PAINTSVILLE — The queen of country music, Johnson County native Loretta Lynn, passed away on Oct. 4.
Loretta Lynn, who celebrated her 90th birthday this year and leaves behind a legacy that impacts all of the world of country music and hails from Van Lear, died on the morning of Tuesday, Oct. 4 during her sleep, according to a statement from her family.
“Our precious mom, Loretta Lynn, passed away peacefully this morning, Oct. 4, in her sleep at home at her beloved ranch in Hurricane Mills, (Tenn.),” the statement read.
Loretta, who began her life as Loretta Webb in the Van Lear community of Johnson County on April 14, 1932, was the first woman named entertainer of the year by the Country Music Association, and saw her star rise when she cut her first record, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” in 1960, which eventually reached number 14 on Billboard’s Country and Western Chart. She continued to rocket to the forefront of country music throughout the 60s and 70s with more hits landing after her first number one Billboard hit, “Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind).”
Loretta saw a decorated career and was a trailblazer for female country artists and women in general, by most accounts, as she stirred controversy with songs about divorce and birth control in a time when such topics were taboo. Her legacy, however, remains untarnished as an icon of the genre and the Appalachian people she represented on the world’s stage.
Despite the controversies created by her strongly pro-women musical endeavors, Lynn was married for approximately 48 years to Oliver Vanetta "Doolittle" Lynn, who passed away in 1996 at the age of 69. Their marriage was, by most accounts, tempestuous, but Loretta gave much of the credit for her career to the early support from her husband, who recognized her talent and pushed her to pursue a career as a recording artist.
Loretta has been nominated for 18 Grammy awards and won three, is the most awarded female country artist in history, and toured for approximately 57 years before retiring after a 2017 stroke and breaking her hip in 2018.
In 1980, an Oscar-winning biopic film about Loretta’s early life based on the 1976 best-selling autobiography of the same name, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” propelled her to further stardom and highlighted the difficulties of rural Appalachian life.
She was the eldest daughter of Clara Marie "Clary” (May 5, 1912 – November 24, 1981) and Melvin Theodore "Ted" Webb (June 6, 1906 – February 22, 1959) and was preceded in death by her siblings, Melvin "Junior" Webb (December 4, 1929 – July 2, 1993), Herman Webb (September 3, 1934 – July 28, 2018), Willie "Jay" Lee Webb (February 12, 1937 – July 31, 1996) and Donald Ray Webb (April 2, 1941 – October 13, 2017). Loretta is survived by a host of family, including her sister Crystal Gayle, a legendary singer and songwriter in her own right, who was given a key to the city of Paintsville on Sept. 30 during her performance at Alley on Main’s Alleyfest 2022.
In April of this year, Lynn was honored by the entirety of Johnson County as a proclamation by Johnson County Judge-Executive Mark McKenzie declared the week from Apr. 9 to Apr. 14 Loretta Lynn Week in the county at a kickoff event on Apr. 9 at the Loretta Lynn Homeplace in Butcher Holler, Van Lear.
During the kickoff event, Loretta’s granddaughter, Tayla Lynn, was presented with an entry into the congressional record of the House of Representatives by State Representative Bobby McCool on behalf of U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers for she and the other half of Lynn and Twitty duet, Tre Twitty.
U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell expressed his condolences for Loretta’s passing on Oct. 4.
“Kentuckians are mourning the loss of Loretta Lynn, the artist whose songs defined the unique history and culture of Appalachia to a generation of Americans. As a coal miner’s daughter from Butcher Holler, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn was not typical of the country music stars who burst onto the national stage in Nashville in the 1960s and ‘70s,” McConnell said. “She was tough, confident, and, above all, honest about life in rural Kentucky. But though the topics of her songs could be painful, the twang of her guitar and the richness of her voice declared a love for the mountains and people of Eastern Kentucky that shone through to millions of listeners. Along with all of Loretta’s fans, Elaine and I are mourning the loss of this trailblazing Kentuckian and sharing our prayers with her children, grandchildren, and all whom she touched over the course of her career.”
Gov. Andy Beshear added his and his wife’s condolences as well.
“Today, all of Kentucky mourns the loss of our very own Loretta Lynn,” Beshear said. “She was a legend who blazed a trail in country music while telling the stories of Appalachia and Kentucky. She will be greatly missed, but her words and impact will live on forever.”
Loretta was a proud Christian, and once famously ruminated on how blessed she had been in life.
“I wouldn't have dared ask God for all that He's given me. I couldn't have done it on my own. I thank God every day for what I have,” Lynn, known for her quick wit and Appalachian dialect, had once said.
In her autobiography, she wrote: “Well, friends, nobody owns nothing in this world. Even your breath is just loaned to you.”