In the 1960s and early ‘70s, when Loretta Lynn was at her commercial peak, country hits were notably short musical affairs.
“Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” ran a quaint two minutes and nine seconds. “Fist City” came in at 2:13. “You’re Lookin’ At Country” was a scant 2:20.
So it was apropos that when the Recording Academy honored the Coal Miner’s Daughter Tuesday, it took just 45 minutes — short and sweet and pretty neat. Host Reba McEntire started the night off with a zippy western-swing version of “If You’re Not Gone Too Long,” bolstered by the Time Jumpers’ triple-fiddle section, pass-around solos and a walking stand-up bass.
From there, a parade of stars trotted out their takes on a mix of classic songs and overlooked material. Kid Rock turned “I Know How” into a gritty piece of country-soul, Martina McBride delivered a forceful interpretation of the gorgeous ballad “Love Is The Foundation,” and Lee Ann Womack added a biting tone to Loretta’s first hit, “I’m A Honky Tonk Girl.”
That song was released 50 years ago, starting off a career that’s one of the most important in country music history. She was the first woman to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award, an undisputed addition to the Country Music Hall of Fame and “a strong, independent female voice,” as Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow noted.
The Academy presented her its Merit Award and also honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award she was unable to pick up at a previous ceremony this year.
“Nobody tells it like it is like Loretta Lynn,” offered rocker Jack White, who produced her Grammy-winning album Van Lear Rose. “I think she’s the greatest female singer-songwriter of the 20th century. You can’t talk me out of it.”
The event was held at the Ryman Auditorium, the same stage where Loretta made her Grand Ole Opry debut 50 years ago. Friday is the exact anniversary of that night.
On Nov. 9, she’ll be recognized again with an entire album of covers, Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Tribute To Loretta Lynn. Loretta, Miranda Lambert and Sheryl Crow offer up a new version of the title track on the CD, which also includes appearances by Alan Jackson, Allison Moorer, Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Gretchen Wilson and Kid Rock joined voices to honor Loretta’s intentionally squirrelly Conway Twitty duet “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” and Loretta took part in the evening’s final song, “After The Fire Is Gone,” in which Garth Brooks took Conway’s part. Loretta was firm and passionate, and Garth stayed off mic during the harmony parts on the chorus, appropriately allowing Loretta to dominate the sound on her big night.
“I really didn’t know that this night’s for me, but I sure am proud,” Loretta said. “I don’t know what to say except thank you.”
Short and sweet and pretty much perfect.