Country music icon Loretta Lynn dies at 90, tributes pour in for 'coal miner's daughter'

Lynn's 1970 hit 'Coal Miner’s Daughter,' an ode to her father Melvin Webb, established her as the voice of working class women

Country music icon Loretta Lynn dies at 90, tributes pour in for 'coal miner's daughter'
Loretta Lynn performs during the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival on June 11, 2011 in Manchester, Tennessee (Erika Goldring/WireImage/Getty Images)
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HURRICANE MILLS, TENNESSEE: Loretta Lynn, who was born to a coal miner, before going on to become one of country music's foremost legend, has died at the age of 90.

Lynn's demise was confirmed by her family in a statement. They said she passed on Tuesday, October 4, in her sleep at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. “Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home in her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills,” the family said, asking for privacy at this difficult time.

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According to NBC News, Lynn was born as Loretta Webb in the remote Appalachian mountain village of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. She was the second of eight children and the family lived in a log cabin with wallpaper made of Sears Roebuck catalog pages. She learned to sing at a local church while her father toiled in the coal mine, helping lay the foundation for her status as the voice of working class women across the country. Her 1970 hit, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” is an ode to her father Melvin Webb, who succumbed to black lung disease 11 years earlier.

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“I write about my life — in every song I’ve written,” Lynn told Today's Jenna Bush Hager in 2018. “I would have given anything in the world if (my father) would have been here when I recorded 'Coal Miner’s Daughter,' but I think he hears me. And one day I will sing it for him." It's worth noting that there was no dirth of talent in her family: Her younger sister also had a hugely successful country career of her own under the name Crystal Gayle. 

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Lynn had already racked up a lifetime of lyrics by the time she moved to Nashville in 1960 on the success of her debut single 'I'm a Honky Tonk Girl' as well as a relentless promotional tour of radio stations across the country. She was just 15 when she tied the knot with 21-year-old war veteran Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, and was a housewife in Washington with four young children when she was discovered by a scout for Zero Records while performing in a small club in Vancouver. However, her rise was meteoric once she made her trip to the Music City.

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Lynn's breakthrough in the industry came about two years later with the tune 'Success' — the first for Decca Records and the first of many top-10 hits to come. “People were charmed by her innocence,” country author and documentary filmmaker Robert K Oermann gushed. “She was so naive about life and the business and the music, that she came off as charming to people. Well, that and the fact that she was a hell of a singer," he added.

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Lynn was accompanied by fellow country singer Patsy Cline as a friend and mentor until her tragic demise in a 1963 plane crash. She wrote and sang songs that appealed to women, after realizing that most of the audience listening to country radio at the time and buying albums were women like her. She subsequently released hits such as 'Don’t Come Home A- Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and 'Your Squaw Is on the Warpath' that resonated with the crowds. “Women found the champion with Loretta Lynn,” country music historian Bill Malone told NBC News. “They could identify with her success but they also independence of mind. I don’t think she ever identified with the women’s rights movement, yet her songs accomplished the same objective," he added.

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At the peak of her career, Lynn proved to be one of the biggest female stars in country music, alongside Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette. One of her biggest hits was a 1972 duet with Conway Twitty, 'After the Fire is Gone.' She also remained defiant and unfazed by controversy, putting out risque numbers such as 'Wings Upon Your Horns,' 'Rated X,' 'Dear Uncle Sam,' as well as 'The Pill.' That said, her signature hit 'Coal Miner’s Daughter' went on to serve as the title of her 1976 autobiography, which was made into the Oscar winning 1980 film with Sissy Spacek as the lead.

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Lynn became the first woman in history to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1972. In the years that followed, she collected four Grammys, a 2003 Kennedy Center honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom a decade later. The country legend sold more than a staggering 45 million albums over her six-decade career, per her personal website. As mentioned, Lynn did not shy away from speaking her mind, and the Trump supporter made waves in 2017 when she blasted celebrities involved with the Women's March for not having "more class." 

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However, she was plagued by health issues in recent years, suffering a stroke at the age of 85 and breaking her hip in a fall eight months later. After being widowed in 1996, Lynn is survived by her children Clara, Ernest, and twins Peggy Jean and Patsy Eileen. Her eldest son, Jack Benny, tragically drowned in 1984 at the age of 34 while trying to cross a river on horseback. And her eldest daughter Betty Sue died of emphysema at the age of 64 in 2013.

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