America’s Coal Miner’s Daughter Turns 87

The Queen of Country Music. The Honky Tonk Girl. The Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Loretta Lynn celebrated her 87th birthday with a once-in-a-lifetime music event at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The concert, “Loretta Lynn: An All-Star Birthday Celebration Concert” was held on April 1, and included performances by Alan Jackson, Brandy Clark, Darius Rucker, Garth Brooks, George Strait, Jack White, Kacey Musgraves, Keith Urban, Little Big Town, Margo Price, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies and Trisha Yearwood.

Born on April 14, 1932 in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn grew up with very little. However, the inspiration from her father's profession as a coal miner would indirectly go on to make their family millions of dollars years down the line. Famous for her hits such as "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)," "Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)," "One's on the Way," "Fist City," and the legendary "Coal Miner's Daughter," Loretta Lynn has made her mark on country music forever.

Now 87 years old, the First Lady of Country Music is still active today, touring for those who still love that old country sound. Performing for almost 60 years, her iconic name is known around the globe.

 

The Beginning of it All

Loretta got her first big break on the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree. She sang her original song “Honky Tonk Girl” and Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” on air. Coincidentally, Cline was listening to the radio from her hospital bed and sent her husband, Charlie, to go get Loretta to meet her. The two became good friends. Cline took her new friend under her wing and taught her how to be a woman on stage. By the time Loretta was on the Grand Ole Opry, Patsy had taught her how to do her hair, makeup, and even walk in heels. Lynn credits Cline as her mentor and best friend during those early years.

Loretta’s songs were inspired by her husband Doolittle Lynn. Lynn’s music focused on blue-collar women's issues, with themes such as cheating husbands and persistent mistresses. Her music was inspired by real issues that she faced in her marriage.

Loretta was a feminist before feminism in music was accepted. Lynn had numerous songs banned from radio airplay, including her songs “Rated 'X',” "Wings Upon Your Horns," and "The Pill." "Dear Uncle Sam," released in 1966 during the Vietnam War, describes a wife's anguish at the loss of a husband to war.

In 1971, Loretta was the first solo female country artist to perform at the White House, at the invitation of President Richard Nixon. She has since visited the White House six times, under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

While a recognized "advocate for ordinary women," Loretta has often criticized upper-middle-class feminism for ignoring the needs and concerns of working-class women. She once stated, "I'm not a big fan of Women's Liberation, but maybe it will help women stand up for the respect they're due."

 

Loretta Lynn’s Success

Loretta was a hard honky-tonk singer for the first half of the 1960s and rarely strayed from the genre. During this time, Loretta began to regularly hit the Top 10. Her songs such as "Before I'm Over You" peaked at No. 4, followed by "Wine, Women and Song," peaking at No. 3.

In late 1964, she recorded her first 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 and If We Put Our Heads Together. In 1965, her solo career continued with three major hits, "Happy Birthday," "Blue Kentucky Girl," and "The Home You're Tearing Down." Lynn's label issued two albums that year, Songs from My Heart and Blue Kentucky Girl.

"Dear Uncle Sam" hit the Top Ten in 1966. It was among the very first recordings to recount the human costs of the Vietnam War.

In the latter half of the decade, her sound became more personal, varied, and ambitious, particularly lyrically.  Although she still worked within the confines of honky tonk, Loretta began to write songs with a feminist viewpoint, which was unheard of in country music. Her song "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" hit No. 1 in 1966. This was the song that made Lynn the first country female recording artist to pen a No. 1 hit. It was instant hit and became one of Loretta's all-time most popular songs to date.

In 1967, Loretta reached No. 1 with Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind). This became one of the first albums by a female country artist to reach sales of 500,000 copies.

Loretta's next album, Fist City, was released in 1968. The title track became Loretta's second No. 1 hit as a single earlier that year. 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, came with two Top 5 Country hits.

"Coal Miner's Daughter" peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1970. "Coal Miner's Daughter" tells the story of Lynn's life growing up in rural Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. The song became her first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 83. She had a series of singles that charted low on the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1975. The song "Coal Miner's Daughter" later served as the impetus for the best-selling autobiography (1976) and the Oscar-winning biopic, both of which share the song's title.

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. Loretta continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, including 1975's "The Pill," considered to be the first song to discuss birth control.

As a songwriter, Loretta felt no topic was off limits as long as it spoke to other women, and many of her songs were autobiographical. She had many songs banned from radio until they had to be played because of their growing success. By the early 1980s, Loretta became the first American female recording artist to chart over fifty top ten hits.

Honors and Awards

Loretta has written over 160 songs, released 60 albums, and has sold 45 million records worldwide. She has had ten No. 1 albums and sixteen No. 1 singles on the country charts.

Loretta has won dozens of awards, including three Grammys, seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards, thirteen Academy of Country Music awards, eight Country Music Association awards, and twenty-six fan-voted Music City News awards. She remains the most awarded woman in country music to date.

She was also the first woman in country music to receive a gold album for her 1967 album, Don't Come Home A' Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind).

In 1972, Loretta was the first woman to be named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association. She is one of six women to have received CMA's highest award.

In 1980, she was named "Artist of the Decade" for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music, classifying her as the only woman to be named this. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She also received Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, an award given by the President.

Loretta is ranked 65th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and was the first female country artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1977. In 1994, she received the Country Music Pioneer award by the Academy of Country Music.

In 2001, "Coal Miner's Daughter" was named among NPR's "100 Most Significant Songs of the 20th Century." In 2002, at No. 3, Loretta had the highest ranking for any living female CMT’s special of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music.

She has been honored as a BMI Icon at the BMI Country Awards, been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music, and in 2008 Loretta Lynn was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in New York City. To date Lynn had been inducted into more music Halls Of Fame than any other female recording artist. She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her 50 years in country music in 2010.

Also in November of 2010, Sony Music released a tribute CD to Loretta Lynn titled Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn. The CD featured artists such as Kid Rock, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson, Gretchen Wilson, The White Stripes, Martina McBride, Paramore, Steve Earle and Faith Hill. In 2011, Lynn was nominated for an Academy of Country Music, CMT Video, and Country Music Association award for "Vocal Event of the Year" with Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow for "Coal Miner's Daughter.”

On September 25, 2012, Loretta Lynn marked her 50th anniversary as a Grand Ole Opry member. The only other women to reach this milestone have been Jean Shepard, Minnie Pearl, and Wilma Lee Cooper.

On August 8, 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Lynn a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lynn received two additional career-acknowledging awards in 2015, the Crystal Milestone Award, and the Billboard Legacy Award for Women in Music.

At the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year Awards, Lynn was honored with the Artist of a Lifetime award.

We celebrate Loretta this month as she turns 87 and continues to capture country music’s heart.

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