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Loretta Lynn is a true American legend. She came up during the same period as many male country stars who were known for their rebellious songs and out of control lives offstage, and Lynn managed to keep up with every one of them.
She also managed to take a fairly traditional American genre of music and tell important stories about women, just as the feminist movement turned from a snowball into a blizzard. She had her share of controversy, but she always stood up for herself and her music, and today, Loretta Lynn is one of the most loved American singers alive.
The First Lady of Country Music recently spoke to the Washington Examiner about her career in show business and the profound effect her music has had on American society.
“I was the first one to write it like the women lived it. Probably I was different in writing about things that nobody would even talk about in public. I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I thought, ‘Well, gee, this is what’s going on; I’ll write about it.’ I was writing about life. And, of course, I had a lot of songs banned. To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different. After my husband got me the guitar, I went out and bought a Country Song Roundup. I looked at the songs in there and thought, ‘Well, this ain’t nothing. Anybody can do this.’ I just wrote about things that happened. I was writing about things that nobody talked about in public, and I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I was having babies and staying at home. I was writing about life. That’s why I had songs banned.”
But the things she sang about and continues to sing about, are just part of life for so many women. Heartbreak and heartache, domestic abuse, motherhood, sexuality, are all things that women experience and always have. And yet, during the 1950’s and ‘60’s, they were taboo subjects.
Loretta Lynn managed to be the right voice at the right time. Just as male country singers began to sing about more serious topics and move the needle of what was acceptable subject matter, so too was the Women’s rights movement, along so many other civil rights movements, finally starting to become mainstream.
In an interview with The Washington Examiner, Lynn said “Probably I was different in writing about things that nobody would even talk about in public. I didn’t realize that they didn’t. I thought, ‘Well, gee, this is what’s going on; I’ll write about it.’ I was writing about life. And, of course, I had a lot of songs banned.” Since her career began in the ’60s, this coal miner’s daughter has displayed a frankness to her ability to unravel stories about real problems, ripped directly out of the American Heartland. Her songbook spans topics from birth control to cheating to revenge to losing one’s virginity, but her legacy never faltered under the weight of commercial or critical appeal. Many times, her songs spoke on such a massive scale that (despite being banned from the airwaves) she became the voice for those women would couldn’t muster the strength themselves. “To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different,”
Lynn’s music reflected these truths, but so did her personal life as one of the most successful female entertainers. She has earned four Grammys, seven American Music Awards, thirteen Academy of Country Music awards, A Kennedy Center Honor, and in 2013, president Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest government honor available to a civilian.
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