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Lynn, Loretta (neé Webb)

Lynn, Loretta (neé Webb)

Lynn, Loretta (neé Webb), the “coal miner’s daughter” country singer/songwriter; b. Butcher Hollow, Ky., April 14, 1935. One of country music’s pioneering female performers and songwriters, Lynn has a classic country voice that is perfectly suited to her to-the-point lyrics reflecting a uniquely woman’s point-of-view. Perhaps the only country singer who has taken on a wide variety of issues, from birth control to the Vietnam War to wife abuse, Lynn has made an important contribution to widening the subject matter and audience for country music.

Lynn was born in a small coal-mining community, as she emphasized in her biography, Coal Miner’s Daughter (1976, later a feature film). When she was 13, she married Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, who later became her manager. The couple relocated to Wash. state, where Lynn raised four children while she began performing her own material. Her first single was in the classic barroom mold, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” released in 1960 on the tiny Zero label. This brought her to the attention of Owen Bradley, the legendary producer who had worked with Patsy Cline. Her early 1960s recordings showed the influence of Kitty Wells in their brash lyrics of lovin’ and losin’. Soon, however, her vocal style softened, while her original material turned to unusual (for the time) topics, including “Don’t Come Home a-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” “You Ain’t Woman Enough (to Steal My Man),” and “The Pill,” a song in support of birth control. All of the songs were written from a woman’s point-of-view; although their sound was classic honky tonk, their message was unusually liberated for the mid-1960s and early 1970s. It is also noteworthy that Lynn wrote her songs from the point-of-view of a wife, a figure not often encountered on the honky-tonk landscape (primarily peopled by wayward husbands and “honky-tonk angels,” the unattached women who lured them to their dooms). This heavy dose of reality in a medium that seemed to thrive on fantasy pointed the direction for many of the more progressive songwriters of the 1970s and 1980s. Her autobiographical song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” from 1970, perfectly expressed the pride and anguish of growing up dirt poor in the mountains.

The early 1970s also saw her teamed up with Conway Twitty on a series of successful duets, including “After the Fire Is Gone” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Her autobiography, published in the mid-1970s, was instrumental not only in cementing her image as a “true country woman,” but in reasserting country music’s roots at a time when many acts were trying to crossover onto the pop and rock charts.

Sadly, the success inspired by her autobiography and the subsequent film of her life seems to have encouraged Lynn in the 1980s and early 1990s to move in a more mainstream direction. She less frequently writes her own material, and the material selected for her is weak. Her live show leans heavily on her early hits, and her many fans seem content to hear her perform the same repertory of well-known numbers.

In 1988, Lynn was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. From 1990 to 1996, she more or less withdrew from performing in order to nurse her ailing husband, who finally succumbed to diabetes in August 1996. She returned to performing on a limited basis thereafter, although she has also suffered from time to time with health problems of her own.

In the mid-1990s, Loretta’s twin daughters, Patsy Eileen and Peggy Jean (b. 1964), began performing as The Lynns. They released their debut album in 1998, which primarily consisted of their own material, featuring upbeat tunes graced by their perky harmonies.

Writings

Coal Miner’s Daughter (N.Y., 1976).

Discography

Loretta Lynn Sings (1963); Before I’m Over You (1964); Songs from My Heart (1965); Blue Kentucky Girl (1965); Hymns (1965); I Like ’Em Country (1966); You Ain’t Woman Enough (1966); A Country Christimas (1966); Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (1967); Singin’ with Feelin’ (1967); Who Says God Is Dead (1968); Fist City (1968); Loretta Lynn’s Greatest Hits (1968); Here’s Loretta Lynn (1968); Your Squaw Is on the Warpath (1969); A Woman of the World/To Make a Man (1969); Here’s Loretta Singing “Wings Upon Your Horns” (1970); Loretta Writes ’Em and Sings ’Em (1970); Coal Miner’s Daugher (1971); I Want to Be Free (1971); You’re Lookin’at Country (1971); One’s On the Way (1972); God Bless America Again (1972); Alone with You (1972); Here I Am Again (1972); Entertainer of the Year (1973); Love Is the Foundation (1973); They Don’t Make ’Em Like My Daddy (1974); Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1974); Back to the Country (1975); Home (1975); When the Tingle Becomes a Chill (1976); Somebody Somewhere (1976); On the Road with Loretta and the Coal Miners (1976); I Remember Patsy (1977); Out of My Head and Back in My Bed (1978); Honky Tonk Heroes (1978); Greatest Hits Live (1978); Diamond Duet (1979); We’ve Come a Long Way Baby (1979); Loretta (1980); Lookin’ Good (1980); Making Love from Memory (1982); I Lie (1982); Lyin’, Cheatin’, Woman Chasin’, Honky Tonkin’, Whiskey Drinkin’ You (1983); Just a Woman (1985); Great Country Hits (1985); Golden Greats (1986); 20 Greatest Hits (1987); The Very Best of Loretta Lynn (1988); Making Believe (1988); Who Was That Stranger (1989); The Country Music Hall of Fame: Lorette Lynn (1991); Coal Miner’s Daughter: The Best Of...(1993); Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection (1994); The Very Best of Loretta Lynn (1997). Ernest Tubb: And Mrs. Used to Be (1965); Ernest Tubb & Loretta Lynn Singin’ Again (1967); If We Put Our Heads Together (1969); The Ernest Tubb/Loretta Lynn Story (1973). Conway Twitty: We Only Make Believe (1971); Lead Me On (1971); Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man (1973); Country Partners (1974); The Very Best of Conway and Loretta (1973); Feelins’ (1975); United Talent (1976); Dynamic Duo (1977); Two’s a Party (1981). Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton: Honky Tonk Angels (1993).

—Richard Carlin

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