The Truth About Loretta Lynn's Six Children

Long before powerhouse country artist Loretta Lynn became one of the most prolific voices of the 20th century, she had a completely different job — housewife. Loretta shared in her autobiography "Coal Miner's Daughter" that she never dreamed of a career in music until her husband Oliver "Doolittle" Lynn purchased a "seventeen-dollar Harmony guitar" for her as an anniversary gift. By that time, Loretta was already a mother-of-four and had to sneak time away "when the kids were in school or asleep at night" to hone her guitar playing and songwriting skills.

Yes, Loretta is a well-off country icon now, but as she wrote in her memoir, her first four children grew up with a struggling stay-at-home mom who spent her free time canning beans and cleaning house. By the time the singer recorded her first record, her oldest was already twelve years old, according to "Coal Miner's Daughter." And when her last two children — a set of twins — were born in 1964, she was already rising in the ranks amongst Nashville's biggest stars. Despite the differences in their upbringing, all six siblings were still Loretta Lynn's kids — and nearly all of them went into show business one way or another. What was life really like for the children of country music's matriarch?

Betty Sue Lynn was the big sister of the family

Loretta Lynn's first child, Betty Sue Lynn, was born when Loretta was just 16 years old. According to her obituary from Luff-Bowen Funeral Home, Betty Sue arrived while Loretta and her husband, Doolittle "Mooney" Lynn, were living in Washington. The Lynns welcomed their first baby girl on November 26, 1948. In "Coal Miner's Daughter," Loretta writes that she thought Betty Sue would be a boy and had already landed on the name "Jack" for the newest addition to the family. When the nurse told her she had a girl, Loretta cried because she thought she'd disappointed Doolittle. However, Doolittle told Loretta "he was glad it was a girl," and the couple named their daughter — "the shortest baby that hospital ever had," according to Loretta — Betty Sue Lynn.

Loretta wrote in her autobiography that although she and Betty Sue could "get into it pretty good," their mother-daughter bond was strong — so strong, Loretta said she could tell from her dreams whether Betty Sue was sick or happy.

Betty Sue and Loretta Lynn 'were big friends'

Betty Sue Lynn married Paul Markworth — "a real smart boy from up in Milwaukee," according to Loretta Lynn's autobiography — when she was still a teenager. Betty Sue then had two daughters, Loretta Lynn — "everybody calls her Lynn," wrote Loretta — and Audrey. Loretta said that she adored "those two beautiful girls."

Like her mother, Betty Sue was a talented songwriter. As noted in "Coal Miner's Daughter," Betty Sue wrote "three or four songs under the name 'Tracey Lee'" that were recorded by Loretta. Some of Betty Sue's tracks include "Ain't it Funny," "Love's Not Where Love Should Be," and "When You're Poor" (via Discogs).

Betty Sue Lynn's life was tragically cut short on July 29, 2013, when she died due to complications from emphysema. In a heartbreaking 2021 tribute on Instagram, Loretta wrote that she "still sometimes picks up [her] phone to call her," adding "she was a great songwriter and 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."

A boy for the Lynn family

Loretta and Doolittle Lynn's second child was born on December 7, 1949 — "Pearl Harbor Day," as Loretta recalled in "Coal Miner's Daughter." Loretta and Doolittle named their first son Jack Benny Lynn, partially because Jack Benny was Loretta's "favorite comedian" and partially because "Southern people like to use two names instead of one" — although Jack apparently disliked people using his middle name.

Jack served in the army after he graduated high school — mostly because he didn't want his brother, Ernest, to one-up him by joining the Marines, according to Loretta's autobiography — and married his high school sweetheart, Pat. Jack and Pat eventually "broke up," much to Loretta's chagrin, but not before two children, Lora Kay and Jeffery Allen, were born.

Loretta writes that Jack apparently adored animals and enjoyed working on the family ranch. He was a blacksmith, horse trainer, and competent horseback rider — which made it all the more shocking when a tragedy cut his life short.

