If you grew up on classic country music, it's likely that you heard a few songs by Loretta Lynn. The song most people know her by is "Coal Miner's Daughter", a song she wrote about her childhood in the coal-mining hills of Kentucky. Hailing from a true rags-to-riches story, she was the second of eight children. Her family was so poor that her mother used Sears catalogue pages as wallpaper.
At the age of 18, her new husband, Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn, bought her a 17$ Gibson guitar from Sears & Roebuck. With it, she started a band with her brother Jay Lee while still a housewife called Loretta and the Trailblazers. She originally wanted her backing band to be all females, called the "Lynettes" but was told that this was impossible due to the pre-Sexual Revolution in the 1950s. "It was that old double standard." Lynn said, back in 1976.
She wrote her very first song when she took a fishing trip with her young family, "One day we went fishing. I don't know why I just sat down and wrote a song. But I remember being shocked that those lyrics just came pourin' out of me. I wrote my very first lyric when I wrote "Whispering Sea"." Loretta wrote in her 2012 memoir, "Honky Tonk Girl".
Lynn's debut single, "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl" was, in fact, inspired by the story of woman Lynn befriended who went through a breakup. It would become synonymous with Lynn's style in depicting heartbreak and broken relationships but with a strong female representation. She tackled controversial topics of the times with songs like "Rated X" which addressed the stigma of divorce, "The Pill", a song celebrating birth control which oddly enough crossed over into the pop charts; and "Don't Come Home A-Drink' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)" a song about denying the sexual advances from your intoxicated partner.
Country music was a force to be reckon with. It wedged itself into the pop mainstream (because it could). Many singers began to split themselves between the Nashville scene and the "outlaw" singer-songwriters that stuck to their roots in Austin, Texas. Lynn, of course, was not your average country star. She had 14 songs banned from country radio. It wasn't that her lyrics were, by any means, "inappropriate" (except maybe to all the Bible-thumpers and hot-tempered preachers) and excluded a light-hearted examination of casual sex within a marriage. She even threatened to boycott the Grand Ole Opry if they would not allow her to perform that song there.
Lynn went on to become the first woman to win the CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year in 1972, as well as the Academy of Country Music's Artist of the Decade, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former president Barack Obama in 2013 for "courageously breaking down barriers in an industry long dominated by men."
Who would have thought that a miner's daughter from Butcher Hollow would be so impactful in country music? As she put it in an interview, "I do consider myself a role model because before that there wasn't anything that had much going for women in country music.". It seems to Loretta that sometimes you just gotta put on your big girl pants and grab the bull by the horns.
Written by Gabrielle Thompson