Loretta Lynn, the groundbreaking country singer-songwriter known for her working-class feminist anthems, has died at the age of 90.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” Lynn’s family said in a statement. An announcement on a memorial service is forthcoming.
Born Loretta Webb, Lynn was born on April 14th, 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Famously a “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” she grew up in a tiny Appalachian cabin surrounded by seven brothers and sisters — all of whom sang. She married 21-year-old veteran Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn when she was just 13, and the pair moved across the country to Custer, Washington when she was pregnant with their first child.
Lynn went on to have six children with Doolittle — the first four of which came along by age 18. She worked as a housewife for several years before pursuing a singing career, doing laundry on a washboard and growing and canning her own vegetables. The hard labor she and her father endured — as well as the experience of young, repeated childbirth — went on to influence Lynn’s music.
Doolittle bought Lynn a guitar and encouraged her to learn how to write songs after hearing her sing around the house. Lynn said her music was so forthcoming because she was so cut off from the music industry that she didn’t know any better.
“After he got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup,” Lynn said, according to a biography on her website. “I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’ I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.”
Lynn began performing in Pacific Northwest nightclubs and released her first single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” on Vancouver label Zero Records in 1960. Soon after, she relocated to country music capital Nashville and made her Grand Ole Opry debut on October 15th, 1960. She found mentors in musical duo The Wilburn Brothers, who helped her score a deal with Decca Records. In the next several decades, she earned 16 No. 1 hits, and rubbed elbows with the likes of Patsy Cline and Conway Twitty.
Lynn wrote from a distinctly female perspective, and was unafraid to sing about topics considered taboo — especially in the conservative country genre. Her first No. 1, 1967’s “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” saw her reject her husband’s drunken sexual advances. In 1972, she released “Rated ‘X,'” which bemoans the double standards placed upon divorced men and women. Perhaps most notably, Lynn released the birth control anthem “The Pill” in 1975, which celebrated women’s then-new ability to decide when to have children. Many country radio stations refused to play the song, which they deemed risqué, but “The Pill” cemented Lynn as a feminist icon.
In 1976, Lynn released the autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter, which became a bestseller. In 1980, Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones starred in a movie of the same name, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2019, the Library of Congress preserved the film in the National Film Registry.
Lynn continued to release music until her death. In the 1970s, she recorded a series of No. 1 singles with Twitty, including “After the Fire is Gone,” “Lead Me On,” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” The pair were named Vocal Duo of the Year for four consecutive years by the Country Music Association, and won the Academy of Country Music award for Best Vocal Duet in 1971, 1974, 1975, and 1976. In 1977, Lynn recorded I Remember Patsy, a tribute album to Cline, who died in a plane crash in 1963. Several of the covers became hits.
In 2004, Lynn released Van Lear Rose, a collaborative album with Jack White. It won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album of the Year and introduced the singer to a new audience. Her last album was 2021’s Still Woman Enough, which featured appearances from Reba McEntire, Carrie Underwood, Margo Price, and Tanya Tucker.
Lynn is the most awarded female country recording artist. She has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist, and was the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1972. Some of her accolades include three Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Kennedy Center Honors, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
A series of health problems led Lynn to stop touring in 2017. That year, she suffered a stroke at her home in Tennessee, and in 2018, she fell and broke her hip. Her husband, Doolittle, died in 1996 at age 69. Her son, Jack Benny Lynn, died in 1984 at age 34, and her daughter, Betty Sue Lynn, died in 2013 at age 64. She is survived by a son, Ernest, three daughters, Clara, Peggy, and Patsy, and several grandchildren.