Loretta Lynn, country music icon who sang 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' has died The country singer brought unparalleled candor about the domestic realities of working-class women to country songwriting over the course of her 60-year career.

Loretta Lynn, country music icon, has died at 90

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The family of country music icon Loretta Lynn says she has died at the age of 90. Jewly Hight of member station WPLN has this appreciation of a pop culture icon with down-home sensibilities.

JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: One of the biggest songs of Loretta Lynn's career proudly recounted her hardscrabble background.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER")

LORETTA LYNN: (Singing) Well, I was borned a coal miner's daughter.

HIGHT: Lynn never tired of telling stories of her upbringing in a remote coal mining community in the Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. In a 2000 NPR interview, she recalled how her parents, Melvin and Clara Webb, did whatever it took to feed their eight children, even if it meant accepting a relative's gift of a stolen chicken.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LYNN: There was many times we went to bed hungry and wake up in the middle of the night, 3 o'clock in the morning, would smell chicken cooking. Mom would get us up and let us eat and go back to bed.

HIGHT: Loretta Webb was barely a teenager when she started a family of her own with a 21-year-old former soldier, Oliver Lynn, better known as Mooney or Doolittle. Her husband heard her bedtime lullabies and pushed her to start performing publicly. In a 2010 interview with WHYY's Fresh Air, Loretta Lynn insisted she wouldn't have done it otherwise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LYNN: I wouldn't get out in front of people. I wouldn't - you know, I was really bashful, and I wouldn't - I would never sing in front of anybody.

HIGHT: Once her husband started scrounging up paying gigs for her, Loretta taught herself to write songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M A HONKY TONK GIRL")

LYNN: (Singing) So turn that jukebox way up high and fill my glass up while I cry.

HIGHT: Country songs had often portrayed hardship from male perspectives, but Lynn wasn't afraid to spell out the indignities she endured in her marriage or the double standards she saw other women facing when it came to divorce, pregnancy and birth control.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE PILL")

LYNN: (Singing) There's going to be some changes made right here on Nursery Hill. You've set this chicken your last time 'cause now I've got the pill.

HIGHT: Lynn found that Nashville wasn't accustomed to that kind of frankness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LYNN: I'll tell you, when I come to Nashville, I didn't really know that people did not say what they thought. I've always been a person to say what I think.

HIGHT: Fellow Eastern Kentucky songwriter Angaleena Presley was raised on her mother's Loretta Lynn records and recognizes what they must have meant to women of earlier generations.

ANGALEENA PRESLEY: I'm positive that there probably were many, many women in that time, especially in the country, who thought, I'm not really allowed to say anything if my husband wants to drink. And I'll clean the house and raise the kids. And she said, no, it's not OK. And it's OK for you to say it's not OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’")

LYNN: (Singing) No, don't come home a drinkin' with loving on your mind. Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find.

HIGHT: Thirty-nine of those songs became Top 10 country hits on the Billboard charts. In 1972, Loretta Lynn was the first woman named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association.

(SOUNDBITE OF 1972 CMA AWARDS)

LYNN: The only - I'm real happy, but the only thing that I'm kind of sad about is my husband is gone hunting. He couldn't make it back in to share my happiness with me.

(LAUGHTER)

HIGHT: Their relationship was complicated, but they remained married until Doolittle's death in 1996. And Loretta made sure her fans knew that her long-lasting musical partnership with Conway Twitty was all business. Lynn continued performing and recording into the new millennium, attracting younger audiences through her collaboration with rocker Jack White. But it was essential to Lynn's enduring appeal that she never lost touch with her identity as a simultaneously modern and down-to-earth country woman. Journalist Robert Oermann saw her communicate that to crowds throughout her career.

ROBERT OERMANN: This idea that I might be up here on the stage singing this song, but I'm not better than you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

LYNN: I like real life 'cause that's what we're doing today. And I think that's why people bought my records because they're living in this world. And so am I. So I see what's going on, and I grab it.

HIGHT: For NPR News, I'm Jewly Hight in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU’RE LOOKING AT COUNTRY")

LYNN: (Singing) You're looking at country. You don't see no city when you look at me...

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