Students recount memories of famous great-aunt Loretta Lynn

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Kentucky’s love affair with country music dates back for generations. Famous solo acts and duos such as Ricky Skaggs, The Judds, Keith Whitley, Crystal Gayle, Montgomery Gentry, Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam and Tom T. Hall, along with current superstar Chris Stapleton, all hail from the Bluegrass State.  

But perhaps no Kentucky native has had more of an impact on the industry that Loretta Lynn, who’s affectionately known as the “Queen of Country Music.”  Born and raised in Butcher Holler near the small town of Van Lear in Johnson County, she’s the most awarded female country artist of all time, having sold more than 45 million albums and tallied 24 number one singles.  

Morehead State University students Ted and Sarah McCoart grew up listening to Lynn’s music on a daily basis. The siblings can recite the lyrics to all Lynn’s biggest hits — “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “She’s Got You,” “You Ain’t Woman Enough,” “Fist City,” “One’s on the Way” and many, many more. 

There’s a good reason for Ted and Sarah’s loyalty to Lynn’s music — they are the great-nephew and great-niece of the legendary star. They too grew up in Butcher Holler, the grandchildren of the late Herman Webb, Loretta’s younger brother. 

“Grandpa and Aunt Loretta were only about a year apart in age, so they were very close growing up,” Ted said. “Grandpa would tell us stories about all the kids — there were eight brothers and sisters in all. As you can imagine, Butcher Holler was a busy place.” 

Not only did Lynn grow up there, but also the aforementioned Crystal Gayle, Loretta’s younger sister, who has enjoyed a remarkable country music career of her own, charting 20 number one hits.  

For decades now, the Butcher Holler home place has attracted country music fans from all over the world. Thousands have visited the childhood home of the legendary “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” much to the amazement of the McCoarts.  

“It was always so shocking to me that people from as far as Japan, Germany —countries from all around the globe — coming here,” Ted said. “I learned to give the tour from a young age, doing it from as young as eight years old. And it was so neat for me to learn my family history and to learn the history of this community and Butcher Holler and all the great people who came from here.” 

Although he’s proud of his family’s rich musical heritage, Ted, 24, is the first to admit that those unique talents somehow skipped over him. Instead, the MSU senior has a passion for athletics and is a sport management major, on track to graduate this May. He’s currently working as an assistant in the Athletic Media Relations office, assigned to women’s basketball, soccer and softball. Ted writes player/coach features, game recaps and is the primary media contact for the three sports.  

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to cover some really good teams and to meet some awesome people as far as coaches and my other support staff,” he said. “Upon graduation, I’m hoping to continue working in media relations, behind the camera or radio broadcasting.” 

Sarah, 21, did inherit the family’s musical talents. As a small child, she would stand on the counter at the family business (Webb’s Grocery) and perform karaoke for the tourists. At the tender age of six, she appeared on stage with her aunt Loretta for the very first time (and has done so twice since). She’s also been an opening act for Chris Stapleton. During the summers and at Christmas, Sarah regularly performs for the Kentucky Opry at the Mountain Arts Center in nearby Prestonsburg. 

“For me, it’s a source of pride because I get to carry on my family’s legacy. I love to sing and I’m so thankful for those moments on stage with Aunt Loretta. Those are very special and I’ll always treasure each one.” -[Sarah McCoart]

Academically, Sarah is a sophomore nursing major and is excited to be a part of a challenging program with a long reputation for producing well-trained, high-level graduates. However, her path to MSU was anything but typical. 

“I actually started my college career at Western Kentucky University and I decided to move a little closer to home at Eastern Kentucky University. But then, I really found my true home when I moved to Morehead State,” she said. “It’s known all over the nation as a top-notch (nursing) program. I have multiple friends from Illinois, South Carolina, Maryland — you name it — and they’re all coming to Morehead State because of the reputation of this program and I’m really proud to be part of that.” 

While the McCoarts academic and work schedules keep them busy, they often make the nearly two-hour drive back to Van Lear. One of the classic lines in the song “Coal Miner’s Daughter” is “it’s so good to be back home again.” Ted said he and Sarah definitely take those lyrics to heart but are also anxious to see where their respective careers will take them. 

“We want to create our own path and achieve success. We love home, always will. Our family has set a great example for us. We’re very thankful for that.”