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Country legend Loretta Lynn says country music is dead

By Dr. William H. Baker

Contributing Columnist

In the last few weeks, Loretta Lynn has been quoted often in the media for her declaration that “country music is dead, and I’m getting mad about it.”

Widely recognized for her outspoken lyrics in many of her own compositions, Lynn is obviously not holding back on her opinions about her music of choice.

And she’s not the first country artist to express such an opinion. Larry Cordle, another eastern Kentucky native and Nashville singer-songwriter, was co-writer with Larry Shell of “Murder on Music Row.” That song became a hit for George Strait and Alan Jackson. It was also chosen as Song of the Year in 2000 by the Country Music Association.

Loretta Lynn sings about Butcher Hollow and the Van Leer coalmines, whereas Larry Cordle mentions only Brushy Creek and a small family farm in the section of the Bluegrass State where he was born.

This recent declaration by Lynn came during an interview with fellow country artist Martina McBride. It occurred fifty years after Lynn wrote and recorded “Coal Miner’s Daughter” a 1970 hit song which provided the basis for both her autobiography and the movie with the same title.

Six or seven years before she had a major hit recording or was in the spotlight as a famous country music star, Loretta Lynn and her husband, Oliver Vanetta Lynn stopped at WMIK Radio in Middlesboro to promote her first record. Most fans of Loretta’s knew her husband as “Doolittle,” “Doo,“ or “Mooney.”

It was Doolittle who brought the record into WMIK and explained to John Cawood that it was Loretta’s first recording, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” released in early 1960. For tri-state residents who remember the earlier days of radio broadcasting in this area, the late John Cawood is himself a legend. He and I were on duty on that Saturday morning when the Lynns came by.

We didn’t meet Loretta, by the way. She was apparently too shy to leave the car and enter the station. Also, she had some or all of their children in the car with her. At any rate, memory is that Doolittle was the salesman, the promoter, who was instrumental in his wife’s early career.

Looking back sixty years, when hindsight is 20/20, the two WMIK announcers may have wished they’d been a little more attentive – or aggressive – to the visitors. Later, aspiring artists and major stars were interviewed by Paul Braden and other recognizable names from the WMIK studios (most notable perhaps was Lee Majors, Middlesboro native and a Hollywood superstar who still lives in California.)

Looking ahead, one might ask if Loretta Lynn is right in asserting her fear that country music is dead or is dying. No one in the last twenty years has been convicted of murder on Music Row; let’s hope country music will survive for us and for a new generation to enjoy as we look to 2040.

Dr. William H. Baker is a Claiborne County native and former Middlesboro resident. Email: wbaker@limestone.edu.