American Masters – Loretta Lynn: Still a Mountain Girl
Premieres nationwide Friday, March 4 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings)
“To make it in this business, you either have to be first, great or different,” says living legend Loretta Lynn. “And I was the first to ever go into Nashville, singin’ it like the women lived it.”
Lynn first arrived in Nashville 55 years ago, signing her first recording contract on February 1, 1960, and within a matter of weeks, she was at her first recording session. A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, Lynn became one of the most distinctive performers in Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, shaking things up by writing her own songs, many of which tackled boundary-pushing topics drawn from her own life experiences as a wife and mother.
Coupled with her distinctive songwriting, Lynn’s instantly recognizable delivery is one of the greatest voices in music history. In lyrics such as “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’” and “Your Squaw Is on the War Path,” she refused to be any man’s doormat. She challenged female rivals in “You Ain’t Woman Enough” and “Fist City.” She showed tremendous blue-collar pride in “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “You’re Lookin’ at Country.” She is unafraid of controversy, whether the topic is sex (“Wings Upon Your Horns”), divorce (“Rated X”), alcohol (“Wouldn’t It Be Great”) or war (“Dear Uncle Sam”). “The Pill,” her celebration of sexual liberation, was banned by many radio stations. Like the lady herself, Lynn’s songs shoot from the hip.
As millions who read her 1976 autobiography or saw its Oscar-winning 1980 film treatment are aware, Lynn is a Coal Miner’s Daughter who was raised in dire poverty in a remote Appalachian Kentucky hamlet. Living in a mountain cabin with seven brothers and sisters, she was surrounded by music as a child.
She famously married Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn when she was a barely schooled teen. “Doo” was a 21-year-old war veteran with a reputation as a hell raiser. When she was seven months pregnant with her first child, they moved far away from Appalachia to Custer, Washington. Five years later, she had four children (two more, twins, came along in 1964). Isolated from her native culture and burdened with domestic work, she turned to music for solace.
Doo heard her singing and thought she sounded just as good as anyone he heard on the radio. He pushed her to learn how to play guitar, write songs and perform in area nightclubs. Executives from Zero Records discovered her and, soon after, she recorded her debut single, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Lynn and Doo drove across the country promoting the single to radio stations, until the disc hit the pop charts in the summer of 1960 and brought the couple to Nashville.
She began singing regularly on the Grand Ole Opry after her debut on Oct. 15, 1960. The show’s Wilburn Brothers took her under their wings and took a tape of her singing “Fool #1” to producer Owen Bradley at Decca Records. Bradley liked the song, which became a smash pop hit for Brenda Lee and earned Lynn a recording contract.
Lynn’s Decca chart debut came with 1962’s “Success.” It became the first of her 51 Top 10 hits and led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry cast later that year. Her fellow Opry cast member Patsy Cline taught her how to dress, style her hair and wear make-up. The Wilburns began featuring her on their nationally syndicated TV series, and she memorably romanced and sassed Conway Twitty in a number of hugely popular duet performances from 1970-1982.
In 1967, she began picking up various Female Vocalist of the Year trophies. She and Twitty also won a long string of Duet of the Year awards beginning in 1971. The industry showered her with BMI songwriting honors, Gold Record plaques, a Grammy Award and other accolades. In 1972, she became the first woman in history to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year trophy.
By the mid-1970s, Lynn was an undeniable superstar with many empowering female anthems to her credit. With her kooky humor, scrambled grammar and unpretentious manner, she became a TV talk-show favorite and was featured on the cover of mainstream national publications.
Lynn continued to dominate the charts as the 70s drew to a close, scoring major hits with 1976’s “Somebody Somewhere,” 1977’s “Out of My Head and Back in My Bed” and 1979’s “I’ve Got a Picture of Us on My Mind.” Her 1982 smash hits “I Lie” and “Making Love From Memory” carried her into the new decade.
Two years after she was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, she was back on the charts with the hit, “Heart Don’t Do This to Me.” In 1988, the year she entered the Country Music Hall of Fame, Loretta recorded with k.d. lang. She earned a Gold Record in 1994 with Honky Tonk Angels, a trio CD with Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette.
Doo died in 1996. Numb with grief, Lynn admits that she was lost in a fog for more than a year. But she came back again with a 2000 CD titled Still Country. She also returned to the concert trail.
In 2002, Lynn published a second memoir, Still Woman Enough, and, in 2004, won two Grammy Awards forVan Leer Rose, a collaboration with rocker Jack White, and published You’re Cookin’ It Country, a book of recipes and anecdotes.
Lynn is also one of the most awarded musicians of all time. She has been inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any female recording artist, including The Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and was the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year in 1972. Lynn received Kennedy Center Honors in 2003 and a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. She has won four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and sold more than 45 million records worldwide.
On March 4, 2016, Legacy Recordings will release Full Circle, Lynn’s first new studio album in over 10 years. Produced by Patsy Lynn Russell and John Carter Cash, and recorded at the Cash Cabin Studio in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Full Circle will take listeners on a journey through Lynn’s musical story, from the Appalachian folk songs and gospel music she learned as a child to new interpretations of her classic hits and country standards, to songs newly-written for the project.
