Loretta Lynn’s rags-to-riches story is the stuff country songs are made of. Born to a poor family in a Kentucky mining town, she married at just 15 and had a family before she ever picked up a guitar. But when Lynn did try her hand at music, she learned quickly. By the time she turned 40, the quiet country housewife had become an iconic singer-songwriter.
Loretta Lynn Facts
1. Down in the Holler
As her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” claims, Loretta Lynn really was a coal miner’s daughter. She was one of eight children born to coal miner Ted Webb and his wife, Clary. The Webbs lived in Butcher Holler, Kentucky and times were hard. Clary Webb would glue pages of the Sears catalogue to the walls because the family couldn’t afford wallpaper.
2. Young Love
Lynn was just 15 years old when she met and married Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, a 21-year-old moonshiner from Butcher Holler. The couple moved fast. They had only been dating for a month before they walked down the aisle and by the time Lynn was 17, she had already given birth to three of their six children. Their marriage could be rocky at times, and Doolittle’s drinking and womanizing gave Loretta plenty of material for her songs, but the couple stayed together right up until Doolittle’s death in 1996.
3. Lying About Her Age
For years, Loretta claimed that she was just 13 years old when she married her husband Doolittle Lynn. She even said so in her biography, Coal Miner’s Daughter. When journalists found Lynn’s real birth certificate, however, they discovered that Loretta had lied…she was actually 16 when she tied the know, which, to be fair, is still incredibly young.
4. Opening Chords
While Loretta was still pregnant with their first child, Doolittle moved the family to the opposite side of the country, to Custer, Washington, where he took a job in the logging industry. To help her cope with her homesickness, Doolittle bought Loretta her very first guitar, a $17 model bought from the Sears catalogue.
5. Humble Beginnings
Lynn taught herself how to play guitar, and before long she was trying to write her own songs. She wrote her very first, “Whispering Sea,” while on a fishing trip with her family. When she worked at a strawberry farm, she made up “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” while she picked berries for just five cents per crate. She wrote the lyrics on a humble paper bag.
6. The Ratio
Loretta went on to write more than 160 songs. Nearly half of them became chart hits.
7. Hands Full
Doolittle encouraged Loretta to share her music with others. With Doolittle acting as her manager, Loretta put together a band called the Trailblazers. They played at nightclubs around Washington, and soon enough on radio and TV as well. Not only was Loretta playing gigs, writing songs, and promoting her band, she was also juggling being a housewife and a mother. Becoming a superstar was exciting, but it was also exhausting.
In 1960, the music industry finally recognized Lynn’s talent. A Canadian record company invited her to record some songs including “Whispering Sea” and “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Her hopes skyrocketed when the label liked the song, then crashed back down as Lynn saw them fail to promote it. Undeterred, Lynn decided to take matters into her own hands. She drove around Washington, hand delivering her record to radio stations.
9. The Big Time
All Lynn’s hard work paid off when “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” hit #14 on Billboard’s Country and Western chart. With Loretta’s star on the rise, the Lynns were on the move again—this time to Music City, USA. Loretta and her family settled down in Nashville, Tennessee, the center of the country music universe. It didn’t take long for the Lynns to establish roots. Loretta signed a deal with Decca Records and even scored an invite to appear on the famed Grand Ole Opry.
Along with every other country music lover, Loretta Lynn idolized Patsy Cline, the most popular female country singer in America. As an homage to her hero, Lynn recorded a cover of Cline’s iconic song “I Fall to Pieces.” Little did she know, that song would begin a life-long friendship. Cline was in the hospital recovering from a brutal car crash when she heard Lynn’s cover. Cline loved it so much that she insisted that her husband go find Lynn so she could sing her praises. They remained friends for the rest of Cline’s life.
11. Nothing Good Lasts Forever
Cline and Lynn became fast friends, with Patsy helping Loretta understand the ins and outs of the music business. She even gave Lynn her hand-me-downs, including a pair of underwear! Sadly, tragic circumstances meant that their friendship would be cut short.
