Loretta Lynn, singer-songwriter, 1932-2022 | financial times

Loretta Lynn always had a story to tell and the raw voice to go with it. But at the age of 19, she was very poor and already a mother of four with a philandering philanderer for a husband, her prospects were not exactly rosy.

The daughter of a shack coal miner in “Butcher Holler”, Kentucky, one of the undisputed icons of American country music, died this week on his lush ranch outside Nashville, Tennessee. Yet her rise to fame and fortune, portrayed in the film for which Sissy Spacek, playing Lynn, won an Oscar in 1981, doesn’t seem to have shaken her since those early days.

It was the lyrics of his songs rather than the melodies that revealed a characteristic blunt honesty. She never had a memorable song, like Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” or Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” but her words offered a woman’s perspective. “The Pill” was a hymn to reproductive rights. “Don’t Come Home A-drinking (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” was born out of her own marital experiences that she knew were far from unique.

Lynn has always denied that she was a feminist, but admitted that she had learned how to stand up for her husband when he physically abused her from a mentor, Patsy Cline, the established country star. She wrote songs warning women to stay away from her husband, including “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take Away My Man)” and a number one hit “Fist City,” which warned of the consequences of doing just that. . Her 1978 hit “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby” celebrated the women’s movement, but at the end of her life she was a vocal defender of America’s flamboyant misogynist, Donald Trump.

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Black and white photograph of Loretta Lynn holding a microphone and singing with her eyes closed in 1977

Loretta Lynn’s lyrics challenged male dominance in a way few previous female singers had © Lars Jansson/EXP/TT/Shutterstock

Her husband of 48 years, Oliver Vanetta Lynn Jr, generally known as Doolittle or Doo, or Mooney for the whiskey he drank and sold, was five years her senior when he married 15-year-old Loretta Webb, who had already left primary school to care for her siblings while her mother went to work at a nearby nursing home.

But her husband took her from Kentucky to Custer, Washington, where, knowing she had a voice, he bought her a guitar and sheet music and encouraged her to go out and perform at local bars and radio stations, producing her first commercial break. .

Lynn liked to teach her children traditional Appalachian and church songs (three of her siblings followed her into country music, including her sister Brenda Gail, who found success as singer Crystal Gayle). And everyone listened to the weekly Grand Ole Opry theatrical show broadcast from Nashville on a battery-powered radio—the cabin had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Her husband went on to manage most of her career before his death in 1996. Together they had six children, four of whom survive her.

The family moved to Nashville, the beating heart of country music, in 1961, where his career took off. She made the stage at the Opry, appeared frequently on local and national television, had her first single “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” and produced her first album in 1963. Collaborations with other country celebrities such as Buck Owens and , most prolifically, in a duet with Conway Twitty. On her penultimate album, in 2016, she even had a lovely little song, “Lay Me Down”, with another living legend, Willie Nelson. In all, she had more than 50 country music top ten singles and 16 reached number one.

His music never strayed far from classic country themes, mostly angst and deceit, though some songs with Twitty veered into the realms of pure sex. His voice, with its distinctive Appalachian accent, never changed. Small and skinny, she bounced around the stage and jumped during up-tempo numbers.

Cline taught Lynn a lot, including how to dress in the approved, sparkly country music fashion and how to run her business if she were to become a star. But Lynn had to figure out for herself how to deal with the country music establishment, which was, and still is, male-dominated and politically conservative. Lynn’s lyrics challenged the former in a way few previous singers had, but she seemed comfortable with politics, which possibly explains her support for Trump, whose rallies resonate with country music.

She’s earned countless honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2013 (the “rule-breaking, record-setting queen of country music,” she said). As she said, “I can probably beat anybody in Nashville,” which was probably true and certainly better than her prospects at Butcher Holler promised. Jurek Martin

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