Johnson County’s Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn was born in Butcher Hollow, KY, part of the coal town of Van Lear, on April 14, 1934. The second of eight children born to Ted and Clara Webb.
With her parents blessing and encouragement, young Loretta soon found her voice and a place where it would be appreciated. During the first twelve years of her life, she sang in churches and at a variety of local concerts.
At age thirteen, Loretta married Oliver “Mooney” Lynn. Within the first few months of marriage, Mooney and Loretta’s brother, Jay Lee Web, Jr., hitchhiked to Washington looking for work. Thirteen year old pregnant Loretta stayed behind until Mooney sent money and a train ticket several months later.
Settled into a new state, 14-year-old Loretta gave birth to her first child, Betty Sue, in Custer, WA.
Loretta was a housewife and teenage mother, and for a time stopped singing publicly. Instead she expressed her passion for music by a lot of singing to young Betty Sue Lynn.
By the time she was seventeen, Loretta had four children. Inspired by his wife’s vocal abilities, Mooney bought his wife a guitar on her eighteenth birthday, and Loretta began to teach herself to play. Within a few months, Loretta was writing her own music and with her husband’s encouragement, she began singing with a local band on the weekends.
Loretta’s big break came when Mooney entered her in a local talent contest. Not only did she win, but she also received a personal invitation from Buck Owens to perform on his television show. Her performance was well received and caught the attention of Zero Records, who immediately contacted her and offered a recording deal.
Loretta flew to LA in 1960, and recorded one of her own songs, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” Zero Records was a small firm and didn’t have the money to promote Loretta’s new single, so Mooney decided to do it himself. He and Loretta began mailing the record across the country, where it landed in the hands of radio station owners and disc jockeys. Mooney then packed the family and headed for Nashville, where he hoped he and Loretta could plug the record at local radio stations. The song was becoming a hit even before they reached Nashville.
The single eventually climbed as high as number fourteen on the charts. Loretta’s first single attracted the attention of the Wilburn Brothers, who hired her to tour with them in 1960. After pleading with her to relocate to Nashville, Loretta and family moved to the city in 1960. A year later, she became a regular member of the Grand Ole Opry, had a number one hit album, and gave birth to twin girls.
It didn’t take long for Nashville to reward her talent with a prestigious record deal with Decca Records. “Success,” Loretta’s first Decca single was released in 1962, and climbed all the way to number six. For the next decade, Loretta released honky tonk hit after hit, all of them reaching the Top Ten List.
In 1966, longing for her own sound, Loretta strayed from Honky Tonk, and began recording singles that she had written. Over the course of the next four years, Lynn pulled in 13 Top Ten hits, and was hailed the best country music lyricist ever.
In 1970, Loretta became the first ever female country artist to receive a gold album. Conway Twitty and Loretta formed a partnership and released 5 successful hit songs. They were awarded Duo of the Year by the Country Music Association, and released seven more Top Ten hits.
In the mid 1970s, Loretta put pen to paper, writing the autobiography, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” Six years later, in 1976, Loretta’s book became a New York Times best seller. The book would eventually be adapted to the movie in 1980, and garnered critical acclaim. Actress Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her performance. While the movie and the movie’s theme song climbed the charts, Loretta became the only female country to to appear on the cover of Newsweek, in 1973.
Despite her immense popularity as a result of the movie, Lynn’s never regained her popularity in the music world. Her concerts were well attended, but record sales were down. She had two Top Ten hits in the he 1980s and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, but still made the decision to back away from the recording studio, so that she could focus her efforts on performances. Today, Loretta is a successful businesswoman who owns her own music publishing company. She also owns and operates a Dude Ranch and campground in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, featuring a plantation styled home that is an exact replica of her childhood home. Loretta continues to perform across the United States, and has released several singles. Loretta and Mooney’s children take turns balancing the responsibilities of the Loretta Lynn Ranch and Campgrounds in Tennessee, and several serve as part of her touring entourage.