The country music industry wouldn't be the same without living legend Loretta Lynn, but before she became a country star, she was a housewife in Custer, Washington.
Saying that Loretta Lynn's life has been extraordinary would be an understatement. She married at 15 and welcomed her first child at 16 – many years before making it big as an artist.
Lynn signed her first contract in 1960 when she already had four children. She ended up raising six, but her two oldest passed away sooner than expected.
Portrait of Loretta Lynn in Nashville, Tennessee circa 1961 [left]. Lynn and four of her children, Jack, Betty Sue, Patsy, and Peggy [right] | Source: Getty Images - Instagram.com/taylalynnfinger
LORETTA LYNN'S ROAD TO MOTHERHOOD
The "I'm A Honky Tonk Girl" singer married Oliver "Doolittle" Vanetta in 1948 even though she was only 15 years old and they had known each other for only a month. That November, they welcomed their first child, Betty.
By the time Lynn was 20 years old, she and her talent manager husband were already raising four children: Betty, Jack, Cissie, and Ernest. Lynn would stay home with the kids while Vanetta worked, but they barely had enough money to make ends meet.
Their lives changed after Vanetta heard Lynn singing while doing chores around the house. He noticed she was talented and bought her a guitar. Lynn taught herself to play it and joined The Trailblazers in the late 1950s.
Loretta Lynn on February 24, 1975 | Source: Getty Images
In 1960, they participated in a televised contest in Tacoma, Washington. Lynn's performance was so outstanding that Zero Records co-founder Norm Burley offered her a contract.
Four years later, when Lynn had already become one of the best-selling female artists in country music, she welcomed twins Peggy and Patsy. Lynn once admitted she felt sorry for her younger kids and explained:
"I don't worry about the older kids. They remember what it was like when we were poor. But the twins have always had everything they ever wanted."
Loretta Lynn and her husband Oliver "Doolittle" Vanetta on February 27, 1975 | Source: Getty Images
Fortunately, Lynn's children became successful individuals, but her two eldest faced untimely deaths. Here are the details of the lives and careers of Vanetta and Lynn's kids.
Things took a tragic turn on July 24, 1984.
Loretta Lynn on June 11, 2011 in Manchester, Tennessee | Source: Getty Images
BETTY SUE LYNN, HER MOTHER'S "BIG FRIEND," DIED TOO SOON
Lynn's oldest daughter, Betty, was born in Washington in 1948 and became the "shortest baby" in the hospital's history. While pregnant, the country music star was sure Betty would be a boy and was ready to name her Jack.
When Lynn learned that she was having a girl, she cried, thinking Vanetta would be disappointed. Luckily, he was "glad" they had a girl. Lynn had such a strong connection with Betty that she could tell if her daughter was sick or happy from her dreams.
Like her mother, Betty married when she was still a teenager. The lucky one was Paul Markworth, and they welcomed two daughters, Loretta and Audrey.
Over the years, Betty improved her songwriting skills and wrote a few songs for her mother with Tracey Lee as her alias, including "Love's Not Where Love Should Be" and "Ain't It Funny."
Sadly, Betty passed away on July 29, 2013, due to complications from emphysema. She was 64. In 2021, Lynn opened up about her daughter's untimely passing, saying she sometimes picked up her phone to call her. She added:
"We were big friends [...] She made me a mom first. Sometimes it seemed like we were raising each other as young as I was! I fell in love with her the moment I first saw her."
THE COUNTRY STAR'S FIRST SON DIED TRAGICALLY
Lynn and Vanetta's second son, Jack, was born in December 1949. After graduating high school, he joined the Army and married his sweetheart, Pat.
Before Jack and Pat parted ways, they welcomed two children, Lora and Jeffery. Jack eventually worked as a blacksmith and trained horses on the family ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. Sadly, things took a tragic turn on July 24, 1984.
[Lynn’s son] was charged with DUI and vehicular homicide after hitting a post.
Jack tried to cross the Duck River on his horse, but he fell, hit his head, and drowned. Lynn, who admitted she felt the most sentimental about Jack, learned he died the next day. In 2021, she shared a touching Instagram post about his death, writing:
"I've thought of him and missed him every day for 37 years. He was a spitting image of his daddy. He was my blond-headed, blue-eyed baby. Just what I asked for."
Lynn described him as a quiet and tender person and admitted he and Betty "got into everything" when they were kids. The country music star pointed out that her two eldest children reunited in heaven.
THE WILD SIDE OF LORETTA LYNN'S SECOND SON
Vanetta and Lynn wanted to have more children after Jack was born, but she suffered two miscarriages. Eventually, she became pregnant with Ernest, but giving birth to him was challenging.
After a long labor, doctors considered a C-section was necessary. Since Lynn was still a minor, she could not sign her consent for the procedure. The hospital would only accept Vanetta's permission, but he was on a logging job in Washington and couldn't be contacted.
Luckily, Lynn didn't need the C-section to welcome Ernest in May 1951. Although he is "sweet" and "handsome," he had a wild side as a kid and would frequently get into car wrecks.
In 2003, Ernest was charged with DUI and vehicular homicide after hitting a post. His passenger, Larry Claxton, passed away. Ernest pleaded not guilty to the homicide charge.
Nowadays, he is a singer who opens for Lynn. He and his wife, Crystal, renewed their vows in August 2020 and Lynn was there to show support. In an Instagram post, she wished them years of happiness and wrote:
"Marriage isn't always easy–heck, it's not even always pretty, but love holds you together and you push through the bad days to enjoy the good ones."
CISSIE DIDN'T HAVE A NAME FOR FOUR YEARS
Clara Marie, best known as "Cissie," was born in April 1952, but her parents needed four years to name her. Vanetta refused to officially name her because a nurse insisted on providing a name before leaving the hospital.
Cissie is a singer and songwriter married to John Beams, also a musician. The couple has opened for famous artists, including Conway Twitty and George Jones.
In 2011, Lynn worked as a producer for the first time. It was an album of her covers featuring Cissie, and Lynn was so proud about it that she admitted:
"My children and my grandchildren will listen to this album and say that their Mama and their Grandma did this all."
LORETTA LYNN'S TWINS BECAME HER BLESSING
After having Cissie, Lynn was sure she would not conceive more children. In 1963, though, she learned she was pregnant. It was "devastating" because Lynn was a rising star and feared her pregnancy would affect her career.
Twins Patsy and Peggy joined the brood in August 1964, and they soon became a "blessing" in Lynn's life. The country music legend learned that having money made motherhood easier.
The twins became the most successful musicians out of Lynn's six children. Patsy confessed she and her twin sister grew up on the side of the stage, so a music career was not a dream but a fact. Still, Patsy and Peggy liked different aspects of the industry. Patsy said:
"Peggy's love is performing, creating, writing stories ... Those things weren't my cup of tea, so doing that was hard for me. My love is the studio."
Patsy added she was more interested in recording music and negotiating publishing deals. The duo worked great because they were like yin and yang.
Nowadays, Patsy is also working as a producer. She has already made over 100 songs for Lynn, and she recognizes her mom as a living legend. What a talented family!