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Loretta Lynn: Country Strong

The hardworking queen of country music celebrates turning 84 by recording a new album — and digging in the dirt

When I sat down with Loretta Lynn in her spacious home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. (she owns the entire town), she had just finished recording Full Circle, a joyous album that combines new material with some favorite old songs, revisited. After six decades in the spotlight, Lynn has no plans to retire: "I just don't think you're ever through singin'."

On gratitude … and grit

I almost died from mastoiditis when I was real little — I didn't walk till I was 4 — but God was on my side, and I thank him every day for that. We lived in a one-room cabin in Butcher Holler, Ky., till I was 9 years old. Then Daddy bought an old house for $600, and we thought we was in a mansion. It wasn't an easy life. But as long as we had beans and fried potatoes, we thought we was living great.

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The apple of his eye

Mommy would pack Daddy's lunch for the mines. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I'd set out on the hill and wait for him to come home from work. He'd have on his hard-shell cap, and he'd be so covered with coal dust that all you could see was the whites of his eyes. Daddy always saved a bite of apple or a little bit of sandwich in his dinner bucket for me. I wouldn't trade nothing for that.

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Snake in the grass?

There was no roads and no cars in the Holler when I lived there — just a little path about this wide, and we walked that path to school every day. I was always scared a snake would jump out of the weeds and grab us.

We all sang

My mommy sang. My daddy sang. Whatever instrument they picked up — fiddle, mandolin, guitar — they could play it. I thought everybody lived that way, singing and playing whatever they wanted. When I got married and moved to Washington [state, in 1949], I found out otherwise.

When times get tough, the tough get sewing

I made my own dresses and, let me tell you, they was tight, short little things at first, 'cause I didn't have the money to buy much material. Or frills: I'd sit in the back of the club and take the fringe off one, then sew it on the other (I only had two) and go onstage in a different color.

spinner image Loretta Lynn holds her acoustic guitar as she poses for a portrait wearing a cowboy hat, a scarf and western shirt outside a log cabin in circa 1960.
Loretta Lynn holds her acoustic guitar outside a log cabin circa 1960.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The accidental hit

During a dinner break in a Wilburn Brothers show, I took my guitar back to the bathroom, sat down and strummed, "Well, I was born a coal miner's daughter." I didn't really mean to write about it, but as soon as I sang that, I remember thinking to myself, You know, that could be a good song!

Siren of the times

"The Pill," "Rated X," "One's on the Way" — those songs I wrote in the '70s — I was just singing what a lot of women lived, you know?

"Sissy done good"

I thought Sissy [Spacek] done good on the movie [Coal Miner's Daughter, 1980], but she woulda liked to kill me the year we were out on the road and I was learning her the songs. I'd get in from a show real late and work with her till about 4 in the morning. It was rough.

spinner image COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, Sissy Spacek, 1980
Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Loretta Lynn in the 1980 film 'Coal Miner's Daughter.' The movie was based on Lynn's autobiography of the same title.
Everett Collection


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Be nice to those on their way up

I recorded my new album in Johnny Cash's cabin in Hendersonville, Tenn. Me and Johnny and June [Carter Cash] were real close. When we were doing The Johnny Cash Show in 1970, they'd say, "Here, watch the baby, " and I'd grab him until they got offstage. It's funny — that " baby," John Carter Cash, is my record producer now.

Loretta knows Jack

There's no age in music. Me and Jack White, who produced my last record, have this thing: We always know what the other one's fixing to say or do. Whenever I need to hear about anything new — whether it's rock 'n' roll or country — I just call Jack.

spinner image Loretta Lynn and Jack White pose backstage with their awards for 'Best Country Collaboration With Vocals' during the 47th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center February 13, 2005 in Los Angeles, California.
Loretta Lynn won two Grammys in 2005 for her album 'Van Lear Rose,' which was produced by Jack White, right, of the rock band The White Stripes.
Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

A down-to-earth diva

We was so busy this year, I didn't have a garden, but I'm not living without a garden no longer. Gardening's real, when so much of the world ain't.

The circle unbroken

My son, Jack Benny, died in 1984, and I lost my oldest daughter, Betty Sue, in 2013. But I can still hear them saying, "Don't quit now, Momma — you just keep on singing." I draw on them for strength.

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Country comic

Doo [Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn] and I had been married for 48 years when he passed away in 1996. A number of years after that, I was seeing this one guy — a preacher — for a while, but I never married again because they couldn't find nobody old enough for me. [Laughs.] Oh, me — I have to laugh at my own jokes!

Thanks giving

I was so excited when Barack Obama fastened the Presidential Medal of Freedom around my neck that I don't remember if I said thank you. But if you're not thankful about something like that, you don't deserve it.

spinner image President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to country singer Loretta Lynn.
President Barack Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Loretta Lynn at the White House on November 20, 2013.
The New York Times/Redux

Alanna Nash, who met Lynn in 1980, was wowed when Lynn sang "Happy Birthday" at Nash's 50th.

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