Lynn ruled the charts during the '60s and '70s, racking up over 70 hits as a solo artist and a duet partner.
With an impoverished upbringing, a devoted yet troubled marriage, chronic illness and exhaustion due to her hectic pace, and several tragedies through the years, Lynn's own life often provided the grist for her popular tunes. Her best-selling 1976 autobiography, Coal Miner's Daughter, was made into a hit Oscar-winning film starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones.
Although she was out of the loop for a few years while taking care of her husband, who died in 1996, Lynn returned to touring in 1998. In 2000, she released her first album since 1988 to contain original solo material. Loretta Lynn has acquired sixteen Number 1 country hits over the course of her career, as both a solo and duet artist.
Born to Melvin "Ted" Webb (1906–1959) and Clara Marie (Ramey) Webb (1912–1982) and named in honor of Loretta Young, Loretta Webb was the second of eight children; her youngest sister is country singer Crystal Gayle. She is also, on her mother's side, distantly related to country singer Patty Loveless. Lynn grew up in Butcher Hollow, a section of Van Lear, a mining community near Paintsville, Johnson County, Kentucky. Her mother, Clara, was of Scots-Irish and Cherokee ancestry. Her father, Ted, was a coal miner, storekeeper, and farmer. Growing up with such humble roots had a huge effect on Lynn's life and heavily influenced her music as an adult. Her autobiography describes how, during her childhood, the community had no motor vehicles, paved roads, or flush toilets.
She was married to Oliver Vanetta Lynn, commonly known as "Doolittle," "Doo," or "Mooney" (for running moonshine), on January 10, 1948, at 13 years of age. In an effort to break free of the coal mining industry, Lynn moved to the logging community Custer, Washington, with her husband, at the age of 14. The Lynns had four children by the time Loretta was 17, and subsequently had twin girls, one of whom is Patsy Cline's namesake. She eventually became the grandmother of 21 grandchildren.
Lynn always had a passion for music; before getting married, she regularly sang at churches and in local concerts. After she married, she stopped singing in public, wishing rather to focus on her family life. Instead, she passed her love of music on to her children, often singing to them around the house. When Loretta was 18, Doolittle bought her a guitar, which she taught herself to play.
Even though they were married for nearly 50 years and had six children together, the Lynn's marriage was reportedly rocky up to Doolittle's death in 1996. In her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough, and in an interview with CBS News the same year, Lynn recounts how her husband cheated on her regularly and once left her while she was giving birth. Lynn and her husband also fought frequently, but, she said, "he never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice."
Lynn signed her first contract on February 1, 1960, with Zero Records. She recorded her first release in March of that year, with bandleader Speedy West on steel guitar, Harold Hensely on fiddle, Roy Lanham on guitar, Al Williams on bass, and Muddy Berry on drums. The material was recorded at Western Recorders, engineered by Don Blake and produced by Grashey.
In 1960, under the Zero label, Lynn recorded "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl." The Lynns toured the country to promote the release to country stations, while Grashey and Del Roy took the music to KFOX in Long Beach, California. When the Lynns reached Nashville, the song was a minor hit, climbing to #14 on Billboard's C & W Chart, and Lynn began cutting demo records for the Wilburn Brothers' Publishing Company. Through the Wilburns, Lynn was able to secure a contract with Decca Records.
Her relationship with the Wilburn Brothers and her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, beginning in 1960, helped Lynn become the number one female recording artist in country music. Lynn's contract with the Wilburn Brothers gave them the publishing rights to her material. She was still fighting to regain these rights 30 years after ending her business relationship with them, but was ultimately denied the publishing rights. Lynn stopped writing music in the 1970s because of these contracts.
Although Kitty Wells had become the first major female country vocalist during the 1950s, by the time Lynn recorded her first record, only three other women - Patsy Cline, Skeeter Davis, and Jean Shepard - had become top stars. By the end of 1962, it was clear that Lynn was on her way to becoming the fourth. Lynn credits Cline as her mentor and best friend during those early years, and as fate would have it, Lynn would follow her as the most popular country vocalist of the early '60s and, eventually, the 1970s.
