Loretta Lynn, the coal miner’s daughter and moonshiner’s wife who became one of American country music’s biggest stars and a leading feminist in the genre, has died at 90, her family says.
Lynn died at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, the family said in a statement posted on Twitter on Tuesday.
“Our precious mum, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the statement said.
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In the male-dominated world of country music in the 1960s and ‘70s, Lynn built a reputation as a hillbilly feminist who was bold enough and talented enough to write her own songs.
In Rated X she sang about the inequities of man-woman relationships and her song The Pill celebrated the sexual freedom that birth control gave women. She also sang about philandering husbands – a subject she knew about personally.
Lynn told an interviewer that 14 of her songs had been banned by radio stations.
“I wasn’t the first woman in country music,” she told Esquire magazine in 2007.
“I was just the first one to stand up there and say what I thought, what life was about. The rest were afraid to.”
Lynn’s down-home twangy voice was a regular feature on country music radio and honky-tonk juke boxes in the 1960s and ‘70s as she scored hits with songs such as Fist City, Don’t Come Home a’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind), You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man) and the autobiographical Coal Miner’s Daughter. According to her website, Lynn had more than 50 top 10 hits.
Stardom seemed unlikely for Lynn as she grew up in a coal-rich area of Kentucky known as Butcher Holler, where her miner father died of black lung disease at age 52.
Lynn said she was only 13 in 1948 when she married 23-year-old Oliver Lynn and by the time she reached 18, she was the mother of four children. Documents uncovered by the Associated Press, however, indicated she was 15 when she married.
She and her husband – known as Doo, Doolittle and Mooney because of his involvement in the moonshine trade – moved to Washington state in the 1950s and it was there that her music career began to bloom.
On her 24th birthday Doo gave Lynn a $17 guitar and lots of encouragement. She taught herself to play and began performing at radio stations. By 1960 she had a recording contract and a self-written hit, I’m Honky-Tonk Girl.
Lynn’s relationship with Doolittle was complicated and marred by his drinking and cheating, her drug abuse and mutual violence.
“He never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice,” she said in a CBS interview.
But before his 1996 death, Lynn set aside her career for five years to stay home and care for her husband.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I was lost without him. I knew I had to go on but it was hard.”
Lynn, whose sister Crystal Gayle also became a country star, was the first female to win the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” honour in 1972. She won seven other CMA awards, was voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and won 12 Academy of Country Music Awards.
She won three Grammy awards as an artist and two in 2004 for her work on the album Van Lear Rose, a collaboration with rocker Jack White of the White Stripes on which she wrote or co-wrote every song.
Lynn’s 1976 autobiography Coal Miner’s Daughter made the New York Times bestseller list and Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for portraying her in a movie of the same name based on the book.
In 2003, Lynn was a Kennedy Center honoree for her contribution to American culture and was given a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement in 2010. Three years later, President Barack Obama presented her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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