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How Loretta Lynn, Country Music, and Local Republican Tide Changed U.S. Politics : NPR

Loretta Lynn campaigned for both Presidents Bush. She is shown here with President George W. Bush in Little Rock, Ark in 2000.

Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

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Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Loretta Lynn campaigned for both Presidents Bush. She is shown here with President George W. Bush in Little Rock, Ark in 2000.

Paul J. Richards/AFP via Getty Images

Millions of people mourned the death of country music legend Loretta Lynn, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, sending obituaries and tributes that recalled her song, voice, sincerity and charm.

Her mentions of politics were relatively few.

Several stories have been written that recall the feminist influence of her 1975 hit “The Pill.”

Moviegoers fascinated by Lynn’s portrayal in the 1980 film in which actress Sissy Spacek won an Oscar miner’s daughter They could attribute their favorite political attitudes to her.

However, Lynn has been very much a part of politics at some stages of her career.

At the peak of her fame in the 1960s and 1970s, Lynn was part of a significant shift in country music politics. This shift is akin to the shifting partisan tendencies of music’s most loyal fans.

That change led to major shifts in American politics and helped elect Republican presidents such as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and both Presidents Bush.

And it continues to make a difference today.

This week, some of Lynn’s fans were surprised to learn that she endorsed former President Donald Trump

She once told an interviewer that she supported Trump because the audience would have booed her if she had supported Hillary Clinton. It alienated some country music fans with what seemed to be a slight reference to the phrase “Stand By Your Man,” the title of the song that defines the spirit.

A surprise for Lynn’s alignment with Trump was a reenactment of her fans’ reaction when she appeared on stage with Republican presidential nominee George H.W. Bush in 1988.

On that occasion, referring to one of her own signature songs (“You’re Looking at Country”), Lynn turned to the crowd and the camera, saying that looking at Bush was “looking at the country.” He said.In case of doubt, she leaned over the microphone and declared: “I know George Bush, and he Country.

Bush was born in New England, the son of a Connecticut senator, raised in Washington, DC, and attended Yale University through an ultra-elite private prep school. did. After serving in the Navy and setting up an oil business in Midland, Texas for several years, he moved to Houston’s Cirque He moved to the Stocking Section, from where he returned to Washington where he served as a member of Congress, director of the CIA, and chairman of the United States. served. He is a Republican and Vice President of Ronald Reagan. (She later also campaigned for her son George W. Bush.)

Of course, Sr. Bush spent much of 1988 doing his best to get an explanation for Lynn, being photographed driving a truck and professing a deep love for fried pork rinds.

But it didn’t really matter. In a way, if Loretta Lynn said Bush was a country, he was. She hadn’t invented a fake biography for him. She was communicating certain common beliefs with her audience. She had told them that Bush would act as their guardian and defend what her fans saw as America (and indeed, that year’s Democratic candidate, the Massachusetts technocrat better than Governor Michael Dukakis).

Listening to legacy in both music and politics

Lynn was always close to the audience. Her butcher her horror, Kentucky origins shone through everything she said and sang. She embodied both desires and aspirations, and both humility and fierce pride.

She was also part of a generation of country music stars of the 1960s and 1970s who defined their public persona as opposed to the folk and rock stars of the time.

If the Woodstock Nation opposed the Vietnam War while supporting civil rights and a radical lifestyle, Nashville’s sound was attuned to traditional American social norms. As they and their fans recalled, it appeared to go around the wagon to protect America.

Since then, Republican candidates have strived to identify themselves with a sense of listening to the tradition and rawness of country artists. Reagan had a button that said “Make America Great Again” long before Trump shortened the motto and put it on his hat.

If Bush Sr. was an unlikely rural hero, Trump was even more so. Trump didn’t even have a temporary connection to his life or country music, but he developed a bond of affinity with those who did.

Of course, he was from a wealthy New York family. However, he was able to create the character of a tough businessman on a reality TV show and translate it into his political persona as a candidate. showed acceptance of the pop culture preferences and social attitudes of the white class.