Lynn’s life is still a work in progress. She’s still out there on the road, still writing songs and still recording them as only she can. “I ain’t a star – a star is something up in the night sky,” says Loretta Lynn. “People say to me, ‘You’re a legend.’ I’m not a legend. I’m just a woman.
Executive producer Elliott Halpern is the creative director of Yap Films. He has produced, written and/or directed many outstanding award-winning films for U.S. and international television networks. Recent films include Camp X: Secret Agent School for Smithsonian Channel and History Channel (New York Festivals Silver World Medal 2015), and Curse of the Axe for History Channel, UKTV and Discovery International (Silver Hugo, Chicago Film Festival 2014). Among his numerous awards are two U.S. Emmy Awards for Outstanding Investigative Journalism − Long-Form, the Silver Nymph Award at Monte Carlo, the Columbia-duPont Award of the Columbia University School of Journalism and Canada’s most prestigious award for documentaries, the Donald Brittain Award.
Elizabeth Trojian is the director of development and executive producer at Yap Films and an award-winning producer, writer and director. She has worked on and created many television documentaries and series for North American and international broadcasters.
She was the executive producer on the Canadian Screen Award nominated Camp X: Secret Agent School, a feature-length documentary about the secret world of espionage during World War II, which won the New York Festivals’ Silver World Medal in 2015. Curse of the Axe, a feature-length documentary about a metal axe discovered in a Huron village mysteriously pre-dating European contact in North America by 100 years, garnered Trojian a Silver Hugo at the Chicago Film Festival in 2014, a Heritage Toronto Award and a nomination for a Canadian Screen Award. Trojian is also the executive producer and writer of Battle Factoryfor History Channel, UKTV and Discovery International. The series reveals how military and frontline worker gear is made. She is the creator and an executive producer of Science Channel’s Mega Shredders, which won the New York Festivals’ Gold World Medal in 2014.
Before joining Yap Films, Trojian was the co-creator and co-producer of the documentary series The Plastic Fantastic Brain for Discovery US, ZDF and Science Channel. The Plastic Fantastic Brain was nominated for three 2010 Gemini Awards. She was the creator, co-producer and writer on Discovery Channel’s feature documentary The Real Superhumans and the Quest for the Future Fantastic. This film won the 2008 Banff Television Festival Rockie Award for Best Canadian Program. In 2010, she was a writer and story editor on History Channel’s series William Shatner’s Weird or What? and was nominated for a 2011 Gemini Award for Best Writing.
Trojian is currently in production on the feature-length documentaries Mosquito for Discovery Channel,Building Star Trek for Smithsonian Channel and Sniperwatch for History Channel. She is the executive producer for Science Channel’s upcoming series Made by Destruction.
Trojian attended the University of Ottawa for her undergraduate degree and Colgate University for her graduate degree in philosophy.
American Masters Series Executive Producer
For more than two decades, award-winning filmmaker Michael Kantor has created outstanding arts programs for television. He joined American Masters as the series’ executive producer April 2014.
His most recent PBS documentary series, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, hosted by Liev Schreiber, premiered in fall 2013 and was nominated for an Emmy Award. Random House published the companion book. In January 2013, Kantor’s Peabody Award-winning film, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, aired as part of the Great Performances series on PBS. Narrated by Joel Grey, it included performances by Matthew Broderick, Kelli O’Hara, David Hyde Pierce, Marc Shaiman and many other Broadway talents. In 2012, Kantor produced The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories of a Life in the Yiddish Theater with Michael Tilson Thomas, which aired on PBS and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy. Kantor served as executive producer of the special Give Me the Banjo, hosted by Steve Martin, and created Make ’Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, the critically acclaimed six-part documentary series, hosted by Billy Crystal, that debuted in January 2009. His script for episode four, When I’m Bad, I’m Better: The Groundbreakers, co-authored with Laurence Maslon, was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. His landmark six-part series Broadway: The American Musical was hosted by Julie Andrews and honored with the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Nonfiction Series in 2005. That same year, he created three hours of DVD extras for 20th Century Fox’s 40thanniversary release of The Sound of Music.
Kantor wrote, directed and produced the award-winning profile American Masters: Quincy Jones: In the Pocket. With Stephen Ives, he co-directed Cornerstone: An Interstate Adventure for HBO, and produced The West (executive producer Ken Burns). His 20 years of work in documentaries include projects as varied asEGG: the arts show, Coney Island, The Donner Party, Margaret Sanger and Ric Burns’ New York series. As a writer, Kantor created Lullaby of Broadway: Opening Night on 42nd Street, co-authored the companion books to Broadway (Bulfinch) and Make ’Em Laugh (Grand Central Publishing) and has published numerous essays and articles. He is president of Almo Inc., a company that distributes The American Film Theatre series, which includes Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance (starring Katharine Hepburn), Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh (Lee Marvin) and Chekhov’s Three Sisters (Laurence Olivier) among its titles. Kantor has served as a Tony nominator and taught documentary filmmaking at the School for Visual Arts in New York City.