The real story behind Loretta Lynn's iconic song 'Coal Miner's Daughter'

The real story behind Loretta Lynn's iconic song 'Coal Miner's Daughter'
Loretta Lynn's hit song 'Coal Miner's daughter' was based on her childhood and her father who worked in a coal mine (David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images; Screenshot from 'Coal Miner's Daughter'/Youtube)

HURRICCANE MILLS, TENNESSEE: Loretta Lynn, the legendary country singer best known her song 'Coal Miner's Daughter', died on Tuesday, October 4, at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Lynn's 'Coal Miner's Daughter', which was released in 1970, tells the story of her life. In this autobiographical song, Lynn, who was born on April 14, 1932, to a coal miner, describes the struggles of growing up in a rural Kentucky community where there was little money but lots of love.

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Lynn sings about her pride in her heritage in this song, which is far from a lament. As per npr, the legendary singer once said in her interview with 'Weekend Edition Sunday' host Liane Hansen, "I didn't think anybody'd be interested in my life. I know everybody's got a life, and they all have something to say. Everybody has a story about their life. It wasn't just me. I guess I was just the one that told it."

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It was a change of pace for Lynn, who had become well-known for her tough-talking, self-assured country songs like 'Don't Come Home A' Drinkin (With Lovin' on Your Mind)' and 'You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man).' This song inspired Lynn to name her autobiography in 1976. It was made into the biopic 'Coal Miner's Daughter' in 1980, starring Sissy Spacek. All of the songs for the movie were performed by Spacek, who was originally supposed to lip sync. She received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Lynn, and her cover of the title track peaked at #23 on the country charts. 

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Working in coal mines was a dangerous job with the pay being a pittance. Even though the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a federal minimum wage of 25 cents an hour, it made little impact on coal miners because they were paid by the ton. Theodore Melvin "Ted" Webb, Lynn's father, had to deal with many perils including  gas explosions, gas poisoning and collapses every day. If he was lucky, he might be able to bring home a few dollars for his troubles.

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Webb, who was already dealing with pneumoconiosis (black lung), a chronic lung condition brought on by routinely breathing in the mine dust, lost his job at the Van Lear Coal Mines when he had a stroke. At the age of 51, he died from a second stroke in 1959.

This song originally had four extra verses, which Lynn's producer, Owen Bradley, instructed her to cut. In 2016, Lynn spoke to the TV Critics Association. She said, "He said, 'There's already been one 'El Paso,' and there's never going to be another one.'" She added, "So I fiddled around and fiddled around, and finally I got four verses that I took off of 'Coal Miner's Daughter.' I wished I hadn't, but I did."

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For the 2010 album 'Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn', the singer re-recorded this with Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert. When Lynn realized she was writing a song that was distinctly female, she was writing a bluegrass song for the Osborne Brothers, she said, "By the time I finished the first line I said, 'Hey, that's not going to do.'" She added, "They can't be coal miners' daughters - what's wrong with me?"

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Since its debut in 1970, 'Coal Miner's Daughter' has received favorable reviews from critics. The song was praised in 1971 by Billboard magazine for maintaining its "true country flavor." It was described as Lynn's "most autobiographical song" by Cary O'Dell of the Library of Congress, who also noted its significance to the country music genre.

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