George Strait, Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Martina McBride, Brandi Carlile, Little Big Town, Wynonna, Martina McBride, Tanya Tucker and more took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry House Sunday night to pay homage to Loretta Lynn during a heartfelt and often emotional celebration of her life often told in her voice and in her words.
"To my friends, thank you for giving me such a great life," Lynn said in a pre-recorded message. "I have never taken it or you for granted. Because of you, my kids didn't have to grow up poor the way I did. As a mother, I didn't have to go to bed heartbroken. What you gave me allowed me to give them a better life. I hope you know what a gift that is. I have shared my story so many times through my songs, through my books, through my movie. I have tried to give back to you as much as I could, even though I know I can't. I could never repay you for the life and the love that you've given to me. Thank you. I've traveled all over the world, but I never got to see much, that is, except for you – my fans, my friends. I want you to know that I saw and remember every one of you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."
Lynn died in her sleep on Oct. 4 at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee.
Fans who couldn't attend her life celebration can catch commercial free encore showings of the memorial service at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday on CMT and 11 a.m. ET Sunday on CMT. "COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER: A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LORETTA LYNN" will also be available on Paramount+ in early 2023.
Jenna Bush Hager hosted the event and said that Lynn was the only one who could get away with calling her father, former president George W. Bush "Little George" to his face. Bush said thousands of people started lining up at 4 a.m. Sunday to gain entry to Lynn's celebration of life. She called the country queen hilarious and gutsy and recounted that when Lynn was inducted into The Grand Ole Opry as a member in 1962, she said it was the greatest moment of her life.
"Tonight, even after she is gone, she fills it once again," Hager said. "Loretta once told me that her greatest regret was that her beloved daddy didn't get to hear her sing 'Coal Miner's Daughter' but that her faith taught her that one day she would sing it to him – she would sing it with him."
Wynonna, along with her stepfather Larry Strickland and the Gaither Vocal Band, kicked off the service with a dramatic, harmony-rich version of "How Great Thou Art." The vocals boomed through the Opry House when the men joined Judd on the choruses. Large photos of Lynn hung over the stage, and elaborate sprays of yellow flowers lined the back of the stage. The emotional performance earned a standing ovation from the audience.
Urban walked out carrying his banjo and full of his favorite stories about the icon. He perched on a stool, explained he was grateful to be there, and shared the anecdote about the time he accompanied Lynn to the 2005 CMT Awards. Then he pulled out his phone to share a recording of a phone message that Lynn had left him in 2018.
"Hey Keith, This is Loretta. I'm having a party, and I want to see your butt there," she said.
Urban said he came running then, just like he came running Sunday night to honor her.
"I'll always come running for Ms. Loretta," he said.
Urban played Lynn's hit "You're Lookin' at Country" and finished with "God bless you, Loretta."
Kacey Musgraves appeared via video, as did Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert and Kid Rock, who all shared their memories of Lynn. Musgraves said she and Lynn talked about ghosts, spirits and fried chicken, while Rock recalled her coming to his parties.
Mandrell took the stage to share her admiration for Lynn and said that she used to watch "Coal Miner's Daughter" on the back of her tour bus. She called Lynn a "megastar" but remembered her as "kind, generous and loving."
McGraw and Hill walked out, and Hill tearfully shared her memories of Lynn, often having to stop mid-speech to regain her composure.
"Loretta sang songs that shocked a whole lot of people," Hill said. "She was fierce and proud of who she was and how she lived her life. She didn't just push boundaries for women in country music; she shredded them."
Darius Rucker tackled her hit "Fist City," and McBride recalled Lynn inducting her into The Grand Ole Opry.
"She was funny and fun and wise and just always Loretta,” McBride said. “She paid attention to our careers and made us feel like we were special to her and like she was in our corner. And I feel part of her legacy now is that it is up to us to mentor and make sure we all know we have each other’s backs and that the ones coming up the ladder feel our support, too. That we are available and we can now say, ‘I love you, honey. Come see me anytime.”
Jackson walked out holding his guitar, sat on a stool, and explained how Lynn's personality reminded him of his mother. He said he never told her that, but he played the song he wrote for his mother, "Where Her Heart Has Always Been."
Strait is almost always a man of few words and didn't break the trend Sunday night. He received one of the biggest responses from the audience for his version of Lynn's No. 1 hit "Don't Come Home A Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)."
There was a segment dedicated to Lynn's duet partners that included Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and her most recent collaborator, Jack White. Margo Price recounted how the White Stripes dropped by Lynn's house for chicken and dumplings and asked White to produce an album for her that went on to win a Grammy Award.
White appeared on stage with just his guitar. He said nothing but launched into a passionate, rocking version of "Van Lear Rose."
Lynn's granddaughter Emmy Russell and Willie Nelson's son Lukas Nelson sang a tender "Lay Me Down" and Russell said she hadn't performed on stage since her grandmother took a step back from stage shows several years ago.
Their performance earned one of the night's longest standing ovations.
The service didn't shy away from controversy and shared how adverse the country community – including The Grand Ole Opry – was to Lynn's groundbreaking song "The Pill." The Opry threatened to ban the song. Lynn said if they did, she'd quit the Opry.
In a shimmering floor-length gown that Lynn would have admired, Price played the song.
More footage of Lynn rolled across the screen. She talked about how she didn't think a "girl" would ever win Entertainer of the Year. In 1972, she became the first to win the title from the Country Music Association.
"You have to be different, great or first, and I was a little different," she said.
She also explained she never wanted to say anything to hurt anyone, and that's how she wanted to be remembered – just as a good person.
The memorial ended about 90 minutes after it started, with Carlile promising to "pay it forward as long as they let me do this job." Carlile belted "She's Got You" in one of the most vocally stunning performances of the night and then joined The High Women with Brittney Spencer to close the show with "Coal Miner's Daughter."
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