I thought we’d share a little country music this week, focusing on the ladies.
Today’s selection: Loretta Lynn.
Loretta Lynn (née Webb; born April 14, 1932) is a previously chart-topping, multiple-gold-album selling American country-music singer-songwriter whose work has spanned more than 40 years. She has received numerous awards and other accolades for her pioneering, groundbreaking role in modern country music and her documentation of and contributions to American culture. She has also authored at least six books, most of them autobiographies. Lynn was born to coal-miner Melvin “Ted” Webb, and his wife Clara née Ramey, in Butcher Hollow, near Paintsville, Kentucky, USA, the second of their eight children.
Trailblazing path to stardom
At age 15 Loretta married, and soon became pregnant. She moved to Washington state with her husband, Oliver Vanetta Lynn, Jr. (1926–1996). Their marriage was tumultuous; he had affairs, but she stayed with him. Their life together helped inspire the music she wrote.
In 1953, on their sixth anniversary, when Loretta was 20, Oliver bought her a 17-dollar Harmony guitar. She taught herself to play. When she was 24, on their wedding anniversary, Oliver encouraged her to become a singer. She worked to improve her guitar playing, and started singing at the Delta Grange Hall in Washington state with the Pen Brothers’ band The Westerners. Lynn eventually cut her first record (Honky Tonk Girl) in February 1960. She became a part of the country music scene in Nashville in the 1960s, and in 1967 charted her first of 16 number-one hits (out of 70 charted songs as a solo artist and a duet partner) that include “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”, “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, “Fist City”, and “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.
Lynn focused on blue-collar women’s issues with themes about philandering husbands and persistent mistresses, and pushed boundaries in the conservative genre of country music by singing about birth control (“The Pill”), repeated childbirth (“One’s on the Way”), double standards for men and women (“Rated “X””), and being widowed by the draft during the Vietnam War (“Dear Uncle Sam”). Country music radio stations often refused to play her music, banning nine of her songs; but Lynn pushed on to become “The First Lady of Country Music”. In 1980, her best-selling 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter was made into an Academy Award-winning film, Coal Miner’s Daughter, starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. Her most recent album, Van Lear Rose, released in 2004, was produced by fellow musician Jack White; it topped the country album charts. Lynn and White were nominated for five Grammys and won two. They earned critical success for their work.
Lynn has been performing for 53 years. She has received numerous awards in country and American music, including being inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1988, and the Song Writers Hall Of Fame in 2008. She was honored in 2010 at the Country Music Awards for her stellar career. Her most recent honor is the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (awarded also to Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and Bob Dylan). Lynn has been a member of The Grand Ole Opry for 51 years since joining on September 25, 1962. Her first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry was on October 15, 1960. In a press conference she said, “I’ve played in a million places, but the Grand Ole Opry is different”. Lynn has recorded 60 albums and has sold over 48 million albums worldwide in her career.
1960–1966: Early country success
Lynn began singing in local clubs in mid 1959 with help, insistence, and support from her husband; she later formed her own band, The Trailblazers, which included her brother Jay Lee Webb. Lynn won a televised talent contest in Tacoma, Washington, hosted by Buck Owens, for which the prize was a wristwatch that broke 24 hours later. (Lynn later laughed about it with Owens.) Lynn’s Performance was seen by Canadian Norm Burley of Zero Records, who co-founded the record company after hearing Loretta sing. He was blown away and wanted Loretta to be heard from deejay’s all over the world. Zero Records president Canadian Don Grashey arranged a recording session in Hollywood, where four of Lynn’s own compositions were recorded: I’m A Honky Tonk Girl, Whispering Sea, Heartache Meet Mister Blues, and New Rainbow. Her first release featured Whispering Sea and I’m A Honky Tonk Girl. She signed her first contract on February 2, 1960, with Zero Records; the material was recorded at United Western Recorders in Hollywood, engineered by Don Blake and produced by Grashey., Musicians backing on the songs were “the great” steel guitar player Speedy West, Harold Hensely on fiddle, Roy Lanham on guitar, Al Williams on bass, and Muddy Berry on drums. Lynn commented on the different sound of her first record: “Well, there is a West Coast sound that is definitely not the same as the Nashville sound… It was a shuffle with a West Coast beat”.
