Musically Milked Feature Story

The 90-year-old country singer Loretta Lynn died

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Despite poverty and teenage marriage, Kentucky-born singer became one of the most celebrated stars in country music

Broken hearts and feisty heroines … Loretta Lynn in 2016. Photograph: Donn Jones/Invision/AP

At 90 years old, Loretta Lynn passed on, her heartbreaking tales of poverty and heartbreak among the most celebrated in country music history.

Her family confirmed that Lynn died at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, on 4 October.

Beginning with 1966’s Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on

Your Mind), she topped the US country charts 16 times and was nominated for 18 Grammy awards, winning three. Over the course of her career, she recorded 60 studio albums.

Lynn was born Loretta Webb in a one-room rural Kentucky cabin in 1932, the daughter of a coal miner – a fact that inspired her signature song, 1970’s Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Having met Oliver Lynn when she was 15, she married him a month after meeting him. The couple remained together despite Oliver’s frequent infidelity and alcoholism for 48 years, until Oliver died in 1996. They had six children together, three of them before Lynn was 20.

Her brother Jay Lee gave her a guitar for her anniversary in 1953, and Lynn started a band with him, Loretta and the Trailblazers, while she lived as a housewife, now in Washington state. She began writing her own songs and released her debut single, I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl, in 1960. Her and Oliver marketed the single themselves by driving from country radio station to country radio station on a small independent label. 

I’m a Honky-Tonk Girl was inspired by the story of someone Lynn met and befriended, and its subject matter – a woman devastated by a breakup – would be visited again and again by Lynn, whose songs often depicted broken hearts or damaging relationships, and often featured feisty heroines. Her second No 1, Fist City, was a threat to other women not to come near her husband, while another country chart-topper, Rated X, addressed the stigma of divorce; 1975’s The Pill crossed over into the pop charts with its controversially frank celebration of birth control.

She kept up a high release rate, with at least two and as many as four albums each year between 1964 and 1976. As well as solo releases she partnered with country stars such as Conway Twitty, with whom she recorded 10 duet albums, and Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette for the 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels. She recorded with kd lang, and also had a friendship with Patsy Cline, recording a tribute album to her after Cline died in a 1963 plane crash.

Lynn’s release rate slowed from the mid-1980s, but she had a high-profile resurgence in 2004 with the album Van Lear Rose, produced by the White Stripes’ Jack White. It became her best-performing album in the US charts then to date, and was followed by her highest-charting album ever, 2016’s Full Circle, which featured duets with Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. Her most recent album is 2018’s Wouldn’t It Be Great.

Tommy Lee Jones and Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Feature

She wrote a successful autobiography, Coal Miner’s Daughter, in 1976 and her life story inspired a 1980 biopic of the same name. It starred Sissy Spacek as Lynn, and earned seven Oscar nominations, with Spacek winning best actress for her performance.

Lynn is survived by four of her six children: Clara, Ernest and twins Peggy and Patsy.

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