Loretta Lynn’s Cinderella story: From Coal Miner’s Daughter to millionaire country music icon

Loretta Lynn receives Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama

“…And now over 50 years after she cut her first record… Loretta Lynn still reigns as the rule-breaking, record-setting queen of country music.” President Barack Obama said as he awarded the Coal Miner’s Daughter the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Talk about an understatement!

America’s own Cinderella lived through, overcame, and accomplished more than most of us expect to face in a dozen lifetimes. And while Cinderella’s problems disappeared with the arrival of Prince Charming, that was when some of Loretta Lynn’s biggest challenges began.

Coal Miner’s Daughter

Born in 1932, Loretta Lynn was the second child of Kentucky coal miner Melvin “Ted” Webb’s eight children.

On paper, Loretta’s early life reads like the perfect setup to a sad statistic:

  • Food was scarce,
  • Clothes were threadbare,
  • Life was rough,
  • Money was stretched thin enough to be see-through,
  • And opportunities were few and far between.

Perhaps the most devastating blow of all… an almost non-existent education. Loretta went to school in a one-room shack and “graduated” with so little book-learning that she later wasn’t sure she’d be able to pass the written section of a driver’s license test.

Yet she spoke about her upbringing with joyful gratitude.

Her signature song, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” offers a touching tribute to the rags part of her rags-to-riches story: 

  • We were poor, but we had love,”
  • In the summertime we didn’t have shoes to wear / But in the wintertime we’d all get a brand-new pair,” and,
  • Never thought of ever leaving Butcher Holler

“One’s on the Way”

When she was 15, Loretta Webb went to a pie social and met local bad boy Oliver Lynn.

People already were calling the 21-year-old WWII veteran “Mooney,” because of his moonshining, and “Doolittle,” for his laziness. 

Within a month she married the man she always called “Doo,” and less than a year later she became a teenage mom. She had her first four children by the time she was 21.

By then the Lynn family was existing in Custer, Washington where “Doo” hoped to find better opportunities than an early death in the coal mines from black lung disease.

In this ABC News interview, Loretta discusses her success, her relationship with her husband, and how her marriage inspired her music:

Like Cinderella, Loretta Lynn did any-and-everything to try to make ends meet. This included cooking and cleaning for 36 ranch hands. As Loretta recalled:

 “Before I was singing, I cleaned house; I took in laundry; I picked berries. I worked seven days a week. I was a housewife and mother for 15 years before I was an entertainer. And it wasn’t like being a housewife today. It was doing hand laundry on a board and cooking on an old coal stove. I grew a garden and canned what I grew. That’s what’s real. I know how to survive.”

Life and Times of Loretta Lynn, official Loretta Lynn website.

And through it all, she did as her mama had done before her, and sang her babies to sleep.

“Honky Tonk Girl”

“Doo” believed Loretta sounded just as good as anyone on the radio. He bought her a $17 guitar and she taught herself to play. 

One day, leaning on the old toilet outside, she wrote what would become her first hit, “Honky Tonk Girl” in just 20 minutes. She described being startled that all those lyrics were just pouring out of her.

For all his many faults as a man and a husband, without “Doo” there would’ve been no Loretta Lynn. He was her biggest fan, pushing her to perform her songs in public, after her upbringing had left her bashful and insecure.

“You ain’t gonna believe this…”

Loretta said of her first musical rejection.  

“…I and my little first cousin sang all the time. And [when] we were little Daddy would come out on the porch and tell us to shut our big mouth:

“People all over the holler can hear you!” he’d say.

Loretta Lynn, country music queen, CBS News.

When fame and success finally did come to Loretta Lynn, they came almost too fast. “Doo” and Loretta crossed the country in their beat-up station wagon, promoting “Honky Tonk Girl” to every radio station they could. It took time and hard work, but they eventually walked into big money in Nashville.

Grand Ole’ Opry’s Teddy Wilburn saw the potential in the shy Kentucky-born housewife and pushed her song, “Fool #1,” to Decca Records.

While big-timer Brenda Lee got the song on the chart, Loretta Lynn had her contract.

“…Be first, great or different”

Lorretta Lynn appears on a sign for the Ernest Tubb record shop

Many experts remain a bit baffled by Loretta’s meteoric rise and enduring run of true success. She didn’t have the financial backing many of her peers did, and by her own admission, she wasn’t the vocal genius that her mentor, Patsy Cline, was. However, Loretta’s music made a connection with America’s forgotten women that no one else could.

She sums up her success in this quote:

To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different. And I was the first to ever go into Nashville, singin’ it like the women lived it.”

Life and Times of Loretta Lynn, official Loretta Lynn website.

Loretta Lynn never forgot her humble beginnings or early struggles, and always wanted to “help women stand up for the respect they’re due.” Some of her most controversial hits included songs like “The Pill,” and “Rated X,” which were originally banned by radio DJs.

Yet she refused to be known as a feminist and used other songs like “One’s on the Way” to poke elegant fun at what she saw as the out-of-touch demands from upper-class feminists.

She was especially able to share her quirky sense of fun with southern boy Conway Twitty.

The two made a dynamic duo and recorded many top hits. Probably best known are “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” and “After the Fire is Gone.” However, you might find the less well-known “You’re the Reason Our Kids are Ugly” as even more charming and funny.

Both stars always insisted that, their incredible stage chemistry aside, they were never more than good friends.

