Loretta Lynn was more than a great songwriter – she was a spokesperson for rural working class white women


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(THE CONVERSATION) The death of Loretta Lynn at the age of 90 marks the end of a remarkable lifetime of achievement in country music.

Her dramatic life story – told in the award-winning 1980 film “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” based on Lynn’s 1976 biography – has made Lynn a household name. She grew up in poverty in a small mining town in Kentucky, married and started a family as a teenager before reaching unprecedented heights of commercial success as a modern country music recording artist. .

But as a gender and country music scholar and author of “Hillbilly Maidens, Okies, and Cowgirls: Women’s Country Music, 1930-1960,” I know Lynn represented more than music star power and fame. country – she spoke to the concerns of women, especially working-class white women in rural and suburban America.

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Lynn’s rise in the 1960s came as country music emerged linked to conservative politics. It was a time when Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee,” with its attacks on the counterculture, marijuana, and the burning of drafts, became a populist anthem for cultural conservatives nationwide.

In contrast, Lynn’s songwriting continued the legacy of Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard, and other women in country music who were willing to speak out on the concerns of American women.

Lynn’s songs challenged societal expectations by connecting her musical portrayals of working class and rural women to larger social issues affecting women across the United States.

She wanted her music to express the fears, dreams and anger of women living in a patriarchal society. He spoke out against those who idealized women’s domestic roles and demonized outspoken feminists.

“There are going to be changes”

Specifically, for a generation of predominantly white women in the 1960s and 1970s who did not identify as urban feminists or college graduates, Lynn’s music offered candid conversations about their private lives as wives and mothers.

As Lynn stated in her autobiography, her audience recognized her as a “mother, wife and daughter, who had feelings like other women”.

She did this through clever, witty songwriting and lyrical techniques that combined her audience’s vernacular with her resonant voice.

Meanwhile, arrangements of songs by Owen Bradley of Decca Records brought Lynn’s musical talents to a wide audience. He combined the sharper sound of honky-tonk instrumentation – electric guitars, steel pedals and fiddles – with the polish of the Nashville sound by including the sweet-sounding vocal harmonies of vocal quartet the Jordanaires, as reported heard in many country, gospel and rock ‘n’ roll recordings.

It provided a sound of strength and conviction to accompany Lynn’s bold and direct songs as she laid bare the double standards of gender roles.

With her assertive and resonant voice, Lynn, in her 1966 track “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”, warns men not to expect women to wait at home. house, sexually available to them after they had been drinking all night:

Well you thought I’d be waiting when you came home last night

You dated all the boys and found yourself half tight

Alcohol and love, they just don’t mix

Leave that bottle or me behind

And don’t come home drinking with love on your mind

Along the same lines, Lynn, who claimed her songs about wayward husbands were inspired by her rocky marriage to Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn, confronted “the other woman” in songs such as “You Ain’t Woman Enough” from 1966 and “First Town.

A lasting legacy

Fully aware that her personalized narratives were becoming political messages for her female fanbase, Lynn co-wrote and recorded “The Pill” in 1975. It was a rare foray into the subject of women’s reproductive rights for country music. . Typically, however, Lynn approached the issue from the perspective of a rural working-class woman:

I’m tired of all your singing

How you and your hens play

While holding a couple in my arms

Another is on the way

This hen has finished tearing up her nest

And I’m ready to make a deal

And you can’t afford to refuse it

‘Cause you know I’m on the pill

The song’s sexual innuendos about roosters and cavorting hens incorporated the double meanings and humor of early blues and country, while providing a frank discussion of female sexual pleasure. He also addressed women’s right to take control of their bodies and their reproduction.

The song was released just two years after the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade, granting women the ability to manage their own reproductive health through abortion.

Indeed, Lynn commented on the Supreme Court decision in her autobiography:

“Personally, I think you should avoid an unwanted pregnancy rather than have an abortion. It would be bad for me. But I think of all the poor girls who get pregnant when they don’t want to, and how they should have the choice instead of leaving the choice to a politician or a doctor who doesn’t have to bring up the baby.

Her recording “The Pill” was aimed at married women who wanted to be able to space their children and prevent unwanted pregnancies so they could pursue educational and professional opportunities.

In interviews, Lynn has talked at length about how female listeners flocked to her after gigs, relieved to find a public figure they felt comfortable discussing birth control with.

However, not everyone was thrilled. Male country disc jockeys banned “The Pill” from the airwaves. Nonetheless, the recording became her biggest seller in 1975 and cemented Lynn’s reputation as a spokesperson for rural working-class white women.

Her music has also inspired women in country music who have followed her to further explore issues of gender roles. Lynn’s legacy lives on in the music of female country artists – such as Reba McEntire and Miranda Lambert – who learned from Lynn how to create music that confronts and overcomes the societal barriers women face.

While all of country music will mourn Lynn’s death, perhaps it’s her female fans who will feel the loss most acutely. Lynn gave them a social and political voice and helped make country music relevant to the complexities of women’s lives.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/loretta-lynn-was-more-than-a-great-songwriter-she-was-a-spokeswoman-for-white-rural-working-class-women – 191932.

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