The Recording Academy — dispenser of the Grammy awards — honored Loretta Lynn with an affectionate but astonishingly brief musical tribute Tuesday night (Oct. 12) at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
The tribute was the second in the Academy’s Salute to Country Music series. Last year’s honoree was Vince Gill, who, unable to attend, greeted Lynn via video. “I don’t know of anybody who’s more important in the history of this music or the history of this town than you,” he said.
McEntire sashayed onto the stage in a black cocktail dress and got the show rolling with a rousing rendition of Lynn’s cheeky 1967 hit, “If You’re Not Gone Too Long.”
“The whole world knows and loves the coal miner’s daughter from Butcher Holler, Ky.,” McEntire asserted as she moved into her hosting role. “I’ve loved her since the first time I heard her on the radio.”
McEntire praised Lynn for being a groundbreaking feminist.
“Loretta Lynn took on the controversial subjects in country music no one else would touch,” she proclaimed. “For Loretta, no subject was off limits.”
As an example of that daring attitude, McEntire cited Lynn’s 1975 recording of “The Pill,” a paean to the liberating aspects of birth control. Although some radio programmers resisted playing the song, it nonetheless went Top 5.
Wilson then strode into the spotlight to reprise Lynn’s self-penned harangue to a hard-partying husband, “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” Released in late 1966, it became Lynn’s first No. 1 the following year.
Wilson brought out Kid Rock, who shimmied and banged a tambourine against his thigh as he ripped through Lynn’s self-assured 1970 hit, “I Know How.” Then Wilson came back out to duet with the rocker on “You’re the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” a minor attention-getter for Lynn and Conway Twitty in 1978.
McEntire called out Lee Ann Womack to sing “the song that started it all” — “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” Released in 1960, it became Lynn’s first chart record, ultimately topping out at No. 14.
In introducing McBride, McEntire noted that she, too, had taken on harsh subjects in her songs, beginning with spousal abuse and homicide in her 1994 declaration, “Independence Day.”
McBride covered both the tough and tender extremes of Lynn’s emotional spectrum by singing two songs, “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (1966) and “Love Is the Foundation” (1973).
Neil Portnow, the Academy’s president and CEO, noted the tribute was taking place just “three days short” of the 50th anniversary of Lynn’s first appearance on the Ryman stage. He commended her for being “an early powerful advocate for women.”
Portnow then introduced eight-time Grammy winner Jack White of the White Stripes. It was White who produced Lynn’s 2004 album, Van Lear Rose. He recalled that he and band member Meg White were returning from a recording session in Memphis when, on impulse, they stopped at Lynn’s dude ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn.
“Before I knew it, Loretta was making Meg and I chicken and dumplings,” he said. And it wasn’t long after that, he continued, that he and Lynn were in her bedroom sifting through songs she’s written but never recorded. From these came Van Lear Rose, which won a Grammy for best country album.
In addition, the Lynn-White duet from Van Lear Rose, “Portland, Oregon,” won a Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals.
“I think she’s the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century,” White said.
Wearing a white, diaphanous, floor-length gown with full sleeves, the 75-year-old Lynn came to the stage and accepted two awards from Portnow: the Salute to Country Music trophy and the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“When I got here tonight, I noticed they had my picture up,” said Lynn, ever the wide-eyed country girl. “I don’t know what to say except, ‘Thank you.'”
With that she walked into the wings, but White quickly brought her back out to wave regally at her sea of admirers which included her younger and still-radiant sister, Crystal Gayle.
She remained onstage while Brooks, clad all in black and carrying an acoustic guitar, came out to join her in singing “After the Fire Is Gone.” Her voice sounded as strong and certain as when she and Twitty first debuted the song in 1971. It went on to win a best country vocal Grammy.
As the crowd stood and cheered, Brooks doffed his hat, hugged Lynn and escorted her off stage.
The audience was still on its feet when McEntire emerged to bid it farewell.
“With everything in the industry changing so quickly,” she said, “it’s more important than ever to celebrate country music — real country music.”View photos from the Recording Academy’s Salute to Loretta Lynn.