Why She Was The Most Progressive Pioneer In The Country – Billboard

Mr Blackwell, the pretentious fashion icon who for decades handed out annual lists of the world’s worst-dressed women, placed country legend Loretta Lynn at No. 8 some 45 years ago, dismissing her wardrobe as “the right dress in the wrong century”. .”

Lynn’s signature wardrobe – long, grandma’s dresses, often embellished with lace and sometimes sparkly – came across as upside down to many, as did her ultra-rural diction. Who else could say, “I was born a coal miner’s daughter” with confidence and conviction and be widely loved for it?

But the surface conservatism in her appearance belied the progressiveness at the heart of her songs, which were extensions of Lynn’s character and humanity. For six decades, country audiences could identify with his deliberately disconnected clothing choices and candid conversation, even though Lynn described the women in his music as radically avant-garde: strong, empowered adults, willing and able to defend himself in a time when the culture generally discouraged him. (Even Lynn’s death at age 90 on Oct. 4 was a bit of a contradiction: She died at home as she slept peacefully in a violently named town, Hurricane Mills, Tenn.)

The country trailblazer didn’t seem to know she was doing something groundbreaking with her career, even after the musical masses began to publicly appraise her work. Writing songs that addressed the improprieties of husband/manager Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, she tackled topics – particularly alcoholism and infidelity – that were considered in most homes family secrets, to be kept as such. With “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and “Fist City,” she’s been drying her own dirty laundry on national airwaves, soaring to fame because she was just naive and stubborn enough to believe that honesty was the best policy in her music. Turns out she was right.

Lynn arrived in Nashville in the 1960s, a time when the country music industry treated women the way the culture as a whole viewed them: as complements and support staff for the men in their lives. . Country women were subjugated to the role of “singer,” performers expected to bring an air of family values ​​as a duet partner for the male headliner, or a shifting voice that could represent the ladies in the audience without threatening or threatening them. challenge them.

Kitty Wells, whom Lynn greatly admired, was the first woman to reach No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Songs Chart in 1952 with “It Wasn’t God Who Made The Angels Honky Tonk”, visually presenting herself as a non-threatening housewife. Patsy Cline, who became Lynn’s best friend in the early 1960s, imbued her groundbreaking recordings with a soft vocal style and sometimes celestial chords, hiding her coarse tongue and bawdiness – hallmarks of so-called behavior non-feminine – from the public. until after his death.

Lynn’s first hit, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” came out in 1960, less than a decade after Wells’ breakthrough. Lynn approached her performances with a voice that reflected her incongruities: she possessed an unmistakably feminine resonance, but her delivery had a certain harshness, indicative of the unbearable poverty of her Butcher Holler, Ky., youth and the challenges of adolescence. maternity.

Instead of pumping up her tone, she paired her rawness with songs that told her the unvarnished truth — and, in turn, the biographies of many American women. Threatened floozies to rob her husband in ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough’ and ‘Fist City’, refused sexual advances from her overly indulgent man in ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” called out cultural double standards in “Rated ‘X’” and celebrated the arrival of birth control-induced freedom with “The Pill,” a song originally banned from country radio.

These titles established his progressive nature. Having become the breadwinner of her household, Lynn essentially demanded equal treatment and respect before the women’s movement, though – judging by her lifelong devotion to her husband (they were married for 48 years until her death) – she seemed to accept that men would find it hard to give that kind of consideration.

And Lynn wasn’t just an agitator. She embraced her country heritage, spelling out her tough upbringing in the autobiographical “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and hanging on to her barefoot roots and hard work values ​​in “You’re Lookin’ At Country.”

This dichotomy is central to Loretta Lynn’s legacy. As a strong and confident female artist, she opened a door for other women who followed, a legacy that can be traced through subsequent country stars from Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride to Miranda. Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Lainey Wilson.

Critics would say – quite reasonably, in fact – that more women should have been able to walk through that door. But Lynn fought the same battle that the current generation of country women face, a battle as contradictory as Loretta Lynn’s presentation. Her fight to present her authentic self was considered progressive at a time when women’s voices were meant to be for show.

But Lynn found a way to make her own artistic statement. In the process, she skillfully demonstrated that female perspectives are always in style.