Loretta Lynn's first son died unexpectedly

On July 25, 1984, The Tennessean reported that the body of Jack Benny Lynn had been found the day before in the Duck River. The blow was shocking for Loretta Lynn, who called Jack Benny the child she felt "the most sentimental about" in her autobiography. Jack Benny had reportedly been trying to ford the Duck River on his horse roughly three miles from his home when he struck his head and drowned.

Loretta didn't find out about Jack Benny's death until the next day. According to The Tennessean, she was in an Illinois hospital "for treatment of exhaustion while on a road tour" when Doolittle Lynn informed her that Jack Benny had died. The newspaper reported that Doolittle knew about the death earlier, and began "to make preliminary arrangements" for the funeral the day the incident occurred.

Loretta still posts tributes to Jack Benny. In 2021, she shared a sentimental Instagram post about his death. "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. He was quiet and tender. I adored him with all my heart. He and Betty Sue got into everything when they were little and I was a new momma. They kept me on my toes and I'd do it all again if I could," Loretta wrote. "They're together now."

Ernest's birth was tough on Loretta Lynn

After giving birth to Jack Benny Lynn, Loretta Lynn suffered two miscarriages before getting pregnant with her third child. Labor with Ernest Ray Lynn was long and painful; in "Coal Miner's Daughter," Loretta says she wasn't able to sign her own consent form for the cesarean section she needed while in labor with Ernest Ray as she was still technically a minor. Instead, she needed the consent of her husband, Doolittle Lynn, who was away "in the woods on a logging job" in Washington and unreachable. Luckily, Loretta was able to give birth to the baby without the cesarean section, and Ernest Ray Lynn was born in 1951 (via PBS).

Loretta describes Ernest as "sweet" and "the most handsome boy you ever saw in your life," but also makes it clear that her second son has a wild side — apparently, Ernest was also "mean" and always "getting into car wrecks and stuff" in his youth. Ernest can also "sing and play the guitar real good," according to Loretta, something he's proven time and time again by joining his mother on stage.

Ernest Ray Lynn has seen ups and downs

Ernest Ray Lynn, or "Ernie," is an accomplished musician who frequently opens for his mother on the road and has even appeared on some of her studio recordings (via Discogs). However, the singer reportedly continued on with the wild ways of his youth. 

Things for Ernie took a grim turn in 2003 when he was charged with vehicular homicide and a DUI, according to ContactMusic. The victim, Larry Claxton, was in the passenger seat of Ernie's car when Ernie hit a post. CMT reported that Claxton's widow did not want to see Ernie charged with vehicular homicide after her husband's death, telling reporters, "I don't want this. If somebody wants to charge him with DUI, fine. To charge him with my husband's death is not right." The AP (via The Newport Plain Talk) reported that Ernie pleaded not guilty to the homicide charge, although the DUI couldn't be argued — Ernie's blood alcohol concentration was apparently at .13 percent at the time of the accident.

In 2020, Ernie and wife Crystal Lynn renewed their vows, and Loretta was there to celebrate. As she shared on Instagram, "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. I'm so proud of them and wish them years of happiness."

Loretta Lynn's second daughter went without a name for some time

After the birth of Ernest Ray Lynn, Loretta Lynn welcomed her second girl, Cissie Lynn. Cissie's full name is Clara Marie — although that name wasn't originally on her birth certificate. Loretta claims that she and Doolittle Lynn waited four years to make it official after a frustrated Doolittle refused to name the baby because a nurse insisted that the couple "had to give her a name before she left the hospital," according to "Coal Miner's Daughter." The name Clara Marie stayed in the family, as that was the name of Loretta's mother. However, Clara Marie stuck with "Cissie," and has gone by the nickname her whole life.

Loretta describes Cissie as "smart" and "pleasant," adding that visitors to her home "feel like they've known Cissy all their lives." The so-called "perfect child" is, like most of her siblings, a singer and songwriter. Cissie told Nashville Music Guide that she and her husband, John Beams, toured extensively until her father, Doolittle Lynn, fell ill in the 1990s. The accomplished couple has "opened for several superstars over the years," including Conway Twitty and George Jones.

