THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN OF COUNTRY

By Alanna Nash  – USA Weekend

Country music icon Loretta Lynn recently sat smiling on a small stage in her Coal Miner’s Daughter Museum in remote Hurricane Mills, Tenn., and revealed the secret to her legendary endurance: “staying grounded.”

“I’m proud of my awards,” the 76-year-old singer said at a bash to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a recording artist. “But you just don’t forget where you come from. All I do is close my eyes, and I go back to that little one-room cabin where I lived till I was 11 years old.”

These days, maintaining her humility must be especially tough. Lynn’s new CD, Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn, featuring daughter Patsy and the White Stripes, Kid Rock, Alan Jackson and Carrie Underwood, hits stores Tuesday. Wednesday, she will be honored with a tribute on the CMA Awards.

If ever there was a time for Lynn to rest on her laurels, it would be now. But not this reigning Queen of Country.

The singer still tours year-round. And while so many of the country singers she started out with are now “all crippled up and look like they’re ready to go,” she says, she still sells out shows, “and it’s not all old people. It’s all ages.”

Despite her non-stop schedule, Lynn keeps up with the news (“I like Sarah Palin, but her voice is too high and tinny”) and current pop artists. A scheduling problem kept Pink off the tribute album (“I like her feistiness”), and she takes note of Justin Bieber (“I think he’s a pretty good little singer, and that hair — he ought to have his own line of shampoos”).

But don’t get Lynn started on Lady Gaga’s meat dress or her campaign for same-sex marriage: “I’m still an old Bible girl. God said you need to be a woman and man, but everybody to their own.”

More than most, Lynn has sustained a cruel chain of emotional blows. She has buried not only husband Mooney (in 1996), which she says rendered her “nuttier than a fruitcake,” but her grown son, Jack, a younger brother, and her duet partner, Conway Twitty.

Still, she insists, “you just can’t throw the towel in and say, ‘I’m goin’ to die, too.’ That’s ridiculous. God put you here to do the best you can.”