A “Coal Miner’s Daughter” sings for America

Studio 360

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Studio360. For more, listen to the audio above.

In 1970, a country song about growing up in hard times in the in the Appalachian Mountains hit number one on Billboard’s country music charts. The success of “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” by Loretta Lynn was a surprise, even to her. “You wouldn’t think that anybody else would be interested in your life that much, you know?” Lynn says, recalling the success of this autobiographical tune. She was skeptical about the song’s audience because, “there ain’t that many coal miner’s daughters.”

Songwriter/producer Jack White of The White Stripes, told PRI’s Studio 360 that the song had a much broader appeal. To him, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is the story of unrepresented Americans. “She is telling the tale that a million other Appalachian American people never got to tell about their own life story, and how beautiful of a thing when someone who is in a position of power can relate a story for people who don’t have a voice.”

Musician Harold Ray Bradley describes Lynn’s song another way: “When I hear Loretta singing, I hear America singing.”

With songs like “The Pill,” and “One’s on the Way,” Loretta Lynn broke ground by speaking honestly from a woman’s perspective. White sees Lynn as the “ultimate feminist songwriter.” “She told me 14 of her songs had been banned by country radio over the years,” White says. “And you know if you have your music banned, it’s probably got some deeper cultural meaning.”

At the song’s end, Lynn sings about her childhood home, which has crumbled away. This year, the Library of Congress added “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to the National Recording Registry, ensuring that the memories of an American childhood are permanently preserved. 

PRI’s Peabody Award-winning “Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen” from WNYC is public radio’s smart and surprising guide to what’s happening in pop culture and the arts. Each week, Kurt Andersen introduces you to the people who are creating and shaping our culture. Life is busy — so let “Studio 360” steer you to the must-see movie this weekend, the next book for your nightstand, or the song that will change your life.

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