Like so many successful performers, native Kentuckian Emily Portman cut her musical teeth singing in church and learning to read music as a member of her high school band. Inspired by her parents’ music, her influences were an amalgamation of classic country and classic rock, with a little ‘80s music mixed in and included Merle Haggard, Jim Croce, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. In college, she joined a choral group, learned the guitar, and began performing professionally at the Corydon Jamboree just across the border in neighboring Indiana. However, when she covered the music of Loretta Lynn, people took notice.
At an early age, perhaps due to her Kentucky roots and natural inflection, Emily was told that she, “sounded a lot like” country music legend, Loretta Lynn, so she became a student of her artistry. Emily pored over the singer’s entire catalogue of music and began working to emulate Loretta’s vocal style and her onstage mannerisms. In the summer of 2004, Emily entered a “Sing Like” contest at the Kentucky Opry and won $1,000 for her portrayal of Loretta.
Just a couple years later, after posting a video of herself performing a Loretta Lynn song on YouTube, she was discovered by Michael Twitty (eldest son of the great Conway Twitty) who cast her to portray Loretta in the nationally touring musical “It’s Only Make Believe.” The musical was instrumental in establishing Portman’s career. Over the next two decades, her portrayal of the Coal Miner’s Daughter would carry to the most prestigious stages (including the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry), where she would rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the business, including George Jones, Archie Campbell, Vern Gosdin, Toby Keith, Chris Cagle, and even Loretta Lynn, herself, with whom she formed a close friendship.
Emily made frequent trips to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, TN. During one of her visits, the two singers were enjoying a casual conversation when, in mid-sentence, Lynn paused, looked at her straight in the eyes and said, “ya’ know, we have a real connection, don’t we?” If you ever saw the two performers together, the connection they shared was obvious.
After Ms. Lynn’s unfortunate recent passing, Emily Portman connected with Loretta’s longtime backup band, The Coalminers. They agreed to join talents and collaborate to honor the memory and music of this true country music trail blazer with “Always Loretta”—a show authorized by the Loretta Lynn family that includes all the greatest hits and shares intimate stories of Loretta’s life through the eyes of those who knew her best.
ABOUT THE COALMINERS
Dave Thornhill (Lead Guitar, Bandleader)
Thornhill’s first performance with Loretta Lynn was in 1967 as the lead guitarist for The Country Playboys at the once famous Frontier Ranch in Columbus, Ohio. The group served as the band for countless nationally touring country artists (Jim Ed Brown, Little Jimmy Dickens, Lynn Anderson, Merle Travis, Carl Smith, etc.) as they passed through, including Loretta Lynn, who told the audience, “I’ve played all over the world and this is the only band that did all my stuff just like the record. If I could ever afford a band, this is the only band I’d like to have.” Two years later, she hired all five musicians and her band, The Coalminers, were formed. He would serve as guitarist and bandleader for Loretta Lynn for 55 years (until 2017) and played over 10,000 shows with her (including her duet shows with the great Conway Twitty and serving as the band that backed Sissy Spacek in the movie “The Coal Miner’s Daughter”).
Now, in his 80s, Thornhill is thrilled to renew his role as bandleader and lead guitarist for the Lynn family authorized tribute show “Always Loretta” to extend the legacy of Loretta and his band, The Coalminers.
Robert “Bob” Hempker (Steel Guitar)
Also one of the original members of Loretta’s band, Hempker began performing with The Coalminers at the age of 21. He served as Loretta’s steel guitarist for 17 years before taking a seven year sabbatical to focus on his family, after which, he rejoined the group and stayed with them for another six years until Loretta left the road to care for her husband, Mooney. During this time, Bob went to work with Roy Clark and performed with him for eight years, and then did a two-year stint performing in Branson. Bob would reunite with The Coalminers in 2014 and stayed with the group through her retirement from the road in 2017.
Dennis Digby (Bass Guitar)
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Dennis Digby began his career while still in high school as the bass player for Mel Tillis. Throughout Dennis’ career, he would perform alongside an impressive list of legendary performers, including Tex Ritter, Charlie Louvin, David Houston, Cal Smith, and the Osborne Brothers. He would join The Coalminers in 1982 and perform with Loretta Lynn for over 17 years.
Monty Parkey (Piano/Keyboard)
Xenia, Ohio native Monty Parkey moved to Nashville in 1976 to perform music. His resumé reads like a “Who’s Who” of country music. His keyboard playing has supported a lengthy list of country music notables, including Bill Anderson (5 years), Randy Travis (5 years), Alan Jackson (15 years), Darryl Worley (10 years), Sylvia (3 years), Tanya Tucker (1 ½ years), Lorrie Morgan (4 years), and the great Loretta Lynn (for 3 years in the mid ‘80s.
John Brown Sr. (Drums)
Monroe, Louisiana native, John Brown began his musical journey in high school band and got his formal training working under a conductor. After graduation, John performed with a number of country artists, including Jody Miller, Roy Clark, The Hagar Twins, and Michael Landon. John finally moved to Nashville in 1973 and accepted a job with Nat Stuckey. After a short stint with Nat, he was offered the drum seat with Donna Fargo, with whom he worked for approximately three years before taking a job as Dolly Parton’s touring drummer. However, Parton’s tour was cut short due to vocal issues, so John reunited with Fargo for another season until the birth of his son, when he stepped away to focus on raising him. After his son graduated from high school, John was offered a position with Loretta and performed with The Coalminers for 10 years.
Jean Anne Tarleton (Vocalist)
Vocalist Jean Anne Tarleton has had an impressive career as a consummate triple threat—she is a singer, a dancer, and songwriter with enormous success in all three areas. As a vocalist, she has backed an includible list of legendary artists, including Perry Como, Robert Goulet, Sammy Davis Jr., Jimmy Stafford, Kiki Dee, The Babys, Mac Davis, Brenda Lynn, and of course, Loretta Lynn, for whom she worked for three years in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Her catalog as a songwriter includes hits “Love Is Like A Rolling Stone” (The Pointer Sisters), “Do It Again” (Paulette Reeves), “Fall For You” (Walter Egan), “That’s Freedom” (Tim Kimmel, John Farnham), “Someday Soon”—Woodstock: The Director’s Cut (Chapman-Springs), and more. As a dancer, she has appeared on such shows as “Make Your Own Kind Of Music” (NBC show featuring Al Hirt, The Carpenters & The Doodletown Pipers), “SWING” (featuring Frank Sinatra Jr. and Harry James & his orchestra), “The Jimmy Stafford Show” (CBS show featuring Jean Anne & Deborah Allen), “The Mac Davis Show,” “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” “Hee-Haw” and countless others.