Lynn released her first Decca single, "Success," in 1962, and it went straight to Number 6, beginning a string of Top 10 singles that would run through the rest of the decade and throughout the next. She was a hard honky-tonk singer for the first half of the '60s and rarely strayed from the genre. Between this time, Lynn soon began to regularly hit the Top 10 after 1964 with "Before I'm Over You", which peaked at #4, followed by "Wine, Women, and Song", which peaked at #3. In late 1964, Lynn also recorded a duet album with Lynn's idol and Country performer, Ernest Tubb. Their lead single, "Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be" peaked within the Top 15. Together, the pair recorded two more albums, "Singin' Again" (1967) and If we Put Our Heads Together (1969). In 1965, Lynn's solo career continued with three major hits that year, "Happy Birthday", "Blue Kentucky Girl" (later recorded and made a Top 10 hit in the 70s by Emmylou Harris), and "The Home You're Tearing Down". Lynn's label issued two albums that year, Songs from My Heart and Blue Kentucky Girl. While most of these songs were Top 10 Country hits, none of them reached #1.
Her first self-penned song to crack the Top Ten, 1966’s “Dear Uncle Sam." "Dear Uncle Sam” was among the very first recordings to recount the human costs of the Vietnam War. In the latter half of the decade, although she still worked within the confines of honky tonk, her sound became more personal, varied, and ambitious, particularly lyrically. Beginning with 1966's Number 2 hit "You Ain't Woman Enough," Lynn began writing songs with a feminist viewpoint, which was unheard of in country music.
Lynn was reportedly once inspired to write a song about a real woman who she suspected was flirting with her husband. The song, "You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)" was an instant hit and became one of Lynn's all-time best. Despite some criticism, Lynn's openness and honesty drew fans from around the nation, including some who were not previously familiar with country music.
Lynn's career continued to be successful into the 1970s, especially following the success of Lynn's hit "Coal Miner's Daughter", which peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Chart in 1970. "Coal Miner's Daughter" tells the story of Lynn's life growing up in rural Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. The song would later serve as the impetus for the best-selling biography (1976) and the Oscar-winning biopic starring Sissy Spacek (1980), both of which share the song's title. The song became Lynn's first single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #83. Lynn would have a series of singles that would chart low on the Hot 100 between 1970 and 1975.
In 1971, she began a professional partnership with Conway Twitty. As a duo, Lynn and Twitty had five consecutive Number 1 hits between 1971 and 1975: "After the Fire Is Gone" (1971), "Lead Me On" (1971), "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man" (1973), "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone" (1974), and "Feelins'" (1974). The hit-streak kick-started what would become one of the most successful duos of country history. For four consecutive years (1972-1975), Lynn and Twitty were named the "Vocal Duo of the Year" by the Country Music Association. In addition to their five Number 1 singles, they had seven other Top 10 hits between 1976 and 1981.
As a solo artist, Lynn's career continued to be very successful into 1971, achieving her fifth #1 solo hit, "One's on the Way", written by poet and songwriter, Shel Silverstein. The songs that didn't reach the top spot peaked within the Top 10 during this time, "I Wanna Be Free", "You're Lookin' At Country" and 1972's "Here I Am Again", all released on separate albums. The next year, she became the first country star on the cover of Newsweek. In 1973, "Rated X" peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Chart, and was considered one of Lynn's most controversial hits. The next year Lynn's next single, "Love Is the Foundation" also became a #1 Country hit from her album of the same name. The second and last single from that album, "Hey Loretta" became a Top 5 hit. Lynn continued to reach the Top 10 until the end of the decade, including with 1975's "The Pill", considered to be the first song to discuss birth control.
