In Evansville, Loretta Lynn sang despite missing teeth and a fistfight onstage

Loretta Lynn performs at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977.
Loretta Lynn performs at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977.

EVANSVILLE – Loretta Lynn didn’t tell the Evansville audience about her missing teeth.

The country star dazzled the crowd at Roberts Stadium on March 25, 1977, belting out hits such as “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Fist City” without a hitch. The only sign anything was wrong came halfway through the show, when she hinted at a recent mouth operation.

The reality was much more dire. And it was one of several dramatic appearances in Evansville over the years that involved everything from birth control controversies to a fellow performer getting punched in the face.

The music legend and Eastern Kentucky native, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, appeared in Evansville in ’77 just three days after serious mouth surgery. Her son told the Evansville Press that night that doctors had discovered a cyst in her mouth that formed after an infection.

Loretta Lynn passes away:Country music legend and 'Coal Miner's Daughter,' dies at 90

They ultimately removed several teeth and shot her full of Novocain. Even with all that, she took the stage on a dual bill with Conway Twitty.

“After she finished singing, aides lined her jaw with ice packs,” Press reporter Jim Szymanski wrote. “Then came the hard part. Loretta returned to sing a duet with Twitty that had the crowd clutching the stage to get a closer look.”

Born Loretta Webb on April 14, 1932, the "Butcher Holler" native died in her sleep at her home in Tennessee, her family said. She rose to fame in the 1960s and ’70s, singing songs about everything from rural life to women’s liberation – all after raising several kids before she turned 18.

In 1980, her life story was the inspiration for the film “Coal Miner’s Daughter” starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones. Spacek went on to win an Oscar for her performance as Lynn.

Between that she toured the world, hitting Evansville and the Tri-State several times over the course of her seven-decade career. According to Courier & Press archives, her last show here came in 2003. She was supposed to play The Victory Theatre in 2009 but canceled due to a scheduling conflict.

Those cancelations were rare, though. She was much more likely to play a show no matter what.

That was made starkly apparent during a string of shows featuring her and Twitty in Evansville in the mid-70s.

In 1976, she performed at Roberts Stadium despite battling a nasty case of the flu. But the real drama came a year earlier.

At the ’75 show, a team of Boonville brothers were arrested after they reportedly leaped on stage and socked Twitty in the face while he was trying to sign autographs. And the unruly crowd extended to Lynn’s show, when people harangued her to play “The Pill”: her birth control anthem that had just been banned from country radio.

“Let’s not talk about ‘The Pill’ right now,” she said. “We’ll get to ‘The Pill’ later on in the show.”

When she finally sang it, the crowd went crazy.

This article originally appeared on Evansville Courier & Press: In Evansville, Loretta Lynn battled missing teeth and a fight onstage