Lynden Heritage Museum features country music legend Loretta Lynn and her ‘singing sister’

Exhibit showcases 65 years of country music


The story of two trailblazing women who changed Whatcom County’s music scene in the ’50s and early ’60s – one who became one of country music’s greatest legends and the other who stayed in the county to raise her family – and the 65 years of local country music that followed is now on display at the Lynden Heritage Museum. 

The Whatcom County History of Country Music exhibit, which opened April 26, features the “singing sisters,” the late country music star Loretta Lynn and her friend Darlene “Peachy” Little, 87, who were two of the first women to sing with male bands at bars and granges in Whatcom County. Through displays and audio, the exhibit also tells the stories of other country musicians who graced those same stages in the years after and how they contributed to storytelling in the area.

“This exhibit is about country music, but as a whole it’s really about community and how over the decades, the backbone of Whatcom County is the community members who have come together to watch these musicians,” said Amanda May, the museum’s director.

The idea for the exhibit came from a call that Little’s daughter, Laurie Lee Lewis, made to May last December. On the call, Lewis relayed discovering her mother’s tape and written songs in an old cedar chest after her mother had a stroke. Little, who had stopped performing to care for her family, had recorded those songs when Lewis was a young child. As a gift, Lewis helped her mom release a CD with 21 of the songs titled, “Darlene Little – The Other Woman.”

The name, Lewis said, was about Little’s relationship with Lynn when the star got her start playing at local gigs in the county. Questions surrounded Little’s identity after a Ken Burns PBS documentary aired a photo of Lynn with Little and their agent Alvin “Duke” Saulsbury at Bill’s Tavern in Blaine in the mid-20th century. 

“We women didn’t have the voice that we have now, so you can only imagine what it was like to see two powerhouse talented women performing with their own bands of men, raising babies, cooking and canning,” Lewis said.

Lynn moved to Custer at 14 years old when she was pregnant with her first child and began playing around Whatcom County, with regular performances at Bill’s Tavern and the Delta Grange Hall on Loomis Trail Road. Lynn played with a Sumas band called The Westerners and later formed her own band, The Trailblazers.

Little met Lynn in the late ’50s after Little finished a show at the Pastime in Blaine and ventured to Bill’s Tavern, where Lynn was performing. Little said her friendship with Lynn revolved around their love for singing. 

“To communicate with music is a gift,” Little said. “Music is a wonderful thing.”

Border towns like Blaine and Sumas were popular for live music during that time, Lewis said. 

“Blaine is the only one that can claim the tavern that Loretta cut her teeth on and built her name,” Lewis said. 

Lynn moved her family to Nashville in the early ’60s and became one of the most awarded women in country music. Meanwhile, in Van Zandt, Little and her husband, Jack, raised their family on music, a love that Lewis eventually passed on to her own family.

Little and Lynn kept in touch over the years, with Little visiting Lynn on her tour bus whenever she performed at the Lynden fair. 

“The friendship of being able to support each other from two different worlds is priceless,” Lewis said. 

Lynden mayor Scott Korthuis honored Little on a stage replicating Bill’s Tavern during the exhibit’s opening night April 26. Lewis and Little had the chance to sing one of Little’s discovered songs, “When My Hair Turns to Silver,” on stage together.

“Mom had the insight for all of us who hopefully will get to grow old of what that will be like to look back and have good memories,” Lewis said of the song.

Little added, “She sang it so good. It was quite the evening.”

The exhibit will run through Friday, September 27. The exhibit has a dedication wall where 150 musicians’ names are highlighted. May said the museum is still collecting names to be added to the dedication wall.

“A museum will show you that we will die, but the music will live on,” Lewis said.

The Lynden Heritage Museum is located at 217 Front Street in Lynden. The museum is open from 10 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12-4 p.m. Sunday. Children and veterans receive free admission to the museum, while students and senior tickets are $7 and adult tickets are $10.


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