Trump has been able to tap into the feisty, often defensive ethos that has long informed the Appalachian region (broadly defined) that produced much of what Americans have come to call the “Rural West.” I made it. It resembles the fiercely rebellious spirit that animates JD Vance’s memoirs. hillbilly elegy And it garnered Trump’s support for Vance’s senatorial candidacy in Ohio.


Before World War II, country music was often called “hillbilly”. According to Bill C. Malone, an authoritative historian of the genre, co-authored with Tracey EW Laird, country music, usa (Contributing to Ken Burns’ PBS documentary Country Music: The Story of an American Family).

It wasn’t necessarily a term of ridicule or dismissal, Malone points out. He said he saw country singers “who personally call themselves hillbillies, but react violently when someone else calls them that.”

It was the bitterness of that response that Wallace, and later Nixon and Trump, took advantage of.

Lynn was always talking about her public, private pride and the sweetness of her bond. That’s why people were surprised that she had differences, and why she was able to overcome those differences to respect her art and her life.

For generations, those voters have been the foundation of the Democratic Party.

No one thought that one country singer, however beloved, could give Bush or any other candidate the presidency. . Because they voiced years of ongoing change between Agricultural America and middle-class voters who worked for a wage and didn’t have a college degree.

For generations, those voters have been the foundation of the Democratic Party. In the South, the Democratic Party was the dominant political identity even before the Civil War. The Great Depression and New Deal policies of the 1930s gave the Democratic Party greater appeal in the rest of rural America, even though it remained strong in the rural South. Franklin D. Roosevelt achieved sainthood.

“Almighty God,” cried the chorus of a country song. “He is a poor man’s friend!”

George Vexy new york times Writers who collaborated on memoirs, miner’s daughter (the basis of the film of that name) reports that Lynn inherited some of that respect from her father.

“Papa thought. [FDR] “George, write something about FDR.”

But as the country changed in the late 20th century, so did the loyalties of many artists. Early in Lynn’s career, in the 1960s and his 1970s, when folk and rock heroes increasingly identified with left-wing causes, the issue struck a chord with many traditional Democrats. I kept it away.

Many went to Alabama agitator Gov. George Wallace, an ardent racist who ran for president as the American Independent Party candidate in 1968.

Wallace wasn’t a threat to actually win the White House, but he was a threat to stop Republican Richard Nixon’s bid. Had he done so, he would have denied the need for Nixon to win a majority in the Electoral College.

In that bid, and in subsequent attempts at the Democratic presidential nomination, Wallace relied heavily on country music majors such as Roy Acuff and Furlin Husky. Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and the “Mother Church of Country Music.”

Wallace received only a fraction of the popular vote nationwide, but he took charge of several states in the Deep South and threatened to deny Nixon a majority vote in the Electoral College. The election was sent to the House of Commons, with no clear result.

Nixon recruited country entertainers for his own campaign in 1968, and did so again four years later in a re-election effort. On the way, Nixon made sure to visit the Ryman Auditorium to pay tribute to its residents. Thank you, Mr. President. It featured Merle Haggard’s anthem “Okie from Muskogee,” which is said to be his favorite.“- and Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”.

Of course, not all country artists lean right. Guitarist demi-god Chet Atkins was liberal and had a lot to say about other kinds of musicians. Willie Nelson, author of Patsy Cline’s hits dating back to the 1950s, was a left-wing populist who campaigned for Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor of Texas, and other politicians. . Dolly Parton has long been an advocate for LGBTQ rights.

The Dixie Chicks were sailing to the top of the country charts when opposition to President Bush 2 and the Iraq War threw them off course. More recently, we’ve seen country superstars like Taylor Swift turn away from years of apolitical stance and speak with the voices of their own generation.

The same can be said for Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, and others who have raised money and spoken out for causes far removed from the atmosphere of Nashville half a century ago.

In time, in retrospect, they could also be seen as transformative.

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