Loretta Lynn w/Brandy Clark at the Ryman, 10/10/14

Loretta Lynn at the Ryman, Oct. 10, 2014

A towering figure in the history of country music is gone. According to a statement from her family to the Associated Press, singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn died this morning at her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. She was 90 years old. Memorial arrangements will be announced later.

Born in Eastern Kentucky near the mining town of Van Lear, Lynn grew up in poverty; per the title of her signature song and her bestselling memoir, she was a coal miner’s daughter. She and her husband — Oliver Lynn Jr., better known as “Doolittle,” “Doo” or “Mooney” — married when she was a teenager. He convinced her to try singing in public and was her manager at the beginning of her career. He was also well-known as a womanizer and was physically abusive early on in their marriage. 

When Lynn moved her family to Nashville, she met Patsy Cline, who became a friend and mentor. “After I met Patsy, life got better for me because I fought back,” she told then-Scene writer Bill Friskics-Warren in a 2000 interview. “Before that, I just took it. I had to. I was 3,000 miles away from my mom and dad and had four little kids. There was nothin’ I could do about it. But later on I starting speakin’ my mind when things weren’t right.” 

As Friskics-Warren points out in his obituary for The New York Times, Lynn didn’t think of herself as a feminist. But the songs she performed — many of which she wrote — spoke the truth about what she felt and experienced. Songs from “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Fist City” to “One’s on the Way,” “Rated X” and “The Pill” and beyond resonated with women especially as the awareness of gender inequality sparked new women’s movements in the 1960s and ’70s. 

Despite singing about sexual freedom and equality in a way that many mainstream entertainers of the time might have felt was taboo, Lynn remains one of the best selling and most influential country artists in the history of the genre. Being outspoken didn’t limit her fan base in any appreciable way. She was the first woman to be recognized as Entertainer of the Year by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music (in 1972 and 1976, respectively). 

Lay out a collection of Lynn’s records — grab 1960s classics like Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), at least one of her iconic LPs of duets with Conway Twitty, even Van Lear Rose, the Grammy-winning album she made in 2004 with Jack White — close your eyes and point. You’re almost certain to land on a track that has helped generations of country musicians define what they mean by “a country song.”

Despite suffering a stroke in 2017, after which she seldom appeared in public, Lynn continued recording. Right through her most recent album, 2021’s John Carter Cash-produced Still Woman Enough, she was singing powerfully and writing with her characteristic sly wit, hard-won wisdom and remarkable economy of language.

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