A Battle of Grit: Dolly Parton vs Loretta Lynn

Posted by: on Apr 16, 2011 | 2 Comments


Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn are cut from the same cloth. One thing that unites them more than anything else, however, is grit. Whether it’s overcoming an impoverished childhood, sexism in the music industry, hell, sexism in LIFE, an abusive husband or the man-snatching claws of other women, these ladies have triumphed over it all and have brought the whole “not taking shit” thing to a whole new level. I respect that. Is it fair to compare their gumption, their grittiness, when I unconditionally adore them both? No. Is it fun? Yes.


Dolly Parton: Parton’s youth is now the stuff of legend. Raised in a one-room cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains with her 11 siblings, Dolly describes her childhood as “dirt poor”. Her introduction to music came through the church, and she began singing on local radio at nine years old.

Loretta Lynn: Raised “in a cabin on a hill in Butcher Holler” with her seven brothers and sisters, Lynn was no stranger to poverty either. After she married at 13, she stopped singing publicly to focus on starting a family, picking it up again at 24 when her husband bought her a guitar for their anniversary.


Dolly Parton: Although some of Dolly’s recordings have been ill-received (“Down from Dover” about a pregnant, unwed teen, was banned from some radio stations) her anthology is largely inoffensive. It’s hard to be offended by “Coat of Many Colors”… unless you hate integrated clothing or poor kids being warm in winter.

Loretta Lynn: Much of Lynn’s catalog has raised eyebrows, with some claiming she’s had more banned songs than any artist in country music history. Her most controversial tracks include “The Pill”, about female liberation via birth control and “Rated X”, about the unfair treatment of divorced women.


Dolly Parton: Dolly’s personal life is pretty boring. She married her current husband Carl Dean at the age of 20, after meeting him outside a Wishy Washy Laundromat in Nashville. Though they have no children of their own, the couple has raised some of Dolly’s younger siblings. Much is made about Dean’s complete absence from the public eye, but Parton insists her husband is simply very private.

Loretta Lynn: Considering how young she wed, it’s pretty astounding that Loretta’s marriage lasted until her husband’s death in 1996. The relationship was unstable, however, with Lynn’s husband cheating on her regularly and at one point walking out while she was giving birth. Sounds rocky, but Loretta insists “he never hit me one time that I didn’t hit him back twice.” At least the abuse was dished out equally.


Dolly Parton: “So with patches on my breaches and holes in both my shoes / In my coat of many colours, I hurried off to school / Just to find the others laughing and makin’ fun of me / In my coat of many colours, my mamma made for me / Oh, I couldn’t understand it, for I felt I was rich / And I told them of the love my mamma sewed in ever stitch / And I told them all the story, mamma told me while she sewed / And how my coat of many colours is worth more than all their clothes.”

Loretta Lynn: “Come on and tell me what you told my friends if you think you’re brave enough / And I’ll show you what a real woman is since you think you’re hot stuff / You’ll bite off more than you can chew if you get too cute or witty / You better move your feet if you don’t wanna eat a meal that’s called Fist City/ If you don’t wanna go to Fist City / You better detour around my town / Cause I’ll grab you by the hair of the head / And I’ll lift you off the ground.”


Dolly Parton: Dolly’s collaborations reach far and wide, including country music royalty such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Kenny Rogers and, of course, Honky Tonk Angels with Loretta Lynn. She’s also worked with contemporary artists like Brad Paisley and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Loretta Lynn: Loretta’s most recent work with Jack White on Van Lear Rose has certainly garnered the most press, but she’s also collaborated with with some of country’s biggest acts, such as Patsy Cline, Conway Twitty and Tammy Wynette.

AND THE GRITTIEST IS: Loretta Lynn. It would be a vast understatement to say this is a tough call. On the one hand you have Dolly, who was brought up in a one-room shack with her parents and 11 siblings (the Paskowitz family may be the only recent brood coming remotely close to this), navigated the music and film industries, creating a media empire around her image, and gave millions back to the impoverished community she came from. On the other, you have Loretta, who married at 13, had six kids, lost her best friend (Patsy Cline), lost her son, and, though she claimed to be suspicious of the women’s lib movement, chose to write songs that advocated for women’s rights while she was at the height of her fame. Both women have demonstrated True Grit (don’t sue me), but Loretta’s life and music are truly the grittiest of all.

Dolly Parton – “Just Because I’m a Woman”

Loretta Lynn – “The Pill”