Cissie Lynn has more than one career

Following in her mother Loretta Lynn's footsteps, Clara Marie "Cissie" Lynn has had a long and successful musical career. Cissie's style is similar to Loretta's — enough so that Loretta even produced an album of her own covers featuring Cissie in 2011, according to Nashville Music Guide. As the outlet noted, the album was the first that Loretta had ever produced, something that made Cissie proud. "It's hard to explain my feelings," the singer told the outlet. "My children and my grandchildren will listen to this album and say that their Mama and their Grandma did this all."

Cissie isn't just a professional musician — she's also a small business owner. In 2006, she opened Cissie's Country Store and Music Barn across the street from her mother's ranch, according to Loretta Lynn's personal website. Made in Tennessee describes Cissie's venture as a "store, museum, and live music spot" with "autographed pictures and albums from some of country music's biggest stars" and "a variety of handmade goods from Tennessee." With a five-star rating on Facebook, it seems that Cissie's store is a hit with visitors to Hurricane Mills.

A double surprise for Loretta Lynn's family

According to "Coal Miner's Daughter," Loretta Lynn thought she was done giving birth after her fourth baby arrived. But life had other plans, and in 1963, Loretta found out she was once again pregnant. The news was devastating to Loretta, who was a rising star in Nashville and feared that her singing career "was going to be interrupted or maybe even ended." Loretta and Doolittle Lynn received an even bigger surprise when their doctor told them "there might be two" — and on August 6, 1964, Loretta gave birth to twin girls.

Loretta named the girls Patsy and Peggy — Patsy after her late friend and singer Patsy Cline, and Peggy after Loretta's sister, Peggy Sue. Loretta writes that although she was apprehensive about having two more children, the twins were "a blessing." She found that motherhood was easier after she'd found financial success, saying that she "felt younger with the twins" than when she was a teenager, and that the girls gave her and Doolittle "a whole second life."

The youngest Lynn siblings apparently inspired some lyrics for Loretta. In the Shel Silverstein-penned tune "One's on the Way," she sings about her frustration with finding out she's pregnant: "Gee, I hope it ain't twins again!" In her autobiography, she writes that "Patsy and Peggy don't like the song ... I guess that's why Dolly Parton is their favorite singer."

Loretta Lynn's twins took to the stage

Twins Peggy and Patsy Lynn have arguably found the most success on the stage out of all the Lynn children. Unlike their four siblings, the twins' earliest memories of their mother weren't of a stay-at-home mom living in poverty — they were of a country superstar, a sequined and bouffanted entertainer who serenaded thousands of adoring fans every night. In an interview with Lula 1892, Patsy said that she and Peggy "grew up on the side of the stage," adding that a career in music "wasn't a matter of having this grand dream or vision ... It was just a fact."

Patsy maintains that she and Peggy never wanted to gain success by riding on their mother's coattails. According to Patsy, "no one knew" that the girls were Loretta Lynn's daughters during their first meeting with Warner Brother Records, which they obtained after singing in a house band at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville. The twins signed with Warner Brothers and released two albums; one song, "Woman to Woman," even cracked the top twenty. In 1998 and 1999, "The Lynns" were nominated for Best Vocal Duo at the CMA awards, although they didn't win either year (via Hartford Courant).

The Lynn twins don't do everything the same way

Although twins Peggy and Patsy Lynn performed together as a joint act, their interests don't totally overlap, as Patsy told Lula 1892: "Peggy and I are different when it comes to music. 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. I loved being in the studio, and I loved negotiating our publishing deals. We worked because we needed the yin and the yang, and we provided that together. I found my love in the studio, and that's what led to my producing."

As Lula 1892 noted, Patsy "would go on to produce over 103 songs" for Loretta Lynn, including those on her album "Wouldn't It Be Great, " which earned a Grammy nomination. She says producing her mother's music is a surreal experience, saying that she was "blown away by [Loretta's] genius," adding that she recognizes her mother's legendary status: "On the one hand it's my mom, but on the other, it's Loretta Lynn."