made Me What I Am.” How romantic! Every girl wants a boy to write a song about her. But don’t get too excited. Unfortunately, their relationship wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows behind the scenes. But we’ll get into all of that.
A Really Bad Husband
When Lynn looked back at her toxic marriage to Doolittle, she described how “lonely” she felt. She revealed that her husband drank so much that “it was better to be on the bus than to be home.” At times, she was able to escape into her music and career. Her children expressed that sometimes their mom would leave for 200 days at a time.
If you’re wondering what kind of guy Doolittle was, well… when he was married to Loretta, he slept with her brother’s wife. If that wasn’t bad enough, the pair would get into violent fights that led to serious injuries. In one particular incident, Lynn knocked out two of Doolittle’s teeth.
Story of Her Life
In 1976, Loretta Lynn was at the height of her popularity when she released her biography. She appropriately titled it Coal Miner’s Daughter. Like her music, the book was a success and flew off the shelves. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to come calling.
In 1980, a movie adaptation of Coal Miner’s Daughter premiered and became an unexpected box office hit! It was actually the seventh-highest grossing film of that year and was nominated for a whopping seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. A pretty impressive accomplishment to add to her resume.
Only Sissy Spacek
When it was time to cast Coal Miner’s Daughter, Lynn knew exactly who she wanted to play her. The singer wanted one actress and one actress only: Sissy Spacek. Unfortunately, the actress wasn’t down, and neither were the producers. But Lynn wasn’t taking no for an answer.
Lynn came up with a clever plan to get her way. The singer “leaked” the news that Spacek was cast as her in the movie. As soon as the rumors spread, everyone’s hands were tied. Ultimately, the producers cast Lynn’s first choice, and Spacek portrayed her beautifully.
Fine… But I’m Singing!
Spacek already committed to a different film. In the hopes of getting out of Coal Miner’s Daughter and knowing that the director would never allow an actress to sing in a biopic of a famous country singer, Spacek announced that the only way she’ll star in the movie is if she got to do all the singing.
As it turned out, Spacek’s plan backfired. Both the director and Loretta Lynn agreed to let the actress sing. It turned out to be the right decision for the actress. Not only did she do a fantastic job with the role, but it earned her an Academy Award for best actress.
Preparing for the Role
To prepare for the part, Spacek joined Loretta on her tour. She worked hard to emulate Loretta’s on-stage and off-stage mannerisms. She even tried to stay in character when the cameras weren’t rolling. Everyone, including Spacek, was surprised that she nailed the role.
Not only did Spacek begin the year 1980 with the Best Actress Academy Award, but she was also nominated for a Grammy! That’s right. The soundtrack to Coal Miner’s Daughter landed her a nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Lynn really knew what she was talking about when she handpicked Spacek for the part.
Seeing a Ghost
Loretta’s band drummer Levon Helm played Loretta’s father, Ted Webb. The resemblance was so uncanny that Loretta actually fainted when she first saw Helm in costume. Her reaction was so strong because her coal miner father never got to see her achieve musical success. He passed away one year before the release of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.”
In 1984, tragedy struck the family. Loretta’s son Jack Benny Lynn was trying to ford a river at the family’s Tennessee ranch when things went horribly wrong. Jack was unable to get out of the water and horrifically drowned at age 35. Loretta was heartbroken and understandably canceled all upcoming concerts and appearances.
A Guardian Angel
When 1993 rolled around, Loretta joined forces with two other country music queens, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, to release Honky Tonk Angels. The album sold half a million copies, and the trio earned a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. But that’s not even the most enchanting part of the record.
Honky Tonk Angels gave Loretta an opportunity to reunite with an old friend and mentor – Patsy Cline. Thanks to the magic of audio engineering, Pasty Cline joined the group for a rendition of Lovesick Blues, a Hank Williams classic.
Living in an Amusement Park
Loretta Lynn’s official residence is a ranch at Hurricane Mills, and it’s the seventh-largest attraction in Tennessee. Hurricane Mills is only half a family home; the other half is an amusement park! On the property are gift shops, concert halls, RV comping lots, and six museums.
If you ever go to Hurricane Mills, you can take a tour of Loretta Lynn’s homes: The Civil War-era mansion that she shared with Doolittle and a replica of her childhood home in Butcher Holler. The singer no longer lives at Hurricane Mills full time, but she stops by to say howdy every once in a while. Fun Fact: Hurricane Mills has its own zip code and post office. That’s how big it is!
Jack of All Trades
Loretta Lynn is a Renaissance woman at heart. She is not only the author of five books (including a few cookbooks), but she also runs her own motocross race called Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championship. Since it started in 1982, Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championship has been known as the final stop for many racers before they turn pro.
That’s pretty impressive. Loretta seems to be talented at whatever she sets her mind to. This girl really did it all: singer, songwriter, advocate, homemaker, author, and founder of a motorcycle race. Is there anything Loretta can’t do?
Getting Candid, Again
Coal Miner’s Daughter was a best-selling book and a successful movie. For most stars, one acclaimed biography would be quite enough, but not for Loretta Lynn. The overachiever wrote a second biography in 2002 entitled, Still Woman Enough.
