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Loretta Lynn, ever a ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ dies at 90


Loretta Lynn, a singer and songwriter whose rise from dire poverty in Kentucky coal country to the pinnacle of country music was chronicled in the best-selling memoir and movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and whose candid songs gave voice to the daily struggles of working-class women, died Oct. 4 at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. She was 90.

Her family confirmed the death in a statement but did not cite a cause.

Ms. Lynn’s career was remarkable for its storybook ascent from hardscrabble origins. She was a teenage bride and mother, a country star and a grandmother by her early 30s. A trailblazer for other female country performers, she was the first woman to win the Country Music Association’s entertainer of the year award, in 1972. She also helped redefine and broaden the appeal of country music.

“She was the groundbreaking female singer-songwriter in country music,” Robert Oermann, co-author of “Finding Her Voice,” a study of women in country music, told The Washington Post in 2003. “Her songs were delivered from a distinctly female point of view, and that had not been done before, not the way she did it. Writing about women as they really lived — that was a breakthrough.”

In 2013, when Ms. Lynn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, President Barack Obama called her the “rule-breaking, record-setting queen of country music” who “gave voice to a generation, singing what no one wanted to talk about and saying what no one wanted to think about.”

Her career was propelled by an indisputable musical talent, a strikingly photogenic presence and a formidable grit. “Having to grow up as fast as I did when I got married took something away from me,” she noted in her second memoir, “Still Woman Enough” (2002). “But it also gave me something: a hard-won strength.”

Many of Ms. Lynn’s most memorable songs celebrated her Kentucky roots and were rendered in an unmistakable Appalachian twang. Her first album, “Loretta Lynn Sings” (1963), reached No. 2 on the Billboard country album chart, but her greatest success came later, often with tunes packed with personal meaning or topical social themes.

The first of more than a dozen No. 1 country hits came in 1967, with “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” written with her sister Peggy Sue about a marriage to an alcoholic.

Several of her songs were tough-minded warnings to romantic rivals for her husband’s affections, including “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” (1966) and the No. 1 country hit “Fist City” (1968):

I’m not a-sayin’ my baby is a saint cause he ain’t

And that he won’t cat around with a kitty

I’m here to tell you, gal, to lay off of my man

If you don’t wanna go to Fist City

Some of her other well-known songs included “Dear Uncle Sam” (released in 1966), about a woman saying goodbye to her soldier husband; “You’re Lookin’ at Country” (1971); “Love Is the Foundation” (1973); and “One’s on the Way” (1971), written by humorist Shel Silverstein about a beleaguered housewife expecting a child — “I hope it ain’t twins again.”

There was also “The Pill,” about the liberating effect of contraceptives on a woman’s life. Ms. Lynn recorded the song, by Lorene Allen, Don McHan and T.D. Bayless, in 1972. Her record company withheld it from release for three years, and many radio stations refused to play it, but it eventually became a Top 5 country hit.

Ms. Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” spent only one week at No. 1 after its release in 1970, but it soon became the singer’s signature tune:

Well, I was born a coal miner’s daughter

In a cabin, on a hill in Butcher Holler

We were poor but we had love,

That’s the one thing that daddy made sure of

He’d shovel coal to make a poor man’s dollar

After a 1976 memoir, co-written with New York Times journalist George Vecsey, Ms. Lynn’s popularity reached its zenith with the 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

While producers were still casting the movie, Ms. Lynn casually announced on “The Tonight Show” that “little Sissy Spacek” would play her on the screen. Spacek, who shadowed Ms. Lynn for months and sang all the movie’s songs, won an Academy Award for best actress for her portrayal.

Critics praised English director Michael Apted’s earthy depiction of Appalachian life and Ms. Lynn’s tempestuous marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. She once told Rolling Stone magazine that every time Doolittle hit her, she gave it back in kind — twice.

For all the turbulence in their relationship, Ms. Lynn credited her husband with pushing her to become a performer.

“I married Doo when I wasn’t but a child, and he was my life from that day on,” she said in “Still Woman Enough,” written with Patsi Bale Cox. “He thought I was something special, more special than anyone else in the world, and never let me forget it. That belief…



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