By Peter Cooper – The Tennessean

The Grammy Salute To Country Music honored Loretta Lynn Tuesday night at the Ryman Auditorium, with numerous stars appearing to sing and speak praises to the woman who rock ’n’ roll singer, songwriter and producer Jack White called “The most important female singer-songwriter of the 20th century.”

Lynn, whose songs including “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” are indelible parts of country music history, was celebrated as a genre-altering force who wrote and sang songs that presented a frank, humorous and strident woman’s viewpoint. Her career began a half-century ago, with the single “Honky Tonk Girl.”

“Country music has never had a more truthful or a more fearless artist than the one we’re honoring here tonight,” said Reba McEntire, who served as the event’s host. “She stood up for all of us women, in an era when ‘Stand By Your Man’ was more than just a song… Loretta did it all. She wrote ’em, she sang ’em and she played ’em.”

McEntire, White, Garth Brooks, Martina McBride, Kid Rock, Gretchen Wilson and Lee Ann Womack appeared at the Grammy tribute to Lynn, who notched 16 No. 1 country singles in a career that has landed her in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Lynn has released 70 albums, has won three Grammy Awards and won a 2010 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award.

One artist unable to be present was last year’s honoree, Vince Gill, but he weighed in with a video appreciation.

“I don’t know of anybody that’s more loved in the history of this music, in the history of this town, than you,” Gill said.

White came to the stage not to sing but to speak about Lynn’s legacy and humanity. He talked about traveling with his White Stripes band mate Meg White, nearing the I-40 exit that leads to Lynn’s museum and homestead. They decided to take the exit.

“Before I knew it, Loretta Lynn was making Meg and I chicken and dumplings at her house,” White said. “During dinner, Loretta was talking about making another album. I said, ‘If you need me to produce that record, I could stop mowing lawns for a summer.’”

White did produce that album, ultimately called Van Lear Rose, and it won a best country album Grammy prize.

“Nobody tells it like it is like Loretta Lynn,” White said.

McEntire opened the show with “If You’re Not Gone Too Long,” and she was followed by Wilson doing “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind)” and Kid Rock singing “I Know How.” Kid Rock and Wilson teamed for “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly,” before Womack delivered “Honky Tonk Girl” and McBride offered “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” and “Love Is The Foundation.”

Lynn herself appeared 40 minutes into the show, accepting the cheers of the crowd and a plaque from The Recording Academy before walking to center stage to sing a duet with Brooks. She was in strong voice as she and Brooks delivered “After The Fire Is Gone,” a song she popularized in a version with the late Conway Twitty. She then walked offstage, hugged Recording Academy president Neil Portnow, and went behind the curtain. No “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and no matter — Tuesday’s event underlined a legacy that isn’t defined by a song, an album or an era.

photo: George Walker IV – The Tennessean