A storied and incredibly lived life was memorialized during "Coal Miner's Daughter: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Loretta Lynn." The 90-minute, CMT-broadcasted Grand Ole Opry event felt as comfortable and gratifying as a Southern, countrified fried chicken dinner on a Sunday evening.
For an artist who lived 90 years, long enough, as Brandi Carlile -- one of 38 artists to honor Lynn live or via video at the ceremony -- noted, to be her hero's hero, Lynn's story is relatively well known. However, a victory of the proceedings was in noting how well-regarded Lynn was, too.
Just as before any Sunday dinner, a benediction was offered. In this case, it was the second show-stopping performance of the weekend by Wynonna Judd. Following a legendary set at the Bridgestone Arena, she was joined by her step-father Larry Strickland and The Gaithers for a stirring rendition of the Christian hymn "How Great Thou Art."
Stars from film, television and music highlighted the lineup. Both Jenna Bush Hager and Hoda Kotb – co-hosts of NBC's Today Show – appeared. Also, three generations of country icons were represented by everyone from Sheryl Crow, Barbara Mandrell and Tanya Tucker to tape-recorded remembrances from Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift represented.
Also, Sissy Spacek – who played Lynn in the legendary 1980 biopic "Coal Miner's Daughter" – highlighted meeting her after a concert and being prepared to tell her that she would pass on the role regretfully. Instead, however, upon meeting her, Spacek was "thunderstruck" by her presence. Grateful for the iconic country artist remaining a presence in her life long after the film's release, she valued her friendship as a person who filled the roles of mother, sister and girlfriend equally.
Upon hitting the stage, country music power couple Faith Hill and Tim McGraw highlighted how the Country Music Hall of Famer's material was the foundation of the performance catalogs of "local singers and cover bands" worldwide. Hill, intermittently between being overcome with tear-filled fits of sadness, noted that Lynn "shredded boundaries and blazed trails."
When Americana Award-winning artist Margo Price took the stage in a sequined beige gown and began to sing Lynn's 1975 classic "The Pill," it became readily apparent that the struggles which Lynn endured and survived for the creative freedom of women artists were not in vain. Lynn was once threatened with being banned from the Opry if she performed the song. However, Price – herself a groundbreaking rule-bender with a devil-may-care streak – performing a stunning rendition was one of the special's standout moments.
Alongside Price's performance, the victory of Lynn's life being one where the lives and times of fearless women were front, center, and celebrated, was highlighted with multiple well-received performances at the venerable country music venue.
Alan Jackson sat on a stool in the Opry stage's legendary circle and recalled how much – because she was "sweet and genuine, loved Southern gospel music" – Lynn reminded him of his mother. Jackson is a resolute artist who appears rarely moved to create moments of heart-wrenching empathy. However, as he sang "Where Her Heart Has Always Been," a song he wrote and recorded in 2021 in honor of his mother, it received a well-deserved standing ovation.
Before Keith Urban's fanciful, banjo-strummed performance of Lynn's 1971 hit "You're Looking at Country," he noted that he was her date for the 2005 CMT Music Awards. He also shared a voicemail from the singer-songwriter left before her 86th birthday in which she plainly stated, "Having a birthday and I want to see your butt there."
Urban's wry and heartfelt smile amid the 4,400-person crowd at the Opry sharing a laugh with him is a testament to the universal love felt for what Hill later referred to as Lynn's "honest, fierce, proud, wise, funny and truthful" behavior serving as a showcase of the genre's most deeply connective traits for country music's artists and fans alike.
Regarding fried chicken, the fact that Lynn's connection with rock artist and producer Jack White was solidified over a dinner of chicken, dumplings and buttered bread was noted before White took the stage to perform his 2004-produced Lynn classic "Van Lear Rose."
White's work with Lynn was further highlighted via a video shown to the packed-to-the-rafters Opry and the crowd at home. In the clip, Lynn tells the story of her 1960 single "Whispering Sea," the first song she ever wrote -- while sitting in a tree as her husband, Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn, was fishing in a creek below.
In a fact that surprised nobody in attendance at the Grand Ole Opry upon viewing a two-decade-old recording of Lynn and White's duet on "Whispering Sea," Lynn – posthumously, even – was still the best performer on the show.
Her ties to her family continue her legacy. Her granddaughter, Emmy Russell – frequently highlighted in performances in Lynn's later years – joined another notable country music progeny, Lukas Nelson, for a cover of their grandmother and father's 2016 duet "Lay Me Down."
The tandem singing the lyric "I'll be at peace when they lay me down" resonated powerfully given the circumstance.
The show closed with The Highwomen (as represented by Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Amanda Shires and Brittney Spencer) offering a spirited take on Lynn's now timeless epic, "Coal Miner's Daughter."
In total, 90 minutes summed up a life driven by a love of family and fans with brevity – in a quote often attributed to Shakespeare – being the soul of wit. A minute longer, and it could've easily been a room overflowing with tears. But instead, Lynn's fans saw a glimpse of the heartwarming value of themselves and their lives reflected and revered via her songs, forever.
Perhaps, more than a television special, the legacy of Lynn's life as equality and truth being served by the country music industry is where the most outstanding value lies.
Coal Miner's Daughter: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Loretta Lynn — A Setlist
Wynonna Judd, The Gaithers, Larry Strickland - How Great Thou Art
Keith Urban - You're Lookin' At Country
Tanya Tucker - Blue Kentucky Girl
Darius Rucker - Fist City
Alan Jackson - Where Her Heart Has Always Been
George Strait - Don't Come Home A Drinkin'
Little Big Town - Let Her Fly
Jack White - Van Lear Rose
Lukas Nelson, Emmy Russell - Lay Me Down
Margo Price - The Pill
Brandi Carlile - She's Got You (Patsy Cline cover)
The Highwomen - Coal Miner's Daughter
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Loretta Lynn's truth and excellence celebrated at star-studded tribute