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NASHVILLE (Reuters) - It's a long way from the winding roads of Butcher Holler, Kentucky, to the superhighway of country music, but on Tuesday night "Coal Miner's Daughter" Loretta Lynn was honored for her more than 50 years of songs.
The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the group that awards the Grammys, gave Lynn their Merit Award in a night of music. Among the stars performing were Garth Brooks, Kid Rock, Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack.
Reba McEntire hosted the event, performing one of Lynn's hits, "If You're Not Gone Too Long."
"She still inspires me and every other female country singer out there," McEntire told the audience in Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium.
McEntire highlighted Lynn's early songs like "Don't Come Home A Drinkin'" as numbers that "definitely hit a nerve," and she noted that Lynn was not one to shy away from controversy, as when she released birth-control-themed "The Pill."
"She was my hero when I was growing up in Oklahoma, and she is still my hero," McEntire said.
The Recording Academy's president and chief executive, Neil Portnow, told fans that the night was three days short of the 50th anniversary of Lynn's debut at the home of country, the Grand Ole Opry, on that very same stage at the Ryman.
Lynn, an icon of music who grew up poor in Kentucky's coal-mining country and rose to fame and fortune, released 70 albums and charted 16 No. 1 hits in a career spanning more than five decades.
She has won two Grammys and written several books, including "Coal Miner's Daughter," which was made into a movie that earned Sissy Spacek an Oscar for her performance as the singer who broke down cultural barriers throughout her long career.
Among the night's highlights was Kid Rock singing from an upcoming tribute album to Lynn and his duet with Gretchen Wilson on "You're the Reason Our Kids Are Ugly," which Lynn and Conway Twitty recorded when the pair enjoyed a streak of hits in the mid-1970s.
Womack sang "I'm a Honky Tonk Girl," Lynn's first national hit on Zero Records, and McBride sang "You Ain't Good Enough To Take My Man" and "Love is the Foundation."
"Nobody tells it quite like Loretta," said Jack White, who produced Lynn's 2004 release, "Van Lear Rose."
"She's an absolute genius. Every word is from her heart. She is the greatest female singer/songwriter of the 20th century. She championed women's rights in the South and for women everywhere."
Garth Brooks escorted the country legend up the event's red carpet and joined Lynn onstage when she received the Merit Award. The pair sang "After the Fire Is Gone," with Brooks playing guitar and Lynn's vocals ringing as clear as when she and Twitty first recorded it.
"When I got here tonight I noticed my picture up on the stage, and that was when I realized this night was for me," Lynn told the audience as she accepted her award.
"I really didn't know the night was going to be all about me, but I sure am proud," Lynn added. "I don't know what to say but thank you."
The singer received a standing ovation as Brooks escorted her off the stage amid shouts from the audience of "We love you, Loretta" and "You're the queen."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Sheri Linden