Loretta Lynn is among 14 Americans who were presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama on Wednesday at the White House. The award, created by President John F. Kennedy, recognizes significant achievements in politics, world peace, science, culture and other fields and is the nation’s highest honor presented civilians.
Here are five of Lynn’s many cultural contributions since Butcher Holler, Ky.’s most celebrated resident arrived not only as one of the most distinctive singers in country music but also as a songwriter who reshaped what a woman could think, say and do in song and in life.
“Coal Miner’s Daughter”: No. 1 country hit that spawned her bestselling 1976 autobiography and the 1980 Academy Award-winning biopic, this is Lynn’s theme song. Lynn told the story of her hardscrabble but loving upbringing in the Appalachian coal-mining country of eastern Kentucky from which she made her remarkable rise to worldwide fame and acclaim.
“Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”: Lynn’s first No. 1 hit on the country chart, “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ ” slammed the door on the passive female victim of wayward boyfriends and husbands who’d populated so many country songs before she came along. “Just stay out there on the town and see what you can find/Cause if you want that kind of love well you don’t need none of mine.” This was a woman who knew what she was worth and wasn’t about to be devalued by a lout -- powerful stuff in country music in 1966.
“One’s on the Way”: As the women’s liberation movement grew and promoted the idea that women had a right to control their own bodies, Lynn took that message written by satirist Shel Silverstein to rural America in 1971. Lynn emphasizes Silverstein’s wry observational skill and sense of humor over outrage or stridency in pointing out the differences between the nation’s haves and have-nots and the effect that child-bearing had on most women’s lives.
The White House social season should be glittering and gay
But here in Topeka the rain is a fallin’
The faucet is a drippin’ and the kids are a bawlin’
One of them a-toddlin’ and one is a-crawlin’ and one’s on the way
“Rated X”: In 1972, with the Motion Picture Assn. of America’s recently instituted movie ratings system the subject of endless controversy, especially when it came to films with sexual themes that earned the feared “X” rating, Lynn scored another No. 1 hit with her examination of the way women, far more than men, were stigmatized by divorce in society’s eyes: “The women all look at you like you’re bad and the men all hope you are/But if you go too far you’re gonna wear the scar of a woman rated X.”
“Miss Being Mrs.”: Lynn stopped making music for years when her husband Oliver “Mooney” Lynn’s health was declining. After his death in 1996, she slowly resumed her career, then in 2004, surprised much of the world by teaming with brash young songwriter, guitarist and producer Jack White of the White Stripes, a longtime admirer of her music. He produced her album “Van Lear Rose” that demonstrated she had plenty left to say in music. For all the songs she wrote or sang about the inequities, injustice and abuse that women endure on behalf of the institution of marriage, she stayed with her husband from the day she became his teenage bride, and in this song, reflected on what it meant to continue without him.
I lie here all alone
In my bed of memories
I’m dreamin’ of your sweet kiss
Oh, how you loved on me
I can almost feel you with me
Here in this blue moonlight
Oh, I miss being Mrs. tonight
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