“Because I loved …”

Despite the fame, money, worldwide adoration, and countless awards she earned, Loretta Lynn’s road was never an easy one.

The tragic death of her best friend Patsy Cline was an early sorrow. Loretta also outlived her two oldest children. Her son Jack Benny died in 1984 after a horse-riding accident. Her oldest daughter Betty Sue died of emphysema at age 65.

Probably the hardest and most misunderstood choice she made was sticking with her almost 50-year marriage. “Doo” was a lifelong alcoholic and womanizer. And despite his singular admiration for Loretta, he was also periodically abusive.

Yet Loretta never spoke of him in bitterness, and during one memorable interview she stated powerfully: “I didn’t pay no attention to him. I could whip him; if he hit me once, I hit him twice. And he knew it too.”

You Ain’t Woman Enough

Loretta often explained not divorcing “Doo” by saying, “Because I loved him, he was the love of my life.”

She denied trying to send “Doo” messages via her songs, saying that she’d said it all to him in private. However, she did allow her difficult marriage to inspire many top singles.

She wrote “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’” as a clear commentary on his alcoholism, and “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” was based on real events where she had to warn off one of his girlfriends.

When Doo passed away in 1996, Loretta fell into a yearlong fog of grief. She didn’t tour again until 2000 with her album Still Country.

Perhaps that mantra “Because I loved” is really the secret key to Loretta Lynn’s unstoppable life. No matter what hit her, and just about everything did at one time or another, she loved someone or something enough to just never quit.

Loretta Lynn’s financial success and net worth

Loretta Lynn had an estimated net worth of $65 million, accumulated over her six-decade career, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Since neither the country music icon nor her estate ever issued a statement regarding her earnings (at least, none that I’ve been able to find), this figure might be somewhat conservative.

Billboard estimates Loretta earns approximately $1.62 million each year in royalties from her music catalog. These earnings come primarily from the singer’s top-charting hits, which include 16 number one songs and 51 top 10 songs.

While it took Loretta Lynn longer to build that fortune than most recipients of windfall wealth, it’s still not bad for a start from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, and a $17 guitar. 

Besides royalty earnings from her songs, Loretta Lynn had several other revenue streams. These include income from her Hurricane Mills Ranch, merchandise, book and movie deals, concert tours, and media appearances.

Hurricane Mills Ranch

The Hurricane Mills Ranch is a vast estate that includes Loretta Lynn’s mansion, a museum, a post office, and a waterfall. Besides hosting guests, the ranch continues to hold annual concerts.

The Hurricane Mills Ranch earns money from special events, along with admission fees for museum and home tours. The ranch also earns money from people renting the ranch cabins, bunk house, and onsite camping fees.

Merchandise fees

Loretta Lynn wasn’t just a name, and neither was her title of Coal Miner’s Daughter. She became a powerful brand, earning merchandise fees from t-shirts, posters, drinkware, and a variety of memorabilia.  

The book and movie Coal Miner’s Daughter

Loretta Lynn’s rags-to-riches story was immortalized in the 1980 movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, based off her book of the same name. Tommy Lee Jones played “Doo,” while the sensational Sissy Spacek won an Academy Award for her role as Loretta.  

I couldn’t find any exact figures regarding how much Loretta made from either the book or the movie. However, it’s estimated the movie initially made $67 million (becoming the seventh highest-grossing movie of the year). I assume that Loretta earned a substantial amount of money from the telling of her life story.

Other best-selling books, media appearances

Loretta earned money from several other bestsellers, such as Honky Tonk Girl: My Life in Lyrics, Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline, Still Woman Enough: A Memoir, and You’re Cookin’ It Country: My Favorite Recipes and Memories.

She appeared in many interviews both on TV and radio to promote her work. But she also made some guest appearances in movies and TV shows, including a special appearance in the hit TV-series Dukes of Hazzard.

Loretta also used her star power to raise money for worthy causes. In 2021, she held a benefit concert that raised almost $1 million to help the victims of a major flood in Waverly, Tennessee. The concert was held at the Grand Old Opry and featured such country music luminaries as Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, and Keith Urban.

“I’m still not famous, I’m just me”

During her 90 years of life on earth, Loretta Lynn rose from the ravages of extreme poverty to unequaled stardom. She accomplished this using her abundance of natural talent and sheer grit.

Her stage trademark consisted of lavish ball gowns and jewels fit for a queen. Yet she never tried to change her “hick” accent or hide her lack of formal education.

She was the most awarded lady in country music history:

  • She had 24 #1 singles.
  • She was the first female winner of Nashville’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
  • She earned CMT’s Artist of a Lifetime.
  • She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • She earned a well-deserved spot on Nashville’s Walk of Fame.

And with all those achievements, Loretta Lynn counted her six children and 25 grandchildren as great a success as her Presidential Medal of Freedom. She loved one flawed man, and counted celebrities such as Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty, Sissy Spacek, and Tammy Wynette as friends.

She lived a full, rich life that was measured more in triumph than tragedy. She built an empire, earning the kind of money that Wall Street stock traders dream of. She reinvented herself many times, coming back with a new top hit again and again. And at the end of all of it, she remained humble, relatable, and down-to-earth. She summed herself up quite simply: “I’m still not famous, I’m just me.”

Suzanna Fitzgerald

Suzanna Fitzgerald is a professional content writer specializing in crafting your stories into irresistible online marketing blueprints.

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