A legend lost: The Loretta Lynn story

A coal miner’s daughter

Jesse Schuerer, Web Editor

On October 4th, the world of country music lost a legend: CMA’s first-ever female singer of the year, Loretta Lynn, passed away. During her career, she released over 50 albums and over 80 singles that people have been rocking to for nearly six decades.

She was born in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, to parents Melvin and Clara Marie Webb. She was the second child born in the family’s one-room cabin; six more would follow, and her father supported the family by working in the Vanleer coal mine. Loretta idolized her father, and she would later dedicate one of her most famous songs, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”, to him and his memory.

Despite being a brilliant singer and songwriter, Loretta was very poorly educated. She attended a local one-room schoolhouse for a short time before dropping out to help raise her younger siblings while her mother worked part-time in a nursing home.

When she was 15, Loretta entered a pie into a church auction, and it was bought by a man named Oliver Vanetta “Doolittle” Lynn; they married a month later and moved to Custard Washington, where their first child, Betty Sue, was born. 

Unfortunately, ten years after she left Butchers Hollow, Loretta’s father passed away from the infamous black lung, a disease caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period. One year after her father’s death, Loretta formed her first-ever singing group, Loretta and the Trailblazers, which she formed with her brother Jay Lee.

The trailblazers performed around the local Washington area in small venues, and in 1960 Loretta was picked up by her record label Zero Records and recorded her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” 

According to Lorettalynn.com, “She recalls mailing copies of the single to every radio station she could find and driving up and down the country for three months with Mooney to promote it herself.” Only a few months after her first single’s release Billboard Magazine named her as the no. 4 most promising female artist of the year. 

With the success of her first single, she had her debut at the Grand ole Opry theater in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the most famous country music venues in the world with a unique and cultured history of country singers. Lynn celebrated her 60th year as an Opry member shortly before her death.

Lynn went on to release several successful singles before releasing her debut self-titled Album in 1963. In 1972 at the CMA awards, Lynn won Country Music Entertainer of the year, which cemented her fame for decades to come. 

Something Lynn was well known for was singing about topics that were controversial at the time. She sang about divorce and drinking, and in 1975 she released a song titled “pill” about a woman and her husband going on Birth control pills to prevent future pregnancy, the song was banned by 60 radio stations upon its release but still hit no. 5 on the U.S charts.

Lynn was on top of the world; she was writing hit after hit and was continuously topping the charts. But in 1984, at the age of 34, Lynn’s oldest son Jack Benny Lynn died. Lynn said of her son’s death, “After I lost my son, I didn’t have nothin’ to write about.” Lynn and her son were very close, and she took his death very hard. She later said in a Memoriam post on her website, “There’s no magic formula to getting through it; you just do. Day, by day, by day. You cry. You pray. Jesus got me through.”

But Lynn persevered through the death of her son, she continued to release music and won several more accolades including the American Music Award of Merit in 1985, and a Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement in 1986.

In 1996, Oliver Lynn, Loretta’s husband of nearly half a century died of congestive heart failure. On his deathbed, “Doolittle” Lynn told Loretta that he had always been faithful to her and that she was the only woman he’d ever been with. Infidelity and divorce had been a long-running topic in Lynn’s music, after her husband’s death she said that she thought he’d “run around” from the start, though she still loved him, and forgave him. 

Into her golden years, Lynn continued to have a successful career. In the early 90s, she collaborated with fellow country stars Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynett on the studio album “Honky tonk Angels”. With the changing music industry, Lynn’s music wasn’t charting in the top ten anymore but she was still considered a legend in the music industry. In 2010 Lynn collaborated with Singers Carrie Underwood a

nd Sheryl Crowe to re-record her hit Coal Miner’s daughter. 

Loretta Lynn died in her sleep on October 4th, 2022 at her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. With her time in this world done, and her work finished, she leaves behind a legacy of a loving family, a dedicated fanbase, and excellent music.