Singer Crystal Gayle Reveals Her Most Important Life Lessons After Long and Storied Career

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Crystal Gayle’s mother liked to say that her youngest child could sing before she could walk. “I think music was in my soul from the very beginning,” the Grammy-winning artist tells Closer. Like her other siblings, including her eldest sister, the late country music icon Loretta Lynn, Crystal grew up surrounded by song. “My mother would sing, so I’m sure as a baby I was just singing along,” Crystal says. “She’d sometimes pick up the banjo and sing ‘Pretty Polly’ and all these great old songs.”

As a solo artist, Crystal found success with a country-pop hybrid sound that made her a star in 1977 with the hit, “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” She continued her streak into the 1980s, becoming one of the most successful crossover artists of the era. This season, Crystal’s on tour. (Visit her official website for dates.) She also recently duetted with Pat Boone on a new version of her 1982 hit “You and I,” which appears on Pat’s new album, Country Jubilee.

Tell us a little about your childhood.

"My daddy worked in the mines, but then we moved to Indiana when I was about 4, because the mine had closed. He was working at a factory mill when he passed. I was about 8 when that happened."

That must have been so hard for you to lose your dad so young.

"I was very shy, and afterward I sort of went more inside. Different people handle grief differently. So, my mother would make me sing for everybody. I think she was trying to pull out my personality again."

Do you remember what you sang?

"Well, I’m sure it was some of my sister’s songs. Mostly I’d sing what was popular on the radio. Lesley Gore was one of my favorites."

When did you realize you wanted to sing professionally?

"Oh, I always knew I was going to be a singer. But I thought that the business was easier because I saw my sister. She put out a song, it would be number one. She encouraged me; but it is a hard business."

Were you worried about being compared to Loretta?

"Loretta told me, 'We have one Loretta Lynn, we don’t need another.' She knew I had to make my own way. She said, 'You will only be compared, so don’t record what I would record.' It was the best advice ever."

Did a pop sound come easily to you?

"Yes. I grew up singing in school with the choir’s swing groups. I sang with my brother’s country band on the weekends. I had friends in bands that were a little more rock. I’d sing it all, everywhere I could, because I loved singing and I loved all different styles."

Your birth name is Brenda, but your record company changed your name. Does anyone still call you Brenda?

"I answer to both, but Crystal is definitely me now. When I first started, I wanted to stay Brenda, but Brenda Lee was on the same label. Loretta thought of Crystal. She said I was bright and shiny."

That’s sweet! What’s been your proudest musical achievement?

"Oh, there are so many moments. Winning the Grammy, the CMA and AMC — all the different awards that came my way. But working with Bob Hope, Dean Martin, meeting presidents — it’s all been special. Becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry. They brought me into the family in 2017, and my sister Loretta did the honors. I was very touched by that."

What are you proudest of beyond your music career?

"Well, of course, having children. I have a daughter and a son, and my son has two boys. Being a grandmother, or Yaya, as I’m called, is wonderful. We’re Yaya and Papu. Björn is the youngest, he’s 3. We have a lot of fun together."

Was it hard to raise children while recording and touring?

"I slowed down with the children. Catherine, who is my oldest, actually traveled until it was time to go to school. I didn’t want to just homeschool, or just have someone come out and tutor her as we’re on the road. I wanted her to have that [normal] life because I enjoyed my time in school."

You still have your beautiful long hair. Is it hard to manage?

"Not really. I keep saying I’m going to cut it to a style that would fit me more now, but it’s hard to get rid of something that’s been with you for so long. The only reason I had long hair is because I couldn’t style it."

What is the longest you’ve let it grow?

"The longest it ever got was about 4 inches on the ground. In heels, I could still step on it! But that was like no, I’ve got to cut it. All the girls in my family could have really long hair. We grow it really fast. I think it’s because of our American Indian blood. We’re very proud of it."

You’ve been married to your husband, Bill, since 1971. What’s your secret to a long marriage?

"You have to have give and take. There are definitely days when we want to kill each other, but you have to know when to let your partner breathe. It can’t be one-sided. You both have to work at it."

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?

"To be true to yourself. I know that I couldn’t go in and record songs I didn’t like, or do a dance routine that’s not me. You have to do things your own way."

What’s the greatest thing about being the age you are?

"Well, I’m happy to have achieved this age! What’s the alternative if I hadn’t? I’m grateful that I feel well enough to still do concerts. It can be very brutal touring. And I love seeing the friends I’ve made through the years. I feel very fortunate to have had a career that went beyond number one records and has been consistent. I’m very grateful."