In 1960, country newcomer Loretta Lynn and her husband "Mooney" traveled across America on what many country historians call one of the first of what we call 'radio tours' today. One of their destinations was Nashville, where the goal was to try to land a spot on the Grand Ole Opry to perform her top-20 "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl" single. The singer remembers that first trip to Music City.
"We got into town the night before," she recalls. "We spent the night in the car in front of the old Grand Ole Opry house. We didn't have any money, and the next morning, we divided a donut, and took pictures of the Opry. I got my picture made in front of it."
Lynn made it to the stage that trip, and became a frequent guest at the Ryman over the next two years. On September 25, 1962, she became a member of the show via an invitation from then-Opry manager Ott Devine. Last night, the Hall of Fame member celebrated five decades of membership on the WSM Radio show with a special performance at the Opry House.
Playing in front of a packed house, the 'Coal Miners' Daughter' admitted that she still feels the butterflies when she performs on stage at the Opry.
"I get so nervous when I go on anywhere, but the Grand Ole Opry is different. I think any member of the show will say that," she said.
In addition to the headliner last night, many artists appeared on the show who cite her as an influence, performing her songs. Lee Ann Womack recalled meeting her in 1997 when she was promoting her first single, "Never Again, Again" and was amazed to learn that one of her heroes was also a fan. "The first time I had ever met her, I had my first single out, and she had heard it and liked it. She said "Just don't let them push you pop." A nervous wreck, the newcomer said 'What's my Pop?" Womack said she had been influenced by Lynn for many years. "I would sit in my bedroom in Texas and had a lot of her cassette tapes. It was like she was a friend. I felt like I knew her."
Miranda Lambert also felt those emotions when she met the singer at her Hurricane Mills, TN ranch. "I met her when I was asked to do 'Coal Miners' Daughter' with her and Sheryl Crow for the tribute album. It was the best day of my life besides my wedding day. It was overwhelming. I got to sit in her kitchen and just talk to her. I kept reminding myself 'I'm talking to Loretta Lynn.' I'm just thankful she likes me and calls me country," she said, wiping tears from her eyes.
Lynn could identify with both Womack and Lambert, as she became friends with acts such as Kitty Wells and Patsy Cline early in her career. She also paused to reflect on the man who introduced her on stage that first time, future duet partner Ernest Tubb.
"He was such a great friend of mine. If I had a problem, I'd run to him to solve it. He was like a father. He'd sit me down and say 'Now, Loretta, this is how I would handle this.' We were great friends."
Also on the bill last night was Trace Adkins, Bill Anderson, and Lynn's sister, Crystal Gayle.