12. In Memoriam
When she was just 30 years old, Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in 1963. Loretta Lynn was devastated by the loss of her friend and mentor, and worked hard to keep Patsy’s memory alive. She released a tribute album, entitled I Remember Patsy, and wrote a memoir about her time with Patsy called Me and Patsy, Kicking Up Dust. But that’s not even Lynn’s most touching tribute to her lost friend.
13. Sweet Smell of “Success”
Lynn’s first recording for Decca was, appropriately enough, called “Success.” The catchy tune became a top ten hit and helped drive Loretta’s debut album, Loretta Lynn Sings, to #2 on the country album charts. But here’s something few Loretta Lynn fans realize: While Lynn wrote tons of her own materials, she didn’t pen her big breakthrough track! Johnny Mullins wrote “Success.”
14. Two’s on the Way
While Loretta’s career was skyrocketing, Loretta was preparing for a new addition to the family…or rather, two new additions. The youngest of her six children, twin girls, were born in 1964. Both followed in their famous mother’s footsteps, becoming singers and actresses. But one of Lynn’s daughters emulated her mother in another way: she eloped with a boyfriend at 15. Sadly, unlike her parents’, this teenage marriage ended in divorce.
There were still some who doubted Loretta Lynn. “Ha,” they laughed, “Loretta will be a grandmother before she has a #1 record.” Well, that turned out to be true. Loretta was just 34 when her oldest daughter gave birth to a daughter of her own. Meanwhile, Loretta’s twin daughters were still toddlers when they became aunts!
16. She’s Number One!
Loretta released one of her biggest hits in 1967. “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” was Loretta’s first #1 song and the first song written by a woman to hit #1 on the country chart. Not only did the track earn Lynn the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year Award, it was also a sign of good things to come. Loretta would go on to have 16 #1 hits over the course of her career. But before that happened, she had to deal with some sibling rivalry.
17. Sibling Rivalry
Loretta’s brother, Jay Lee Webb, released a reply to “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” His song “I Come Home A-Drinkin’ (To a Worn Out Wife Like You)” was, unsurprisingly, not as successful as his sister’s much more famous tune.
18. A Star is Born
In less than a decade, Loretta Lynn had gone from harried housewife to one of the most important people in American music. The album that featured “Don’t Come Home A-Drinking” became the first by a female country singer to reach Gold status. It sold more than half a million copies. Lynn was experiencing the highest highs, but soon enough, she’d come to know the lowest lows too.
19. Rated X
Unlike most country music singers at the time, Loretta wrote her own songs. She drew inspiration from subjects that affected her own life as a working-class woman, and sometimes that meant singing some controversial tunes. Lynn wrote songs about birth-control, the unfair division of household labour, the war in Vietnam, and many other divisive topics.
More than a dozen of Loretta Lynn’s songs were banned from the radio. They included “The Pill,” which celebrated the liberating effects of birth control, and “Wings Upon Your Horns,” about the double-standards women face when they have premarital intimacy.
20. A Tough Pill to Swallow
Even with limited play, Lynn’s controversial song “The Pill” managed to make an impact. It reached #5 on the country charts, with one surprising group of fans especially admiring the tune. Rural doctors often admitted that Loretta Lynn did a better job of advocating for birth control than they had been able to do as trained medical professionals.
21. What Can Doolittle Do?
Loretta was a great songwriter, but she wasn’t opposed to recording other people’s songs on her albums. Her 1965 album, Songs from my Heart, includes compositions by 11 different songwriters, including one unlikely artist: Loretta’s own husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. In a touching gesture, he wrote a song for Loretta called “You Made Me What I Am.” But behind the scenes, their marriage was anything but easy.
22. Working Mom
When Lynn remembered her troubled marriage to Doolittle, she described how “lonely” she felt. She said that her husband would drink so much that she started to think “it was better to be on the bus than to be home.” And in certain years, she did find escape in her music career. Lynn’s children said there would be years when their mother was gone for 200 days at a time.
23. Bad Husband
Want to get a sense of how great a guy Doolittle Lynn was? Well, when he was married to Loretta, he slept with her brother’s wife. Not only that, the couple would have violent fights that saw husband and wife exchange blows. In one fight, Lynn even knocked out Doolittle’s two front teeth.
