WATCH: Loretta Lynn Plays ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and Other Iconic Songs on the Ed Sullivan Show

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Sylvia Pitcher/Redferns)

We may have lost Loretta Lynn recently, but her astounding country music legacy will live on forever. A series of videos have recently surfaced of Lynn performing on the Ed Sullivan Show in the 1970s, and she looks just as radiant as she did up until her death. She had an air of beauty and grace about her that lit up a stage.

Loretta Lynn appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on October 11, 1970, and again on May 30, 1971. During the first appearance, she performed “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” two of her most famous hits. For her second performance, she sang “Coal Miner’s Daughter” again, plus “I Wanna Be Free” and the title track from her gospel album, “God Bless America Again.” She also sang “Better Move It On Home” with Jack Jones, a song that was popularized by her contemporaries Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton.

Loretta Lynn Passes Away at 90: Behind the Star’s Most Iconic Song

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” is a song that nearly everyone knows. It was highly regarded and praised when it was released in 1970, and quickly became Loretta Lynn’s signature song. It’s autobiographical, in that it tells the story of Lynn’s childhood as a coal miner’s daughter in the 1930s.

Lynn was born in 1932 in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky. Her father was a hardworking coal miner, who eventually died in 1959 of a stroke while also battling black lung from years of coal mining. The song not only tells of her father, but of her mother as well. Lynn wrote about her mother tirelessly doing household chores, doing the washing until her fingers bled, and reading the Bible by coal-oil light. Although, Lynn stated that although the song sounds like a complete account of her childhood, it doesn’t even scratch the surface. “The song doesn’t tell half of it,” she told American Songwriter in 2020. “If I told the whole story nobody would believe it now anyway.”

According to Lynn, she wrote the song on a “$17 guitar. It didn’t stay in tune. And $17 was a lot of money, ’cause at the time we didn’t have any money.” She composed the entire song in 1969, writing both the lyrics and the music. “Every word is true,” she said. “My daddy would work all night in the coal mine. During the day he would work in the cornfields. There were ten of us. He had to make a living for us.”

“Coal Miner’s Daughter” was critically acclaimed, and inspired the 1980 film of the same name starring Sissy Spacek. Critics Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann wrote in their 2003 book Finding Her Voice: The History of Women in Country Music, “She stuck out her chin to defend poor folks culture […] Like the lady, herself, Loretta’s songs shoot from the hip. Her pride is in her working-class background.”