Loretta Lynn, who died Tuesday at 90, was well-known for her tough-woman country music that spanned decades and themes. What may be less well-known about the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter is that she spent the early years of her musical career, before the fame and awards and national recognition, in Whatcom County, just a few miles from the Canadian border.
“Before she became a country music icon, the Kentucky-born Lynn spent time in Washington state where her husband, [Oliver “Mooney” Lynn], had found work on a farm. She sang in taverns at night and, during the day, drove from one radio station to another, changing in the parking lot, then going in with a demo record and asking for airplay,” The Seattle Times reported in 2019 on Ken Burns’ documentary miniseries, “Country Music.”
“It seems improbable that there was a coal miner’s daughter in Custer, Washington,” Burns said at the time. “But there she was.”
Lynn and her husband moved to Custer, Whatcom County, when Lynn was 15, after the mines closed in their native Butcher Hollow, Kentucky.
Lynn composed the song “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” released in March 1960, while she was living in Custer, prompting her and her husband to drive around the country to persuade radio stations to play it, according to a 1981 Times article. The song, which peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard Hot County Songs chart in the summer of 1960, helped springboard Lynn’s musical career.
Learn more about Lynn’s history in Washington:
- Loretta Lynn, coal miner’s daughter and country queen, dies (The Seattle Times, 2022)
- ‘Coal miner’s daughter in Custer, Washington’: Ken Burns documentary explores Country music’s roots, reach (The Seattle Times, 2019)
- Loretta Lynn: How the Country Superstar Got Her Start in Washington State (Northwest Prime Time, 2015)
- Review: Loretta Lynn mixes homespun humor, patriotism and classic songs (The Seattle Times, 2012)
- Loretta Lynn, Bucks Owens, and KTNT (Tacoma Music History)
Highlights of reviews from The Seattle Times’ archive:
- Feb. 15, 1971: “Loretta Lynn and the Nashville Tennesseans were easily the most entertaining performers in two country music shows Saturday night at the Opera House. Miss Lynn, gliding onstage in a lavender-blue chiffon dress after intermission during the 9:30 show, considerably brightened a show whose first half lacked the pacing and sparkle it should have had.”
- Feb. 19, 1973: “Loretta Lynn sang it in the first two country music shows Saturday in the Opera House. And, as she would say, ‘that’s no lie.’ An attractive, slender brunette dressed in a slinky red gown, Miss Lynn looked anything but ‘countrified.’ Her strong voice and relaxed on-stage manner reflected the years and hard work that have gone into making her country music’s Entertainer of the Year (1972) and Top Female Vocalist.”
- Sept. 27, 1981: “Lynn was the perfect finale for the (Puyallup) fair, which yesterday ended a 16-day run. Not only does she have ties to Western Washington, she’s a former blue-ribbon winner for canning at the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden. Capacity audiences of 7,000 at both shows Saturday adored her, giving her standing ovations.”
- Aug. 20, 1982: “The charm of Loretta Lynn lies in her unaffected honesty. Despite her glittery stage costumes and slick, professional show, she seems incapable of phoniness. Her country drawl, fractured grammar and sometimes embarrassing honesty — on Johnny Carson’s show, she’ll talk about her sex life as blithely as others talk about their book or movie — have endeared her to more than just country-music fans.”