The night before Loretta Lynn made her Grand Ole Opry debut in 1960, the 28-year-old mother of four and her husband Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn were so poor they slept in front of the building in their car and shared a donut for breakfast the next morning.
Lynn was inducted as an Opry member in 1962, and Tuesday night she was honored with a commemorative Opry show celebrating her 50th anniversary.
“When they put me on the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ I was so nervous I don’t remember anything other than patting my foot to the songs,” Lynn recalled before the show. “I get so nervous any time I go on anywhere, but the ‘Grand Ole Opry’ is different. I think any Grand Ole Opry member will say that. When you go on the ‘Opry’ it’s absolutely a different feeling, and it’s something that you never feel again.”
Tuesday night’s tributes came from artists including Lynn’s sister Crystal Gayle, Lee Ann Womack, Miranda Lambert and trio Pistol Annies, which made its Opry debut.
At 7:30 p.m. Lynn — dressed in a floor-length, gold-sequined gown — was escorted out to her seat front row center at the Grand Ole Opry House just in time to see Womack perform her song “I Know How.” Gayle followed with “Please Help Me I’m Falling (in Love With You),” “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind),” and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.”
Before the show Gayle said that being present for Lynn’s 50th anniversary Opry celebration “means more to me than I think a lot of people would think.”
“I’ve been with her for those 50 years from being there when she first started out,” Gayle said. “I’ve seen all of the ups and the downs and the bumps in the road and the highlights … she is a great sister.”
Born April 14, 1932, in what’s now known as Butcher Holler in Kentucky, the 80-year-old Lynn overcame her impoverished upbringing to become a pioneer for women in country music.
Her music reflected a strong-willed wife and mother that challenged social norms of the time with songs including “Rated ‘X’ “ and “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin (With Lovin’ on Your Mind).” Songs such as these made her country music’s first successful woman to write and record her own songs. It’s a path that led Lynn — married at age 15 — to the Opry stage for the first time in 1960. Two years later she became an Opry member and charted her first Top 10 country hit “Success.”
She is a Country Music Hall of Famer, the Country Music Association’s first female entertainer of the year, the first artist to chart Billboard singles in six decades, and the woman behind the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” song, New York Times’ best-selling autobiography and best-picture Oscar-nominated film.
A tearful Lambert declared Lynn was the reason she was “standing here” and then promised she wasn’t “going to cry all night long.”
“You haven’t sang until you get to sing with Loretta Lynn and we’re here to honor her tonight to just be here to celebrate her,” Lambert said.
Lynn called the 50th anniversary tribute “a great honor” and said she “couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s the ‘Grand Ole Opry,’ what else can you say?” Lynn said. “And I’m a member of the Grand Ole Opry, so we’re all here.”
Whispering Bill Anderson, who also performed, said he knew “how Loretta feels tonight.”
“Last July I got to celebrate my 50th anniversary as a member of the Opry family,” he told the audience. “There’s nothing quite like it.”
It was after 8:30 p.m. when Lambert took the stage to perform her hit “White Liar” along with “Honky Tonk Girl,” which was the first song Lynn performed on the ‘Opry.’
“Oh dear Lord, I’m so glad to be here tonight,” Lambert said from the stage. “The founder of women in country music is sitting right there on the front row tonight.”
Trio Pistol Annies performed its original “Housewife’s Prayer” as well as Lynn’s “Fist City,” which they frequently include in their shows.
Though health struggles in recent years have caused canceled shows, Lynn still tours. Her performance on the Tuesday Night Opry was met with a sold-out crowd at the Grand Ole Opry House, and she sang “They Don’t Make ’Em Like My Daddy Anymore” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough.”
“Thank you, all. I’m telling you this dress weighs 50 pounds,” Lynn quipped from the stage. “I’m not kidding.”
She introduced Trace Adkins and the two performed a duet on “Lead Me On” with Adkins singing the part originally delivered by Conway Twitty.
“That’s one of the thrills of my career right there,” Adkins said as he left the stage.
Following her performance, the Opry’s general manger Pete Fisher presented Lynn with an 18-karat pink and gold diamond watch from Johnathon Arndt.
“I’d like to say the greatest moment of my life was when they inducted me into the Grand Ole Opry,” Lynn said. “It’s a moment you only feel once in your life.”
She then invited Womack, Gayle and Pistol Annies back on stage to close the show with an all-sing on her signature “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”