Loretta Lynn, whose tales of heartbreak and poverty are among the most celebrated in country music, has died aged 90. She died at home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, today, her family confirmed.
Beginning with Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), in 1966, she topped the US country charts 16 times and was nominated for 18 Grammy awards, winning three. She recorded 60 studio albums in all.
Born Loretta Webb in a one-room rural Kentucky cabin in 1932, Lynn was one of eight siblings and the daughter of a coal miner — a fact that led to her signature song, Coal Miner’s Daughter, from 1970.
She was married at the age of 15 to 21-year-old Oliver Lynn, a month after she had met him. Despite Oliver’s frequent infidelity and struggle with alcoholism, the couple remained together for 48 years, until Oliver died, in 1996. They had six children together, three of them before Lynn was 20.
Oliver bought her a guitar as an anniversary present in 1953, and Lynn started a band with her brother Jay Lee, Loretta and the Trailblazers, while she lived as a housewife, now in Washington state. She began writing her own songs and released her debut single, I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl, in 1960. It was released on a small independent label, and she and Oliver doggedly marketed the single themselves by driving from one country radio station to another.
“Because we were too poor to stay in hotels, we slept in the car and ate baloney and cheese sandwiches in the parks ... We were on the road three months,” she later remembered. The song was a success, reaching the country Top 20, and led to her being signed by a major label, Decca.
I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl was inspired by the story of someone Lynn met and befriended, and its subject matter —— a woman devastated by a break-up — would be visited again and again by Lynn, whose songs often depicted broken hearts or damaging relationships, and often featured feisty heroines. Her second No 1, Fist City, was a threat to other women not to come near her husband, while another country chart-topper, Rated X, addressed the stigma of divorce; in 1975, The Pill crossed over into the pop charts with its controversially frank celebration of birth control.
She kept up a high release rate, with at least two and as many as four albums each year between 1964 and 1976. As well as solo releases she partnered with country stars such as Conway Twitty, with whom she recorded 10 duet albums, and Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette, for the 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels. She recorded with kd lang, and also had a friendship with Patsy Cline, recording a tribute album to her after Cline died in a plane crash, in 1963.
Lynn’s release rate slowed from the mid-1980s, but she had a high-profile resurgence in 2004 with the album Van Lear Rose, produced by the White Stripes’ Jack White. It became her best-performing album in the US charts then to date, and was followed by her highest-charting album ever, 2016’s Full Circle, which featured duets with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Her most recent album is Wouldn’t It Be Great, from 2018.
She wrote a successful autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, in 1976, and her life story inspired a 1980 biopic of the same name. It starred Sissy Spacek as Lynn, and earned seven Oscar nominations, with Spacek winning best actress for her performance.
Lynn is survived by four of her six children: Clara, Ernest and the twins Peggy and Patsy.