For more than four decades, Loretta Lynn has delivered honest narratives with a country spirit on recordings from 1963's Loretta Lynn Sings to the Jack White–produced Van Lear Rose in 2004. On stage, she simultaneously projects a profound confidence and demure sensibility, as her polished voice carried lyrics with a decidedly rock and roll swagger. She is the inspiration for countless musicians – male and female – who are empowered by her ability to capture the issues of the day in songs that opened the doors to candid reflections on taboo topics.
Lynn didn’t begin playing music until her mid-twenties, though she married Oliver Lynn, nicknamed “Mooney,” when she was 13. They had six children and were married nearly 50 years until his death in 1996. After years spent raising her family, Lynn began singing in various local bands, eventually attracting the attention of independent record label Zero Records. Within a year, Lynn signed to Decca, one of the biggest labels in the country. Taken under the wing of Patsy Cline, Lynn began to blossom into a major recording star. Including her duets with Conway Twitty, Lynn posted more than 50 Top 10 country hits between 1962 and 1982, including 16 Number Ones. Lynn never shied away from topics that she felt should be addressed, and her records could be deeply personal reflections on fidelity, relationships, alcoholism and birth control. In fact, Lynn achieved her first Number One country hit with the title song of her 1967 album, Don’t Come Home a’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind). Released in 1970, the title track to Coal Miner's Daughter was Lynn's autobiographical account of growing up in Butcher Holler, Kentucky, chronicling her family's struggles with poverty. The song became the foundation for a print autobiography and the motion-picture biography of the same name that earned Sissy Spacek an Oscar in 1980 for her portrayal of Lynn. The song reached Number One on the country charts and cracked the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1975, Loretta Lynn released Back to the Country, which included “The Pill,” a song about a rural woman asserting her reproductive rights. It wasn't the first time Lynn had courted controversy by addressing women’s issues in her music. The song was so controversial at the time that Lynn’s record label had delayed its release for three years. When it was finally released, many country stations refused to play it. Lynn later recounted that medical professionals routinely told her that "The Pill" had done more to promote rural acceptance of birth control than any official medical or social services efforts. "Don't ever come in on me while I'm writing a song, because I'm not myself," said Lynn during a 2004 interview with Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes. "I'm the person that I'm writing about. You've got to do that. You've got to be the person to write it."
Lynn is among the artists featured in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Women Who Rock exhibit, on display through February. An Epiphone Hummingbird Loretta Lynn model acoustic guitar and the dress Lynn wore in the video for "Portland, Oregon" (a song from 2004's Van Lear Rose) are among the artifacts that tell the story of Women Who Rock.