Five decades ago, Loretta Lynn and her husband-manager, “Mooney” Lynn, drove station to station around the U.S. promoting her first single, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.” All these years later, she’s a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and a global symbol for country music, and she was honored Friday at her Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum in Tennessee for 50 years as an American icon.
A bevy musicians and music-industry executives were on hand for the occasion, including Marty Stuart, Crystal Gayle, Jack Greene and Terri Clark. Ronnie McDowell presented Loretta a painting he had created, depicting her when she was 10 years old and living in Kentucky. A string of presenters included John Carter Cash, arranger Bill Walker and Ray Walker, of the Jordanaires, the Hall of Fame vocal quartet that backed Loretta on such classics as “You’re Lookin’ At Country,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
There were also video tributes from Wynonna, Big Kenny, Keith Anderson, Martina McBride, Kellie Pickler and Dolly Parton. The ceremony took place in a sweat-filled tent outside the museum. The museum houses an extraordinary volume of memorabilia, including letters from presidents, stage wear and a string of awards — none of which have led Loretta to think of herself as anything other than the little girl who grew up in poverty in an eastern Kentucky shack.
“I look at these awards like they’re somebody else’s,” she said. “That way you can stay grounded. I’m proud of my awards and every one I get, you know… You just don’t forget where you come from. All I do is close my eyes, and I know where I’m from. I go back to that little ol’ one-room cabin where I lived ‘til I was 11 years old.”
Nevertheless, Friday’s celebration is the first of several that will mark her 50-year history as a country star. On Nov. 9, Columbia will release Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn, featuring remakes of her songs by the likes of Kid Rock, Carrie Underwood, Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert.
And on Oct. 12, she’ll be honored in a Grammy Salute To Country at the Ryman Auditorium. Reba McEntire will host that event with appearances by Martina, Jack White, Gretchen Wilson and Lee Ann Womack. And, it appears, Garth Brooks.
“Garth Brooks called me last week,” Loretta laughed, “and I said, ‘Garth, there’s a lot of things goin’ on that I don’t know about and they ain’t tellin’ me.’… I found out, too, that he’s givin’ me the award. So he was on the phone long enough to give that away. That was good.”
The salute at the Ryman is nicely timed. It comes three days before the 50-year anniversary of Loretta’s first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry, which took place on that very stage.