Still recovering from a stroke she suffered on May 5, Loretta Lynn couldn’t attend the preview party celebrating her new exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville on Wednesday. And so she sent her daughter, Patsy, off with what she called “a piece of me” – the two wedding bands given to her by her late husband, Oliver (Doolittle) Lynn.
“It took her so long to get one, I think he felt she deserved two,” Patsy Lynn Russell said as she fingered the two identical bands, each studded with a row of small diamonds. “She took them off her finger and gave them to me today … It’s kind of like she gets to go through [the exhibit] with me.”
But make no mistake, Russell said, her mother is determined to one day see for herself the expansive displays honoring her six-decade career. Russell, 53, also indicated Lynn is singing around the home again and is now in conversation with her Sony label to release her new album next year; its August debut was postponed because of the stroke.
Her mother’s main challenge, Russell said, is regaining her balance, and she’s now undergoing rigorous physical and occupational therapy. But the progress the 85-year-old Hall of Famer has made in just the past six weeks, said Russell and other family members, has left no one doubting her recovery.
“The difference between then and now is night and day,” said Russell’s 29-year-old grandson, Anthony Brutto, who summoned the ambulance for his grandmother after the stroke. “It’s amazing to see the will and fire she has inside … Nothing can get her down, and nothing will get her down. … She’s still witty. She’s still very sharp. She’s still very funny. When I went over there last week she said she’s writing songs and playing the guitar, so it’s really awesome to get to see that.”
Though Lynn’s absence was felt at the museum, she did have plenty of stand-ins. Besides about two dozen members of the Lynn family, three of her musical “granddaughters” – Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Margo Price – also came out to honor their hero.
Each artist has had a lifelong love affair with Lynn’s music. Price, 34, and Clark, 41, were introduced to it as children by their grandparents; Musgraves, 29, sang her songs as a youngster on the Texas Opry circuit.
Last April, Price experienced the thrill of dueting with Lynn at a Tennessee music festival. “The last song she did was ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter,’ and she passed me a couple verses, and I was on cloud nine,” the Americana artist said. “I got off stage and I was just so happy, so excited. And then, when I finally got a moment alone about an hour later, I was just sitting there with my husband, and I just started crying so hard. … I was just so emotional.”
In 2014, Clark opened for Lynn at a Ryman Auditorium performance in Nashville. Before the show, Clark recalled, “I asked her about Patsy Cline, and she teared up a little, and said, ‘Patsy and I were great friends. We just weren’t great friends long enough.’ I’ll never forget that. … It makes me tear up just thinking about it.
“To me, it’s amazing that she’s a real person,” Clark added. “I know that sounds crazy, but you know, you see the movies and you see somebody in concert, and then you meet them, and she’s so nice and down to earth. She really paved the way, not just for musicians, but specifically for women to really be able to say what they want to say and to speak a truth in their music.”
Musgraves savored her experience sharing a surprise duet with Lynn at the 2014 CMA Awards. At rehearsals, the two Grammy winners talked about “everything from fried chicken to tanning beds,” Musgraves said. “She has one in her house, she says. … I felt like I was hanging out with my meemaw.”
Musgraves also laughingly recalled the mortifying event that occurred moments before the performance: the failure of her stick-on panties. “My underwear fell seconds before the curtain went up,” she said, adding that Lynn “got a really big kick out of the fact that it happened.” (In a revealing mood, Musgraves also divulged that she and fiancé Ruston Kelly have set an October wedding date.)
Musgraves, Clark, and Price joined the Lynn family to tour the exhibit, which features a treasure trove of the country legend’s memorabilia (more photos available at PEOPLE.com). Among the prime artifacts: Lynn’s original handwritten lyrics to “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” her hand-sewn dress later worn by Sissy Spacek in the Oscar-winning Lynn biopic of the same name, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom Lynn was awarded in 2013.
“Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl” officially opens on Friday, and her grandson offered assurances that Lynn will soon be among the throngs who are bound to visit it during its run through next August.
“What’s really awesome is, you go and talk to her and ask her how she’s feeling and she says that she can literally feel all of her fans praying for her,” Brutto said. “She feels the power they’re giving her. … They’re the reason that she is here, the reason she is who she is. She loves and thanks everyone who’s praying for her.”