Famous Migraineurs: Loretta Lynn

by Nancy Harris Bonk Patient Expert

Being a wife and mother of four by the time you're 18-years-old is tough enough; accomplishing this with Migraines is almost unimaginable. But Loretta Lynn did just that. Loretta Webb was born on April 14, 1934, in the Appalachian coal mining town of Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Her father was a coal miner who worked hard, long, dangerous hours to put food in the stomachs and clothes on the backs of his large family. Loretta Webb was the second born out of eight children. Crystal Gayle, Loretta's half-sister, is also a singer and performer.

Loretta was 13 when she married Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn, a man she met at a pie social and had known for little over a month. About a year into their marriage, looking for job opportunities other than coal mining, they relocated to Washington State. The Lynn's settled in Custer, Washington, and their family grew. It was then that "Doo" really heard Loretta's voice and knew she had potential. He purchased a guitar so she could start practicing.

Raising a growing family of four, then six, left little time in Loretta's life for practice, but somehow, she managed to squeeze it in. She began singing locally and on the radio, but it wasn't until Norm Burley heard her sing on a televised talent show competition that her music career really began to take off. Burley was so impressed with Loretta's talent that he started a record label just for her - Zero Records.

Loretta recorded a few songs on the Zero label, then went on a cross-country tour to promote them. Her release, I'm a Honky Tonk Girl, managed to become a top 20 hit, and it was during this tour that she made her first of many trips to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. At some point during this tour, she met Ted and Doyle Wilburn who owned several musically associated groups and a touring revue in addition to a publishing company. The Wilburns thought she'd fit right in with the organization, and she was soon a big part of the touring and television groups. The Wilburns were able to get her released from her first record label, Zero Records, to sign on with Decca Records where she recorded her first top 10 single, Success, in 1962.

Good friend and fellow Decca artist Patsy Cline played a significant role in Loretta's singing style by the mid '60's. Her voice became deeper and more "pop" like; an integration of grit, twang and love. She had three top 10 country songs during this period; Wine, Women, and Song; Happy Birthday; and Blue Kentucky Girl. Other changes in her singing style were evident in songs such as You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man), Don't Come Home A'Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind) and Fist City. These songs were often autobiographical in nature, and in 1968, she basically wrote an anti-war song called, Dear Uncle Sam during the Vietnam War.

In 1970, Loretta released her hit song, Coal Miner's Daughter, which turned out to be one of her "career-defining" moments. She also used this song title in her autobiographical book (1976) and movie starring Sissy Spacek (1980). This time period was also one of her most prolific. She teamed up with Conway Twitty, winning her first Vocal Duo of the Year award in 1972, and she was also the first woman to win the Country Music Association's Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1972; also winning a Grammy with Conway Twitty for the duo After the Fire is Gong. She was on the cover of Newsweek in 1973, and her book was a New York Times best seller in 1976. As her popularity grew and awards piled on, she still had to contend with family issues that the everyday person has to deal with. Her traveling career kept her away from her children most of the time, and "Doo," her unfaithful, alcoholic husband was always a source of trouble. You can hear this in many of her songs such as I Wanna Be Free, singing about the various options of divorce; and in The Pill (a record banned by many radio stations when it was released) she sang about how birth control gave women the freedom to love passionately without the fear of pregnancy.

The '80's were difficult for Loretta as her career was in a slump, and her recordings became more infrequent. But when she performed, she continually drew large crowds at her concerts - her impact on country music still valued. She also struggled with the unfortunate death of one of her sons in 1984 and kept a low profile, taking care of her husband, who had become very sick with complications due to diabetes. These factors added to Loretta's musical inactivity. Her husband, "Doo," eventually passed away in 1996.

Her awards are many and include being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1999. She has Hollywood Walk of Fame Star and received a Kennedy Honor in 2003.

Loretta's Country Music Associate Awards include:

  • Female Vocalist of The Year

  • Vocal Duo of the Year

  • Entertainer of the Year

Her Academy of Country Music Awards include:

  • Top Female Vocalist

  • Artist of the Decade

  • Top Vocal Duo

  • Entertainer of the Year

  • Album of the Year

Loretta Lynn has had a long, sometimes turbulent country singing music career that has been hampered at times by Migraine attacks. In her book, Coal Miner's Daughter, she talks openly about her Migraines beginning at 17 and how her "daddy had em." She had had a few uncomfortable situations during some performances when she would get a Migraine, but her band members held it together for her, simply taking her to a chair on the side of the stage, or even off stage until she felt better. She has said the "boys did such a good job playing and joking that nobody cared whether I came back or not."1

Loretta Lynn has been an inspiration to many of us by being an "advocate for the ordinary woman." She has been and continues to be an extraordinary women who deals with Migraines and music everyday.

1 Lynn, Loretta and Vecsey, George. "Coal Miner's Daughter." Da Capo Press edition. 2001.

2 Answers.com. Loretta Lynn.

3 Profile: Loretta Lynn. NNDB tracking the entire world. NNDB.com.

4 Loretta Lynn Bio. LorettaLynn.com.

© The HealthCentral Network, 2010
Last updated September 19, 2010

Nancy Harris Bonk
Meet Our Writer
Nancy Harris Bonk

Nancy wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Migraine.