Born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932, in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, life was rough growing up in the Appalachian coal-mining town for the future country legend. By the time Loretta Lynn was 20 and married to Oliver Lynn, she was already a mother of four. Writing about her Kentucky roots and being a woman, and a mother, in America, Lynn began documenting her life in song for more than 60 years.
In 1960, Lynn released her first single “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl” and received some minor success and radio play, which encouraged her to move the family to Nashville to pursue her country music dreams. By 1962, Lynn landed a recording contract after a performance at the Grand Ole Opry and then released her first big hit, “Success,” that same year.
Moving from the sassy “The Fist”—a warning of what’s to come for one particular woman giving her husband too many looks—to the more pensive “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Lynn took on heavier subject matter, from war, women’s rights and more, writing songs reflecting real issues facing the nation, and women, including “Dear Uncle Sam” about the Vietnam War, female contraception with “The Pill” and “Rated X,” which addresses sexism and sexual independence: Well nobody knows where you’re goin’ / But they sure know where you’ve been / All their thinkin’ of is your experience of love / Their minds eat up with sin.
“It’s where she got her strength, her feistiness, and her music,” said Sissy Spacek, who played Lynn in the 1980 Coal Miner’s Daughter reflecting on the singer’s Appalachian upbringing during a tribute during the iconic country singer’s Kennedy Center Honor in 2003.
Throughout her career, Lynn has released hit after hit aside from her eponymous “Coal Miner’s Daughter” anthem, including “Before I’m Over You,” “Love Is the Foundation,” “When The Tingle Becomes the Chill,” “Wine, Women, and Song,” “Love Is The Foundation,” and “Somebody Somewhere (Don’t Know What He’s Missin’ Tonight)” and 46 albums beginning with her 1963 debut Loretta Lynn Sings to her most recent Still Woman Enough at the age of 89.
Lynn has earned 24 No. 1 singles, multiple Grammy, ACM and CMA awards, and an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008.
Though the memorable songs are many within Lynn’s catalog, from her very first introduction of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” to one of her more recent songs, “Still Woman Enough” from 2021—a poignant follow up to her 1966 hit “You Ain’t Woman Enough”—American Songwriter listed only 10 Loretta Lynn favorites, in honor of her 90th birthday, that may make you cry, chuckle, and even reminisce for a moment.
Well, I’ve been through some bad times / Been on the bottom / Been at the top / and I’ve seen life from both sides, sings Lynn in “Still Woman Enough.” It’s what you make with what you’ve got / There’s been times life’s got me down—pick myself up and bounce right back around / I wasn’t raised to give up / And to this day, you know what… I’m still woman enough.
“I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” (1960)
“Blue Kentucky Girl” (1965)
“You Ain’t Woman Enough – To Take My Man” (1966)
“Don’t Come Home a Drinkin'” (1967)
“You’re Lookin’ at Country” (1971)
“Coal Miner’s Daughter” (1971)
“Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” with Conway Twitty (1973)
“Miss Being Mrs.,” with Jack White (2004)
“Lay Me Down,” featuring Willie Nelson (2016)
“Still Woman Enough” (2021)
Photos: David McClister / Legacy Recordings