NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky miner’s daughter whose candid songs about life and love as an Appalachian woman lifted her out of poverty and turned her into a pillar of country music, has died. She was 90.
In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lynn’s family said she died Tuesday at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
Lynn already had four children before starting her career in the early 1960s, and her songs reflect her pride in her rural Kentucky background.
As a songwriter, she has crafted the persona of a defiantly tough woman, in contrast to the stereotypical image of most country singers. The Country Music Hall of Famer wrote fearlessly about sex and love, cheating spouses, divorce and birth control, and sometimes got in trouble with radio programmers for material that even rock artists once shied away from.
Her biggest hits came in the 1960s and 1970s, including “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “The Pill,” “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), “Rated X” and “You Look at the Country”. She was known for appearing in floor-length gowns with intricate embroidery or rhinestones, many created by her longtime personal assistant and designer Tim Cobb.
Her honesty and unique place in country music was rewarded. She was the first woman ever to be named Artist of the Year at both of the genre’s major awards, first by the Country Music Association in 1972 and then by the Academy of Country Music three years later.
“It was what I wanted to hear and what I knew other women wanted to hear, too,” Lynn told the AP in 2016. “I wasn’t writing about men; I wrote about us women. And the men loved it too.
In 1969, she published her autobiographical book, The Miner’s Daughter, which helped her reach her widest audience.
“We were poor but we had love/That’s the only thing daddy cared about/He shoveled coal to make the poor man a dollar,” she sang.
The Miner’s Daughter, also the title of her 1976 book, was made into a 1980 film of the same name. Sissy Spacek’s portrayal of Lynn won her an Oscar, and the film was also nominated for Best Picture.
Long after her commercial peak, Lynn won two Grammy Awards in 2005 for her album Van Lear Rose, which featured 13 songs she wrote, including “Portland, Oregon,” about a drunken one-night stand. “Van Lear Rose” is a collaboration with rocker Jack White, who produced the album and played the guitar parts.
Born Loretta Webb, the second of eight children, she claimed her birthplace as Butcher Holler, near the coal mining town of Van Lear in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. There really was no Butcher Holler though. She later told a reporter that she came up with the name for the purpose of the song based on the names of the families who lived there.
Her father played the banjo, her mother played the guitar, and she grew up listening to the songs of the Carter family.
“I think I was singing when I was born,” she told the AP in 2016. “Dad would go out on the porch where I would sing and rock the babies to sleep. He was saying, “Loretta, shut that big mouth. People everywhere in that scream can hear you. And I said, “Dad, what difference does it make? They are all my cousins.
She wrote in her autobiography that she was 13 when she married Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, but the AP later found state records that show she was 15. Tommy Lee Jones plays Mooney Lynn in the biopic .
Her husband, whom she called “Doo” or “Doolittle,” got her into singing professionally and helped promote her early career. With his help, she landed a recording contract with Decca Records, later MCA, and performed on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Lynn wrote her first hit single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl”, released in 1960.
She also teamed up with singer Conway Twitty to form one of country music’s most popular duos with hits like “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “After the Fire is Gone,” which earned them a Grammy Award. Their duets and her singles were always mainstream country, not crossover or pop tinged.
The Academy of Country Music named her Artist of the Decade for the 1970s, and she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
On “Fist City,” Lynn threatens a hair-pulling fistfight if another woman doesn’t want to stay away from her man: “I’m here to tell you, girl, leave my man/If you don’t wanna go to Fist City . This strong-willed but traditional country woman reappears in other Lynn songs. In “The Pill,” a song about sex and birth control, Lynn writes about how she’s tired of being cooped up at home to take care of babies: “The good feeling comes easy now/Since I’ve got the pill,” she sang.
She moved to Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, outside of Nashville, in the 1990s, where she created a ranch complete with a replica of her childhood home and a museum that is a popular roadside tourist stop. The dresses she was famous for are also there.
Lynn knew her songs were pioneering, especially for country music, but she was simply writing the truth that so many country women like her had experienced.
“I saw other women going through the same thing because I worked in the clubs. I wasn’t the only one who lived that life, and I’m not the only one who will live today what I write,” she told The AP in 1995.
Even in her later years, Lynn never seems to have stopped writing, landing a multi-album deal in 2014 with Legacy Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. In 2017, she suffered a stroke that forced her to postpone her shows.
She and her husband were married for nearly 50 years before he died in 1996. They had six children: Betty, Jack, Ernest and Clara, and then twins Patsy and Peggy. She had 17 grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.