Loretta Lynn is one of the most iconic stars in country music, having kicked off her legendary career back in the '50s when she began singing in local clubs before earning herself a contract.
Since then, she's become the most awarded female country recording artist of all time and has sold over 45 million albums worldwide, earning 24 number one hit singles and 11 number one albums. Lynn has paved the way for female country artists, and is considered one of the greatest of all time. She was known for her honest songwriting, covering several topics that got her songs banned from the radio, though said songs have since become some of her most enduring.
At 87 years old, Lynn is still going strong — she released her album Wouldn't It Be Great in 2018 and recently celebrated her birthday with an All-Star Birthday Celebration Concert in Nashville this month.
Read on to learn more about Lynn.
Lynn was born in Butcher Holler, Kentucky and named after film star Loretta Young. She was one of eight children and her siblings include singers Crystal Gayle and Peggy Sue. Her family lived in extreme poverty, and they were so poor that her mother glued pages from Sears Roebuck catalogs to the wall to help keep the house warm.
The singer married her husband, Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn when she 15 years old, just one month after they met. The couple was married for 48 years until Oliver died at the couple's Hurricane Mills ranch in Tennessee in 1996, and Lynn sang about her relationship in many of her songs.
The two had known marital issues, including Oliver's drinking. He cheated on Lynn multiple times, abused her and once left her while she was giving birth.
"I put up with it because of six kids," Lynn wrote in her 2002 autobiography, Still Woman Enough. "And I loved him and he loved me."
Oliver was the one to buy Lynn her first guitar, making the purchase out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Lynn taught herself to play, eventually starting her own band, Loretta and the Trailblazers.
"I could never have done it on my own," Lynn wrote. "Whatever else our marriage was back in them days...without Doo and his drive to get a better life, there would have been no Loretta Lynn, country singer."
Lynn and her husband welcomed six children together, including twin daughters. She had given birth to four of her children before the age of 20, and before she began pursuing her singing career. She later became a grandmother at age 34 when her oldest daughter, Betty Sue, became a mother at age 18.
Lynn has reportedly never used a computer, which made her songwriting session with Elvis Costello for her 2016 song "Everything it Takes" a rather memorable one.
"When they retreated to the kitchen in the studio to write the track, the crew started cracking up when they saw her going at it with a pen and pencil while Elvis used a computer," Songfacts reports.
The Webb family was country through and through, and that meant they ate things like possum and squirrel. In fact, Lynn included a recipe for the former in her 2004 cookbook, You're Cookin' It Country: My Favorite Recipes and Memories.
"Daddy's favorite dish was possum," she wrote. "I would get so mad, because I didn't care for possum that well. I loved rabbit. In fact, I had a rabbit the last night I seen Patsy Cline. Squirrel's one of my favorites, too"
When Oliver abused his wife, Lynn fought back, writing that "he never hit me one time that I didn't hit him back twice."
Those fights likely made their way into Lynn's music, as the Kentucky native wrote, "I've never written a song that my husband wasn't in. Every song I wrote, but he didn't know which line he was in."
Lynn's firstborn son, Jack Benny, died at age 34 from drowning in July 1984. He was trying to ford the Duck River at the family's Tennessee ranch, but was unsuccessful. While Jack's horse, Black Jack, was found standing beneath a river bluff, his rider was found nearby in the water, PEOPLE reported.
That morning, Lynn had been found unconscious in her bus, passed out from "exhaustion," and she was not told about her son's death until the next day, when her husband broke the news.
Fellow country legend Patsy Cline was at one time one of Lynn's greatest friends, bonding in the '50s when Lynn was beginning her career and Cline was at the height of her success. Cline acted as a mentor figure to Lynn and two bonded over being a woman in the music industry, even touring together before Cline passed away in a plane crash in 1963.
In 1977, Lynn recorded a tribute album for Cline, I Remember Patsy. The two women were so close that their friendship is being turned into a Lifetime movie, Patsy & Loretta, which will air later this year.
Photo Credit: Getty / Scott Dudelson