On her 2016 album Full Circle, Loretta Lynn openly pondered, "Who's gonna miss me when I'm gone?" Today, upon the pioneering singer-songwriter's death at the age of 90, that answer was abundantly clear. Tributes poured in from Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Martina McBride, Carrie Underwood, and LeAnn Rimes, as well as from The Grand Ole Opry, The Country Music Association, and The Country Music Hall of Fame. Carole King, one of many artists outside of the country genre to celebrate Lynn's life, summed up the thoughts of many when she succinctly wrote, "She was an inspiration."
Lynn famously shared the story of her childhood in her composition "Coal Miner's Daughter," later the title of a film of the same name. The recording, which was added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2009, was an unflinching remembrance of growing up impoverished in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Yet the lyric didn't ask for pity or sympathy; it instead was rendered in the same matter-of-fact voice that was rapidly becoming familiar to the artist's fans. Though she professed to not be a feminist and in fact wrote "I'm not a big fan of Women's Liberation" in her memoir, Lynn in many respects epitomized the label. She rejected the expectation of a "woman's place," challenging norms with her life and her music and opening doors for countless artists who followed. Though she was complex - she remained in a near-50-year marriage to Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn troubled by her husband's alcoholism and infidelity not to mention abuse ("He never hit me one time that I didn't hit him back twice") - she used her voice and platform to speak up with candor and authenticity for other women in similar situations. It's no wonder she had a reported fourteen songs banned from country radio.
Lynn's first No. 1 record, "Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind)" was one of many songs she penned which spurned misogynistic attitudes and sharply criticized male misbehavior. Her subsequent 1968 chart-topper "Fist City" made it clear that she wasn't going to sit idly by, either: the song plainly threatened physical violence on those women who would step out with her husband. "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" was equally assertive. 1973's "Rated X" invited more controversy in still-conservative country circles with its full-throated defense of divorce and recognition of the double standard experienced by female divorcees. Two years later, "The Pill" frankly celebrated birth control; it stalled at No. 5 on the Country charts at a time when Lynn's singles customarily reached the top three but became her biggest Pop hit at No. 70. Her discography is filled with similarly gutsy and unexpected songs, from 1969's "Wings Upon Your Horns," about a woman's loss of her virginity, through 2018's "Ruby's Stool," which echoed her '60s hits when she sang of dumping the contents of an ashtray into the beer can of the lady dancing with her man. Elsewhere she tackled such topics as the ravages of war ("Dear Uncle Sam") and childbirth ("One's on the Way") with drama and humor, respectively.
In 1972, Loretta became the first woman to be nominated and win Entertainer of the Year at the Country Music Association (CMA) Awards. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999; a Songwriters Hall of Fame induction came in 2008 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010. (She was also the recipient of three competitive Grammys, one with Conway Twitty and two with Jack White.) President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and earlier this year, she celebrated 60 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Her late career "comeback" was ignited by 2004's White-produced Van Lear Rose; the album underscored the connection between country and rock, and gave Lynn the space to continue doing what she did best: speaking her truth in song. A series of four final albums released between 2016 and 2021 received similar, deserved acclaim.
With spunk, grit, and determination, Loretta Lynn blazed a trail all her own. The rich legacy of this coal miner's daughter won't soon be forgotten.