At that time, the lines to meet the current superstars like Alan Jackson and Clink Black seemed to go on for miles. Fans from all over the world would camp out as soon as the gates to the event opened first thing in the morning to get good placement.
In the back of the fairgrounds was a small, unassuming looking shed that was reserved for the artists not in vogue. Older, more seasoned artists were relegated to that far-off structure which garnered little foot traffic. Curious and eager to see if any of our veteran favorites were present, my sister and I wandered to the lonely shed to take a peek.
One line seemed a little longer than the others; my sister was curious to see why. We sauntered to the front of the line to see and, right then, my sister gasped and blurted in excitement, “Oh my God! It’s Loretta Lynn!”
Her thrill and enthusiasm stemmed from her longtime love for the Queen of Country, and Butcher Hollow, Kentucky native. We’d watched “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” her 1980 biopic, featuring a dynamic portrayal by actor Sissy Spacek portraying Lynn, countless times. My sister listened to Lynn’s records and tapes endlessly, so this was a true unexpected thrill.
We waited in the line somewhat impatiently and anxiously, and finally made it to the front of the line to have our moment with the legend herself. I was still wearing a nametag that listed my first and last name from an event I’d attended earlier that morning. Ms. Lynn instantly focused on it, read my last name, and exclaimed “Sufferin’ catfish! What does that say?” while sporting a huge smile on her face. That moment summed up Loretta Lynn to me: friendly, welcoming, jovial, charming, and pleasant. It also made me realize that the real, honest, no bullshit tone and attitude she presented in so many of her self-penned, autobiographical songs was the real deal.
Today, we lost this extremely important, heroic performer. Loretta Lynn was 90 years old. Making records since the early-‘60s, the self-taught guitarist, who was a wife by the time she was 15 years old, was a true trailblazer and nothing short of an icon. With a massive pile of hit singles and albums to her credit, Lynn inspired not only other female country artists, but a massive sect of male artists from different genres; Elvis Costello and superfan Jack White come to mind as vocal admirers of her work.
A statement from the family of Loretta Lynn.— Loretta Lynn (@LorettaLynn) October 4, 2022
"Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, October 4th, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills.” The family of Loretta Lynn.
Not shy to express herself or never back down, Lynn took a lot of flak for recording and releasing songs like “The Pill,” about birth control, “Rated X” about the stigma that follows divorcees, and “You Ain’t Woman Enough” where she firmly stood her ground and warned other females from getting any wild ideas about philandering with her man. Despite her popularity, it wasn’t uncommon for Lynn’s edgier songs to be banned from country radio, but it didn’t stop her devoted fans from buying records.
In a blatant display of being dealt a double standard, while her male counterparts were being lauded and celebrated for their bravado when singing about cheating, drinking, and fighting, Lynn was often chastised for the brutal honesty she injected into her songs. She once caught hell for showing public affection for Black country singer Charley Pride after he’d won a trophy during a televised award show in the early-‘70s—and she showed no remorse or shame when criticized for it.
Some artists and celebrities are portrayed and thought of as being real, or down to earth, or humble. Loretta Lynn more than completely embodied all of those descriptions. She grew up under meager circumstances, was a teenaged wife, juggled a successful career in music while raising her six children, and always had time, by all accounts, to show her appreciation for her loyal fans and followers without a hint of ego or grandeur throughout her many years in the spotlight, despite the health issues she’d faced in recent years.
Today, the music world lost a legend. Popular culture lost a class act, an icon, and an incredibly important self-made woman who wasn’t afraid to straddle the line between strength, feminism, and modesty.
Loretta Lynn broke down doors of sexism, equality, and truthfulness throughout her career and her influence will be felt and her loss will be mourned for years to come.