Her unique material, which sassily and bluntly addressed issues in the lives of many women (particularly in the South), made her stand out among female country vocalists. As a songwriter, Lynn believed no topic was off limits, as long as it spoke to other women, and many of her songs were autobiographical.
In 1977, Lynn recorded a tribute album to friend and Country-pop singer, Patsy Cline, who died in a plane crash in 1963. The album covered some of Cline's biggest hits. The two singles Lynn released from the album, "She's Got You" and "Why Can't He Be You" became major hits. "She's Got You", which formerly went to #1 by Cline in 1962, went to #1 again that year by Lynn. "Why Can't He Be You" peaked at #7 shortly afterward.
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. Even so, Lynn was able to stay within the country Top 10 up until the end of the 1970s; however, most of her music by the late '70s had a slick pop sound to it. Lynn had her last Number 1 hit in early 1978 with her solo single, "Out of My Head and Back In My Bed." In 1979, Lynn had two Top 5 hits, "I Can't Feel You Anymore" and "I've Got a Picture Of Us on My Mind," each from separate albums.
In 1976, Lynn released Coal Miner's Daughter, an autobiography whose title came from her #1 record of 1970. It became a New York Times bestseller and was made into a film in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek as Lynn and Tommy Lee Jones as her husband, Doolittle. Spacek won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the part. Due mostly to the critical and commercial success of the film, Lynn gained more "mainstream" attention in the early 1980s, starring in two primetime specials on NBC.
Lynn's 1985 album, Just a Woman only spawned one Top 40 hit. The two additional singles released between 1985 and 1986 didn't peak within the Top 40, not even reaching the Top 70, showing Lynn's career decline. In 1987 however, Lynn recorded a duet for k.d. Lang's album, Shadowland with other Country stars, Kitty Wells and Brenda Lee called "Honky Tonk Angels Medley", but the single did not chart.
Although Lynn’s recording career slowed to a halt in the late ’80s (1988’s Who Was That Stranger would be her last solo album for a major record company), she remained one of country music’s most popular and well-loved stars. She was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988.
In 2000, Lynn released her first album in several years, entitled Still Country. In it, she included a song, "I Can't Hear the Music," as a tribute to her late husband. She also released her first new single in over 10 years from the album Country In My Genes, which didn't make the country Top 40. While the album gained positive critical notices, sales were low in comparison with her releases in the 1970s. In 2002, Lynn published her second autobiography, Still Woman Enough, and in 2004, she published a cookbook, You're Cookin' It Country.
In 2004, Lynn made a comeback with the highly successful album Van Lear Rose, the second album on which Lynn either wrote or co-wrote every song. The album was produced by her "friend forever" Jack White of The White Stripes, and featured guitar work and backup vocals by White. Her collaboration with White allowed Lynn to reach new audiences and generations, even garnering high praise in magazines that specialize in mainstream and alternative rock music, such as Spin and Blender. Rolling Stone voted the album the second best of the year for 2004. (White has long been an admirer of Lynn and claims she is his favorite singer. He has covered several songs of hers, including the controversial "Rated X.")
In 2006, Lynn underwent shoulder surgery after injuring herself in a fall.
In 1972, Lynn was the first woman named "Entertainer of the Year" by the Country Music Association, and is one of five women to have received CMA's highest award. She was named "Artist of the Decade" for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music. Lynn was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She was also the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 2003. Lynn is also ranked 65th on VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2001, VH1's television special 100 Greatest Women of Rock & Roll placed Lynn at #65 on their countdown. In 2002, Lynn also placed at #3 on CMT television's special of the 40 Greatest Women of Country Music, hosted by Billy Campbell. At Number 1 was Lynn's friend and mentor, Patsy Cline.
On March 17, 2007, Berklee College of Music presented Lynn an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree for her contribution to the world of country music. The degree was presented to her on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. On June 19, 2008, Lynn will be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in a ceremony in New York City.