24. Story of Her Life
At the height of her popularity, in 1976, Loretta Lynn released her biography. It was titled, appropriately enough, Coal Miner’s Daughter. The book flew off the shelves, and soon Hollywood came calling. A film adaptation of Coal Miner’s Daughter premiered in 1980 and became an unexpected box office smash. The seventh-highest grossing film of the year, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
When time came to cast Coal Miner’s Daughter, Lynn wanted one actress and one actress only: Sissy Spacek. Spacek wasn’t keen, and neither were the producers, so Lynn came up with an ingenious plan to help her get her way. The country singer sneakily “leaked” the news that Spacek would be playing her in the movie. When word got out, everyone’s hands were tied, leading the producers to cast Lynn’s first choice.
26. Stage Fright
Spacek already had plans to do another film. Hoping to get out of Coal Miner’s Daughter, and certain that the director would never let an actress sing in a biopic of a famous country singer, Spacek announced that she’d only star in the movie if she got to do all the singing. Spacek’s plan backfired, however, when both the director and Loretta Lynn agreed.
27. Tribute Act
To study for her part, Spacek accompanied Loretta on tour. Spacek did her best to adopt Loretta’s offstage and onstage mannerisms, and even tried to stay in character while off camera. To everyone’s surprise—including Spacek’s—she nailed the role. Not only did Spacek win Best Actress at that year’s Academy Awards, she was also nominated for a Grammy. Spacek’s work on the Coal Miner’s Daughter soundtrack earned her a nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
28. Seeing a Ghost
Loretta’s father, Ted Webb, was played by The Band drummer Levon Helm. The resemblance was so strong that Loretta actually fainted the first time that she saw Helm in costume. Lynn had such a strong reaction because her father had never actually seen her achieve musical success. He died just one year before “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” came out.
29. Death in the Family
Tragedy struck the Lynn family in 1984. Loretta’s son, Jack Benny Lynn, was trying to ford a river at the family ranch in Tennessee only for everything to go horribly wrong. Jack Benny was unable to get out of the water and tragically drowned at just 35 years old. Naturally, Loretta was devastated and cancelled all her upcoming concert appearances.
30. Band of Angels
In 1993, Loretta joined forces with two other queens of country music, Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, to release Honky Tonk Angels. The record sold half a million copies and earned the trio a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. But that’s not even the most enchanting thing about the album.
31. Guardian Angel
Honky Tonk Angels also gave Loretta the chance to reunite with an old friend—Patsy Cline. Through the magic of audio engineering, Patsy Cline joined the Angels for a rendition of the Hank Williams classic, “Lovesick Blues.”
32. Rock Me Like A Hurricane
Loretta’s official residence is a ranch at Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Billed as the seventh largest attraction in Tennessee, Hurricane Mills is half family home, half amusement park. Hurricane Mills has gift shops, RV camping lots, concert halls, and six different museums. At Hurricane Mills, you can also take a tour of the Lynn’s homes: the Civil War-era mansion she and Doolittle shared, and a replica of her childhood home in Butcher Holler. Loretta no longer lives at Hurricane Mills full time, but she might just drop by to say howdy.
33. Going Postal
Hurricane Mills is so big that it has its own post office, and its own zip code.
34. Motorcycle Mama
Loretta Lynn is a true Renaissance woman. Not only is she the author of five books (including some cookbooks), she also runs an amateur motocross race called Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championship. Since its inception in 1982, Lorretta Lynn’s Amateur Championship has been considered the final stop for many amateur racers before they turn pro.
35. Enough is Enough
Coal Miner’s Daughter was a best-selling book and a hit movie. For most celebrities, one acclaimed biography would be enough, but not for Loretta Lynn. She wrote a second biography, Still Woman Enough, in 2002. It describes Loretta’s later life, including her tumultuous marriage, her son’s demise, and the death of her husband. Like Coal Miner’s Daughter, Still Woman Enough managed to crack the New York Times’ best seller list.
36. Stars and Stripes
In 2004, Loretta made a comeback with help from an unlikely friend. Jack White, the lead singer of the White Stripes, is a huge Loretta Lynn fan, and produced her 2004 album Van Lear Rose. The two even recorded a duet together, “Portland, Oregon.”
