Loretta Lynn, boundary-breaking country music icon, dies at 90

Legendary country singer Loretta Lynn died Tuesday at age 90, leaving a legacy of more than six decades of boundary-breaking music. In 2019, several generations of Nashville stars came out for a concert celebrating Lynn on her birthday. Jeffrey Brown was there and talked to Lynn about her life and career, beginning with her roots in the tiny coal-mining community of Butcher Holler, Kentucky.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Loretta Lynn the original coal miner's daughter, a title taken from her hit song. The legendary country singer died today at the age of 90, leaving a legacy of more than six decades of boundary-breaking music.

    In 2019, several generations of Nashville stars came out for a concert celebrating Lynn's birthday.

    Jeffrey Brown was there, and he spoke with her about her life and career, beginning with her humble roots in a tiny coal mining community in Kentucky.

    Here's an excerpt. It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Loretta Lynn, Musician:

    This is my first birthday party I ever had.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Oh, really?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Yes. When I was a little girl, mommy would say, "Well, today, you're 5 years old." Next time, "Today, you're 6."

    I never had a birthday.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Yes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Well, now you deserve it, I guess.

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Well, I'm loving it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    What was the ambition back then?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    You know, you never dare to dream big, because, where have you been to dream? I mean, how could you dream when you have never seen nothing or never been nowhere? Never been to — I had never been to town, so I — you didn't dare dream.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Her first hit, "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," came in 1960, and set her on a trailblazing path, first woman in country music to write a number one hit song, "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man," first to be named Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, and to have more than 50 top 10 country hits.

    What's the key to writing a good song? What does it have to have?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    It's got to have the person.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The person meaning you?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    It's got to have the heart and soul of a person that's writing it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    That sounds simple, but it can't be simple to capture the real person.

  • Loretta Lynn:

    It's not simple, because it's hard on the writer. I used to lock myself up, shut myself in a room, before I would get through with a song. I wouldn't come out until I got it wrote.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And when did you know that you had it, that it was done?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Well, I would know when I had it done. If you don't know when you have it done, you don't — shouldn't be writing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    She was a strong voice for women in a conservative industry, a powerhouse in a business run by men, making herself a multimillionaire.

    You know, we all know you as a great artist, but I understand you have always been a great businesswoman, as well.

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Pretty good.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Was that — you took care of things and — yes?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    Yes, I did.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Because you had to? Did you have to learn how to do that?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    But you — if you're hungry, yes. You learn how to make a living if you're hungry.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So what's been the key to surviving and thriving for so long in this business?

  • Loretta Lynn:

    You have to be smart. Hard work and smart, that's all it takes. If you have got a little talent, you can go a long way, if you're smart and put the work in it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What an icon, Loretta Lynn.

    Thank you, Jeffrey Brown.

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