TMU was on hand at the Opry House during the moving live broadcast hosted by Jenna Bush Hager
CMT’s special Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Loretta Lynn was as star-studded as the rhinestone evening gowns that the late Country Music Hall of Famer made her trademark onstage attire.
Wynonna Judd, joined by Larry Strickland and the Gaithers, opened the memorial with a slow-burning “How Great Thou Art.” Wy — who is still grieving the loss of another country legend, her mother Naomi — looked visibly heartbroken as the words rang out, even taking a breath to stop some tears.
Another emotional moment came about midway through the uninterrupted telecast. Faith Hill, alongside her husband Tim McGraw, broke down in tears describing her friendship with Loretta Lynn.
Throughout the night, country stars from throughout the last six decades took to the Opry’s famous circle to tell stories, sing songs, and celebrate the life of a “barrier-shredding” artist. Barbara Mandrell made a rare appearance to talk about the kinship women singers in country music had with each other in the last half of the 20th century. She then introduced Tanya Tucker. Tucker, a Texan, offered Loretta’s ballad “Blue Kentucky Girl.”
But it wasn’t all girl power. George Strait gave his all on “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (with Lovin’ on Your Mind).” Keith Urban played a funny voicemail that Loretta had left him, inviting him to a big birthday celebration. “I came running then, and I came running now. I will always be there for Loretta Lynn and her family,” he said. He then proceeded to play a rousing, acoustic version of “You’re Lookin’ at Country.”
Strait and Urban did not switch up any of the pronouns. Neither did Darius Rucker when he sang “Fist City.” The crowd did not laugh at these macho cowboys singing a woman’s song. Rather, they listened respectfully as these men honored Loretta by interpreting the very personal pieces of her own life that she shared through her music.
Alan Jackson offered the only non-Lynn performance of the night. Talking first about how his own mother and Loretta were a lot alike, he explained he asked the Lynn family if he could sing a song he wrote when his mom passed. They graciously allowed this, and the crowd seem to agree that the quiet “Where Your Heart Has Always Been,” described Loretta to a T. They gave it a standing ovation.
The sense all night was that Loretta Lynn was country music’s favorite grandmother. Martina McBride felt this throughout her friendship with Lynn, as she would end phone calls by telling the young up-and-comer, “stop by any time.” Rucker shared that after dinner with her and White Stripes singer and Van Leer Rose producer Jack White, Ms. Loretta sent them home with leftover dumplings, some bread, and a stick of butter.
Where grandchildren are concerned, the well of talent continues to run deep in the Lynn family. Her granddaughter Emmy Russell sang the one and only duet Loretta ever sang with Willie Nelson. She was joined by Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson for “Lay Me Down.” That young Lukas sounds exactly like his father earned audible gasps from the crowd and an immediate standing ovation after the song.
Brandi Carlile gave perhaps the best vocal performance of the night with “The Pill,” the controversial hit for Loretta that spoke about the mainstreaming of birth control for women. Carlile also earned a standing ovation.
The night closed with the Highwomen lineup of Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires, Natalie Hemby, and Brittney Spencer singing, what else? “A Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It is a song that encapsulates two truths: It’s who she was at her core as a person, but it’s also a song about changing circumstances of an impoverished upbringing.
Photos above the stage showed Lynn throughout different stages of her career. It truly is remarkable that all those stars in that room tonight shared one common understanding: One woman, from a holler in Kentucky, can change how women are treated in the music industry and in society as a whole. This night brought those accomplishments into focus.
Like Loretta told the hundreds of friends she made in her lifetime, I feel I can now say, “Love you, Honey.”
Two additional commercial-free encores will air on Wednesday, November 2nd at 8 pm ET/PT and Sunday, November 6th at 11 am ET/PT. The special will also be made available on Paramount+ in early 2023.