Loretta Lynn Reflects on Religious Roots Ahead of Her Gospel Music Festival

Loretta Lynn
 Russ Harrington

This weekend at Loretta Lynn's ranch in Hurricane Mills, TN, the legendary vocalist will host the Loretta Lynn Gospel Music Festival with a lineup that includes Grammy winner Jason Crabb, Gospel Music Hall of Fame members The Hoppers, Karen Peck & New River, The Booth Brothers, Brian Free & Assurance, and many more.

"We started it last year, and it went over great. We'll probably be doing this every year from here on out," Lynn tells Billboard, adding that she just might take to the stage herself. "I may come out there and sing with them if they don't run me off."

The event is special to the artists, too. The Hoppers' Dean Hopper tells Billboard, "Our family is thrilled to once again perform at the Loretta Lynn Gospel Fest at the Ranch. The experience is like none other, and I've admired Loretta Lynn for many years. We're gonna have a great time!"

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Gospel music has always been close to Lynn's heart, reaching back to her youth in eastern Kentucky. "My daddy's first cousin was a preacher, Elzie Banks, who I wrote a song about. All of us kids would sing in Sunday school as long as we could carry a tune. Gospel music and church is what I knew. We knew Sunday school, and the preacher, Elzie Banks. We had church in a little one-room schoolhouse that my great-grandfather built." (The song she wrote about Banks, "Elzie Banks," appeared on her 1988 album Who Was That Stranger?)

Lynn has made three gospel albums during her career, including Hymns in 1965 and Who Says God Is Dead! in 1968. Both albums allowed Lynn to include her son, Ernest Ray -- with "When I Hear My Children Pray" on the first and "Mama, Why" on the latter.

"I wrote 'Mama, Why' after my daddy had passed away. I lost him when I was 27. He was only 51," Lynn says.

Fans of the Coal Miner's Daughter will be glad to know that she has quite a bit of unreleased music in the can. "I've got about 90 songs cut right now," she said, confessing that she still gets excited about creating music. "I still love it. It's a way to find out if you can still sing or not."

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Lynn recently performed at the Johnny Cash Music Festival in Arkansas, where she sang "God Bless America Again" with Bobby Bare. Lynn originally recorded the song with Conway Twitty. "Bobby is one of the greatest. When I recorded on Zero [Records], I did one of his songs and it's still in the can. I've thought about re-cutting it."

Twenty-one years after his death, Lynn still gets emotional when talking about Twitty. "He was so special, one of the best country singers there was. It seems like yesterday, but I still miss him."

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Lynn will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at next week's Americana Music Association's Honors & Awards Show. "I'm just thankful for any awards I get," Lynn says. "I never dreamed that I would be good enough to sing a song that people would like. Daddy would come out on the front porch while I was swinging the babies and getting them to sleep and say, 'Loretta, hush your mouth. You can hear you all over Butcher Hollow.' One day I looked at him and said, 'Daddy, what difference does it make? They're all my cousins.' He almost whipped me, but he didn't."

Loretta and her band, The Coal Miners, are still out on the road performing for her dedicated legion of fans. She says the crowds are just as big today as they were in the '70s. "We turn them away everywhere we go. If I go out and there's nobody out there, then it's time to quit!"

Loretta Lynn Tour Dates

Sept.18 Adler Theatre Davenport, IA

Sept. 20 Orpheum Theatre Wichita, KS

Oct. 4 Loretta Lynn Ranch Hurricane Mills, TN

Oct. 10 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN

Oct. 11 Ryman Auditorium Nashville, TN

Oct. 18 The Alabama Theatre North Myrtle Beach, SC

Nov. 6 Von Braun Center Huntsville, AL

Nov. 8 The Harv At Mountaineer Casino New Cumberland, WV

Nov. 22 Uptown Theater Kansas City, MO