Loretta Lynn (born April 14, 1935) is an American country singer who was the leading country female vocalist during much of the 1960s and 1970s. In the 1970s she became one of the most famous women in all of America and frequently made “most admired women” polls alongside First Ladies and world leaders.
Born to Ted and Clara Webb, Loretta Lynn Webb grew up in Butcher Hollow, a small mining community in Johnson County, Kentucky, and was married at age twelve and a half to Oliver Vanetta Lynn (commonly known as “Doolittle”, “Doo”, or “Mooney”) in January, 1948. The Lynns had four children by the time Loretta was 17, and she was a grandmother at age 29.
She has released 70 albums and had 17 Number One albums and 27 Number One singles. Her first single was “Honky Tonk Girl” which reached Number Fourteen on the Billboard singles chart. She made several albums with Conway Twitty. Her younger sister, Crystal Gayle, is a well-known country singer in her own right. Lynn wrote Gayle’s debut single, I’ve Cried (the Blue Right Out of My Eyes). Gayle and Lynn are cousins of country music singer Patty Loveless. Additonally, Lynn’s sister Peggy Sue and brother Jay Lee Webb were nationally known country music artists in the 1970s.
Lynn moved to Washington with her husband at the age of thirteen. Loretta always had a passion for music, before getting married she regularly sang at churches and in local concerts. After her marriage she stopped singing in public instead passing her love of music on to her children and singing to them often. At 18 Oliver bought his wife a guitar, which she taught herself to play. Her big break came when she won a local talent competition and was noticed by Buck Owens who invited her on his television show. That performance led to a deal with Zero Records. In 1960 Lynn recorded “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl”, which was sent out to radio station owners and disc jockeys by Loretta and Oliver themselves since Zero Records didn’t have the money to promote them. The family then moved to Nashville to promote it. It was a hit before they even got there peaking at Number Fourteen on the charts.
Kitty Wells became the first major country female vocalist in the 1950s but by the time Loretta made her first record in 1960, only three other women, Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Jean Shepard had become top stars. By the end of 1962 it was clear Loretta was on her way to becoming the fourth to follow Wells’ lead to the top.
She gained even greater success after a collaboration with The Willburn Brothers (Teddy and Doyle) who were responsible for her release from the Zero Records label, her subsequent signing with Decca Records and her initial appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Loretta signed both lifetime (20-year) songwriting contracts and performance contracts with the Wilburn Brothers’ publishing company (Sure-Fire Music) and talent agency (Wil-Helm) respectively.
With the benefit of membership in the Grand Ole Opry and inclusion in the weekly nationally syndicated television program, The Wilburn Brothers Show (1960-1974), and with the assistance of the songwriting skills of Teddy Wilburn (who is rumored to have co-written many of her pieces, including “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin”), Loretta soon became the number one female recording artist in country music.
Poet/children’s author Shel Silverstein wrote Lynn’s hit songs “One’s on the Way” and “Hey, Loretta”.
Loretta Lynn has also written two autobiographies, Coal Miner's Daughter and Still Woman Enough. The first was also made into a film starring Sissy Spacek as Loretta. By the time the movie was in production, Lynn had a falling-out with the Wilburn Brothers, which centered around the breach of her performance contract with Wil-Helm, resulting in their omission from the script entirely (as opposed to the book).
Lynn was close friends with country music legend Patsy Cline, and was devastated by her death. Possibly as a strike back in her feud with the Wilburn Brothers, Loretta substituted Patsy Cline as her musical mentor in the film version of Coal Miner's Daughter. There was some speculation that Barbara Jean (portrayed by Ronee Blakely), the centerpiece character in the 1975 Robert Altman classic, Nashville, was based at least in part on Lynn.
Loretta Lynn enjoyed enormous success on country radio until the early 1980s when a more pop-flavored type of country music began to dominate the market, one of the leaders of which was her younger sister, Crystal Gayle. Her last Top Ten record as a soloist was “I Lie” in 1982 but she continued having charting records until the end of the decade. As a concert artist, she remained a top draw throughout her career but by the early 1990s had drastically cut down the number of personal appearances she accepted.
In 1993 Lynn teamed up with fellow country legends Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the album Honky Tonk Angels. That same year, she lost her duet partner Conway Twitty, and in 1996 Loretta’s husband Mooney lost his long battle with diabetes at age 69. A younger brother, Alan Webb, died of pancreatic cancer.
Lynn was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and was named “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music.
In 2004, she made a comeback with the highly successful album Van Lear Rose, produced by and featuring the guitar playing of Jack White, reaching new audiences and new generations and even garnering airplay on rock radio.
At the end of 2004 it was announced that Loretta was nominated for five Grammy Awards including, Best Country Song (“Miss Being Mrs.” and “Portland Oregon”), Best Country Album (Van Lear Rose), Best Country Collaboration with Vocals (“Portland Oregon” with Jack White), and Best Female Country Vocal Performance (“Miss Being Mrs.”)
At the 2005 Grammys Loretta won for Best Country Album and Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
She is one of only five solo women (others include Reba McEntire, Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain), to win the Country Music Association's highest honor, “Entertainer of the Year”.