The Lynns then toured the country to promote the release to country stations, while Grashey and Del Roy took the music to KFOX in Long Beach, California. When the Lynns reached Nashville, the song was a hit, climbing to No. 14 on Billboard’s C & W Chart, and Lynn began cutting demo records for the Wilburn Brothers’ Publishing Company. Through the Wilburns, Lynn was able to secure a contract with Decca Records. From the onset of her career fans took notice and rallied behind her all the way, with the first Loretta Lynn Fan Club formed in November 1960. By the end of the year Billboard magazine listed Loretta Lynn as the No. 4 Most Promising Country Female Artist.
Lynn’s relationship with the Wilburn Brothers and her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, beginning in 1960, helped Lynn become the number one female recording artist in country music. Lynn’s contract with the Wilburn Brothers gave them the publishing rights to her material. She was still fighting to regain these rights 30 years after ending her business relationship with them, but was ultimately denied the publishing rights. Lynn stopped writing music in the 1970s because of these contracts. Although Kitty Wells had become the first major female country vocalist during the 1950s, by the time Lynn recorded her first record, only three other women – Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Jean Shepard – had become top stars. By the end of 1962, (Loretta joined The Grand Ole Opry on September 25, 1962) it was clear that Lynn was on her way to becoming the fourth. Lynn has credited Cline as her mentor and best friend during those early years. In 2010, when interviewed for Jimmy Mcdonough’s Biography of Tammy Wynette Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, Loretta mentioned having Best friends in Patsy and Tammy during different times: “Best friends are like husband’s you only need one at a time”.
Lynn released her first Decca single, “Success,” in 1962, and it went straight to #6, beginning a string of Top 10 singles that would run through the rest of the decade and throughout the next. She was a hard honky-tonk singer for the first half of the ’60s and rarely strayed from the genre. Between this time, Lynn soon began to regularly hit the Top 10 after 1964 with “Before I’m Over You”, which peaked at No. 4, followed by “Wine, Women, and Song”, which peaked at No. 3. In late 1964, she recorded a duet album with Ernest Tubb. Their lead single, “Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be” peaked within the Top 15. Together, the pair recorded two more albums, “Singin’ Again” (1967) and If we Put Our Heads Together (1969). In 1965, her solo career continued with three major hits that year, “Happy Birthday”, “Blue Kentucky Girl” (later recorded and made a Top 10 hit in the 70s by Emmylou Harris), and “The Home You’re Tearing Down”. Lynn’s label issued two albums that year, Songs from My Heart and Blue Kentucky Girl. While most of these songs were Top 10 Country hits, none of them reached #1.
Lynn’s first self-penned song to crack the Top Ten, 1966’s “Dear Uncle Sam”, was among the very first recordings to recount the human costs of the Vietnam War. In the latter half of the decade, although she still worked within the confines of honky tonk, her sound became more personal, varied, and ambitious, particularly lyrically. Beginning with 1966’s Number 1 hit in Cash Box, “You Ain’t Woman Enough”, Lynn began writing songs with a feminist viewpoint, which was unheard of in country music. This song made Loretta Lynn the first country female recording artist to pen a No. 1 hit.
1967–1980: Breakthrough success
In 1967, Lynn reached No. 1 with “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”. Her album, Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin, went to number one and became one of the first albums by a female country artist to reach sales of 500,000 copies.
Lynn’s next album, Fist City, was released in 1968. The title track became Lynn’s second No. 1 hit, as a single in earlier that year, and the other single from the album, “What Kind of a Girl (Do You Think I Am)”, peaked within the Top 10. In 1968, her next studio album, Your Squaw Is on the Warpath, spawned two Top 5 Country hits: the title track and “You’ve Just Stepped In (From Stepping Out on Me)”. In 1969, her next single, “Woman of the World (Leave My World Alone)”, was Lynn’s third chart-topper, followed by a subsequent Top 10, “To Make a Man (Feel Like a Man)”. Lynn was reportedly once inspired to write a song about a real woman she suspected was flirting with her husband. The song, “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”, was an instant hit and became one of Lynn’s all-time most popular. Her career continued to be successful into the 1970s, especially following the success of her hit “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1970, and the album has sold over 5 million copies world wide. “Coal Miner’s Daughter” tells the story of Lynn’s life growing up in rural Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. The song later served as the impetus for the best-selling autobiography (1976) and the Oscar-winning biopic starring Academy Award Winner For Best Leading Actress Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones (1980), both of which share the song’s title. The song became her first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 83. She had a series of singles that would chart low on the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1975.