The album was a critical and commercial smash, reaching #2 on the country music charts, and winning Grammys for Best Country Album and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
37. Father of Mine
The title Van Lear Rose comes from the Van Lear coal mines where Loretta’s beloved father, Ted Webb, worked.
38. She’s the Greatest
In 2018, Loretta Lynn overcame the odds and released her 45th studio album, Wouldn’t It Be Great. The album had been delayed after Loretta suffered multiple health issues, including a dangerous stroke and a bad fall. Despite these significant setbacks, Loretta shows no sign of slowing down. At 88 years of age, she’s got two more albums in the works.
39. Maid of Honors
Loretta Lynn continues to work, but she is already country music’s most decorated woman. In addition to her 10 #1 albums, and 16 #1 singles, she has three Grammys, seven American Music Awards, and 13 Country Music Association Awards. Furthermore, she is a member of four different halls of fame: the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Country Gospel Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. These are just a few of Loretta’s many, many honors.
40. The Voice of Freedom
In 2013, Loretta was given one of the greatest honors an American can receive when President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award is reserved for those who “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours.”
41. Screen Name
Loretta Lynn’s parents named her after the Hollywood actress Loretta Young, who won an Academy Award for role in the 1947 movie The Farmer’s Daughter. Young was apparently a favorite of Loretta Lynn’s mother.
42. Family Tragedies
No parent should have to bury their child. Sadly, Loretta Lynn has had to do just that and even worse, she’s done so more than once. Her son Jack Benny Lynn drowned in 1984, then her daughter Betty Sue passed due to complications from emphysema in 2013. Only three years after that, Lynn’s grandson (and Jack Benny’s son) Jeffrey passed away too.
43. The Real Story
One of Loretta Lynn’s most famous songs is “Fist City,” a ditty where Lynn warns a rival to stay away from her man. According to Lynn, the song was inspired by a real event. When Lynn was playing a show, she saw an attractive woman making eyes at her husband Doolittle. Lynn was immediately inspired to write “I’m here to tell you gal to lay off a my man if you don’t want to go to fist city.”
44. No Way but Conway
In 1971, Loretta began collaborating with fellow country singer Conway Twitty. As a duo, Loretta and Conway scored five #1 hits, including “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” and “As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone.” The duo was extremely popular, with the Music City News voting them Favorite Duo every single year from 1971 to 1981. However, when their sales started to dip, Loretta and Conway went separate ways.
During one of Loretta and Doolittle’s trademark fights, she got so mad that she dumped a whole pan of creamed corn over her husband’s head. On another occasion, she poured beans on him when he passed out drunk at the dinner table.
46. The Star of the 70s
In 1979, Loretta was named Artist of the Decade by the Academy of Country Music. It was a great way to close out a dominant decade for the Queen of Country Music. She remains the only woman to ever have won the honor.
47. Van Lear Rose
But perhaps the greatest honor bestowed on Loretta Lynn came in 2011, when a team of horticulturists developed and named a new rose after her. The Loretta Lynn Van Lear is noted for its rich apricot colour and—like Loretta herself—its ability to stay constantly in bloom.
48. An Uneasy Marriage
In Loretta Lynn’s autobiography, she revealed the dark truth about her long-term marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. Apparently, he would cheat on Loretta constantly and one time, he even up and left her…when she was giving birth to one of their sons.
49. The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
When Loretta Lynn’s friend and mentor Patsy Cline died in a plane crash, she said goodbye with a heartbreaking gesture. Lynn had twin daughters a year after Cline’s tragic end. She named one of the girls after her sister, and the other after her beloved friend Patsy.
50. Up in Smoke
Just two years after Lynn’s breakthrough success with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinking” Loretta’s next album stoked so much controversy that it had to be recalled. Even though Lynn has Cherokee heritage, the album’s title, Your Squaw is on the Warpath, used a derogatory term for an Indigenous woman. But that’s not actually why the album made waves. Rather, the Salem Cigarette Company felt that one of the songs sounded a little too close to their commercial jingle. The album was recalled and re-released without the offending ditty.