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Loretta Lynn, the country music icon who brought unparalleled candor about the domestic realities of working-class women to country songwriting — and also taught those who followed her how to express themselves — died today at her home in Tennessee. She was 90 years old.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning in her sleep at home on her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” her family said in a statement.
“The story of Loretta Lynn’s life is unlike any other, but she has drawn from that story a body of work that resonates with people who may never fully understand her dark and distant childhood, difficult beginnings or his adventures as a famous and beloved celebrity,” Kyle Young, CEO of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said in a statement. “In a music industry often preoccupied with aspiration and fantasy, Loretta insisted on sharing her own brash and courageous truth.”
Born Loretta Webb, the singer grew up in a remote Appalachian mining community in eastern Kentucky. One of the greatest songs of her career, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, proudly recounts her journey.
Lynn was barely a teenager when she started her own family with 21-year-old ex-soldier Oliver Lynn, better known as “Mooney” or “Doolittle.” They wasted no time in having the first four of their six children and emigrated to Washington State. It was there that her husband heard her bedtime lullabies and pushed her to start performing in public. In a 2010 interview with Fresh airshe insisted she wouldn’t have done it any other way: “I wouldn’t go out in front of people. I was really shy and would never have sung in front of anyone.”
Once her husband started scrounging up paid gigs for her, Lynn taught herself how to write songs, says country music historian and journalist Robert Oermann.
“She got a copy of Country Songs Roundupsays Oermann – a magazine that published country lyrics and stories about the musicians. “She was reading the country lyrics in the magazine, and she was like, ‘Well, it’s nothing. I can do it.’ And she could, and had been.”
Lynn and her husband drove to radio stations, where she introduced herself to DJs and tried to charm them into spinning her record. These endeavors had begun to get Lynn noticed when the pair landed in Nashville in 1960. Artists like Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline — who became Lynn’s mentor — had great success with a lush, sugary style of production known as the name of Nashville Sound. . Lynn worked with Cline’s producer, Owen Bradley, but clung to her unsweetened twang.
Country songs had often depicted the hardships from a man’s point of view, but Lynn wasn’t afraid to spell out the indignities endured in her marriage, or the double standards she saw other women face when it came to divorce, pregnancy and birth control. She discovered that Nashville was not used to this kind of franchise.
Fellow Eastern Kentucky songwriter Angaleena Presley was raised on her mother’s Loretta Lynn records and recognizes what they must have meant to women in previous generations.
“I’m sure there were probably many, many women at that time, especially in the country,” she says, “who thought, ‘I don’t really have the right to say anything if my husband wants to drink He all works He deserves to drink at night and go home and do whatever he wants And I’ll clean the house and raise the kids And [Lynn] said, ‘No. It’s not OK, and it’s OK for you to say it’s not OK. “
Presley says Lynn’s perspective “contributed a lot to the feminist movement,” especially in rural parts of the country. “I feel like she was the voice,” Presley says, “even though she never actively spoke out as a feminist, her songs certainly did.”
No less than 51 of these songs have become Billboard’s top 10 country hits. In 1972, Lynn was the first woman named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association. She would later be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008. She also received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.
Although their relationship was complicated, Lynn and Doolittle remained married until her death in 1996. (Lynn also made sure fans knew her long-term musical partnership with Conway Twitty was an affair.) Lynn has continued to perform and record in the new millennium, attracting younger audiences through his collaboration with Jack White.
But it was critical to Lynn’s enduring appeal that she never lost touch with her identity as a modern, yet down-to-earth countrywoman who could communicate that to crowds throughout her career.
“This idea that I could be here on stage singing this song, but I’m no better than you. I a m you,” says journalist Oermann. “That’s kind of the message. That kind of humility is a really powerful and good thing.”
This approach has always influenced his songwriting; Lynn’s courage shines just as clearly today in the music she left behind.
“I love real life, because that’s what we do today,” Lynn said. All things Considered in 2004. “And I think that’s why people bought my records, because they live in this world. And so do I. So I see what’s going on, and I get it.”