In 1973, Rated X peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart and was considered one of Lynn’s most controversial hits. The next year, her next single, “Love Is the Foundation”, also became a No. 1 country hit from her album of the same name. The second and last single from that album, “Hey Loretta”, became a Top 5 hit. Lynn continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, including with 1975’s “The Pill”, considered to be the first song to discuss birth control, other than the 1967 French-language song in French, Pilule d’Or, sung by Luc Dominique, the former “Singing Nun”. As a songwriter, Lynn believed no topic was off limits, as long as it spoke to other women, and many of her songs were autobiographical. In 1976, she released her autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, with the help of writer George Vecsey. It became a #1 bestseller, making Lynn the first country music artist to make the New York Times bestseller list. This opened a flood gate of country artists who followed with books. By the early 1980s Loretta Lynn became the first American female recording artist to chart over fifty top ten hits.
Professional partnership with Conway Twitty
In 1971, Lynn began a professional partnership with Conway Twitty. As a duo, Lynn and Twitty had five consecutive Number 1 hits between 1971 and 1975: their first release “After the Fire Is Gone” (1971),won them a Grammy award, “Lead Me On” (1971), “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” (1973), “As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone” (1974), and “Feelins'” (1974). The hit-streak kick-started what became one of the most successful duos of country history. For four consecutive years (1972–1975), Lynn and Twitty were named the “Vocal Duo of the Year” by the Country Music Association. The Academy of Country Music named them the “Best Vocal Duet” in 1971, 1974, 1975 and 1976. The American Music awards selected them as the “Favorite Country Duo” in 1975, 1976 & 1977. The fan-voted Music City News readers voted them the No. 1 duet in 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980 and 1981. In addition to their five Number 1 singles, they had seven other Top 10 hits between 1976 and 1981. Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty are the most successful and most awarded male/female duet teams in country music history. Conway and Loretta, their duo name, released an album in 1977 titled “Dynamic Duo” and were considered that by their many fans.
As a solo artist, Lynn continued to be very successful into 1971, achieving her fifth No. 1 solo hit, “One’s on the Way”, written by poet and songwriter Shel Silverstein. The songs that didn’t reach the top spot peaked within the Top 10 during this time, “I Wanna Be Free”, “You’re Lookin’ At Country” and 1972’s “Here I Am Again”, all released on separate albums. The next year, she became the first country star on the cover of Newsweek. In 1972 Loretta was the first woman nominated and the first woman to win the prestigious Entertainer Of The Year award at The
Tribute album for Patsy Cline
In 1977, Lynn recorded I Remember Patsy, an album dedicated to friend and country pop singer Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash in 1963. The album covered some of Cline’s biggest hits. The two singles Lynn released from the album, “She’s Got You” and “Why Can’t He Be You”, became major hits. “She’s Got You”, which formerly went to #1 by Cline in 1962, went to #1 again that year by Lynn. “Why Can’t He Be You” peaked at #7 shortly afterward. Lynn enjoyed enormous success on country radio until the early 1980s, when a more pop-flavored type of country music began to dominate the market. She stayed within the country Top 10 up until the mid-1980s; however, most of her music by the late ’70s had a slick pop sound to it. Lynn had her last #1 hit in early 1978 with her solo single, “Out of My Head and Back In My Bed”. In 1979, she had two Top 5 hits, “I Can’t Feel You Anymore” and “I’ve Got a Picture Of Us on My Mind”, each from separate albums. Lynn would sit for an hour or more on a stage giving autographs to her fans after a performance. Once in Salisbury, Maryland, the town’s newspaper editor interviewed her while she was signing autographs. Editor Mel Toadvine asked her why she took so much time to sign autographs while more than 100 people stood in line all the way to the front of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. “These people are my fans”, she told Toadvine. “I’ll stay here until the very last one wants my autograph. Without these people, I am nobody; I love these people.” In 1979, she became the spokeswoman for Procter & Gamble’s Crisco Oil, and did TV commercials and print ads for them for a decade, ending in 1989. Because of her dominant hold on the 1970s, Lynn was named the “Artist of the Decade” by the Academy of Country Music. She is the first and only woman to win this honor.