It depicts Loretta later in life. It includes the ugly and sad aspects of what she went through, including her tumultuous marriage, her son’s devastating death, and her husband’s demise. Just like Coal Miner’s Daughter, Still Woman Enough made it to The New York Time’s bestseller list. Her storytelling skill in her songwriting is certainly reflected in her books.
Another Tribute to her Coal Miner Daddy
Loretta Lynn made her 2004 comeback with the help of an unlikely friend: Jack White, the lead singer of White Stripes. He happens to be a huge Loretta Lynn fan and produced her 2004 album, Van Lear Rose. The duo even recorded a duet together entitled “Portland, Oregon.”
The album was a critical and commercial success. It reached #2 on the country music charts and won Grammys for Best Country Album and Best Country Collaboration with vocals. The title Van Lear Rose comes from where Loretta’s beloved father Ted Webb worked: Van Lear coal mines.
Still Going Strong
Loretta Lynn overcame all odds in 2018 when she released her 45th studio album, “Wouldn’t It Be Great.” The album was delayed due to the health issues the singer was dealing with from a bad fall and a dangerous stroke. She also broke her arm and suffered from pneumonia on multiple occasions.
Despite these significant setbacks, the singer doesn’t seem to be slowing down. After a long and successful career, Loretta isn’t going anywhere. At the ripe age of 88, the country star has two more albums in the works.
Maid of Honors
Loretta Lynn continues to overachieve, but she is already the most decorated woman in country music. Aside from her 10 #1 albums and 16 #1 singles, Loretta Lynn has three Grammys, seven American Music Awards, and 13 Country Music Association Awards on her shelf.
If that wasn’t enough, she is also included in four different halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Country Gospel Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. These are just a few of Loretta’s long list of accolades.
The Greatest Award
Loretta Lynn was given one of the greatest honors an American can receive in 2013 when President Barack Obama gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The prestigious award is reserved for only those who have “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Lynn was named for Hollywood starlet Loretta Young, who was an academy award winner for her performance in the 1947 film The Farmer’s Daughter. Apparently, Lynn’s mother admired Young and was a huge fan of the actress.
No parent should ever have to bury their child. Sadly, Loretta had to deal with that suffering on more than one occasion. As we mentioned, her son Jack Benny Lynn drowned in a heartbreaking tragedy in 1984. Loretta was in so much pain and couldn’t imagine anything more difficult to go through.
But then, in 2013, her daughter Betty Sue also passed away from emphysema complications. Three years after that, Lynn’s grandson Jeffery also passed away. Jeffery was Jack Benny’s son making the loss even more devastating. Loretta is a strong woman and overcame an unimaginable amount of heartache.
Inspired by a True Story
“First City” is one of Loretta Lynn’s most famous songs; it is a tune where the singer warns a rival to stay away from her man! Like many songs, art imitates life in this situation. According to Lynn, the lyrics were inspired by a real-life event.
Apparently, during a concert, Lynn noticed an attractive woman making googly eyes at her husband, Doolittle. Like any good songwriter, Lynn was immediately motivated to write, “I’m here to tell you gal to lay offa my man if you don’t want to go to fist city.” If anything, it’s certainly a relatable lyric.
My Way or Conway
Loretta started collaborating with fellow country star Conway Twitty in 1971. As a duo, the pair scored five #1 hits, which included “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone.” Together, they recorded some of the most iconic duets in the history of country music.
Loretta and Conway were an extremely popular duo. Music City News even voted them Favorite Duo for a whole decade! They earned the title every single year from 1971 to 1981. However, when sales started to decline, both country superstars went their separate ways.
A Turbulent Marriage
Loretta and Doolittle’s relationship is known for its ups and downs. During one of their trademark fights, Loretta got so mad that she dumped an entire pan of creamed corn over Doolittle’s head. On a separate occasion, she poured beans on her husband when he was passed out drunk at the dinner table.
In Lynn’s autobiography, she got really deep and personal and revealed the dark truth about her marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. He would apparently cheat on her all the time. One specific time he left her to sleep with another woman was while she was giving birth to one of their sons. Real classy, Doolittle.
A Rose Inspired by Loretta
Loretta Lynn was named Artist of the Decade in 1979 by the Academy of Country Music. It was a fantastic way to close out a blossoming decade for the Queen of Country Music. The singer remains the only woman to have ever won such an honor.
But the greatest honor Loretta earned came in 2011. A team of horticulturists developed and named a new rose after her. You know, no big deal; they only created a flower dedicated to her. The Loretta Lynn Van Lear is known for its apricot color, and, like Loretta, it has the ability to constantly stay in bloom.
Plagiarism or Racism?
Two years after her breakthrough success with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinking,” Loretta released an incredibly controversial album. There was so much backlash that it needed to be recalled. Even though Lynn has Cherokee blood, the album is called “Your Squaw Is on the Warpath,” using a derogatory term for an Indigenous woman.
But surprisingly enough, that wasn’t even the reason the album made waves. It was actually because the Salem Cigarette Company felt like one of the tracks was a little too similar to their commercial jingle. The album got recalled and re-released without the offending slur.