At fifty-four, country songstress Patty Loveless can still belt out tunes in a rich, Kentucky-bred lilt and shimmy blithely around a stage, her strawberry-blond shag swinging. But the Paulding County resident and Georgia Music Hall of Famer doesn’t take for granted that she can breathe well enough to do so. Her older sister, Dottie—a spunky singer herself, whose gumption first inspired a young, shy Loveless to perform—died at forty-eight because she couldn’t breathe.
A longtime smoker, Dottie struggled with emphysema but wasn’t diagnosed until the disease was in its late stages. “It took the life right out of her,” says Loveless. “She even had a hard time just walking from her bedroom to the kitchen.” That’s why Loveless has spent the last year as a spokesperson for Drive4COPD, a national campaign to heighten awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis and is the nation’s fourth-leading cause of death (and the only one of the top ten that’s on the rise). She even wrote the campaign’s first theme song—the upbeat, feel-good “Drive!”—with husband Emory Gordy Jr., a session musician (and Georgia Music HOF inductee years before Loveless) who has worked with Atlanta impresario Bill Lowery and played with the likes of Elvis and Barbra Streisand.
In January—just weeks before her Mountain Soul II won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album—Loveless traveled to Midtown’s Doppler Studios to put out a call to aspiring songwriters: Submit an original song at drive4copd.com before April 15, and she and a few others, including fellow spokesperson Billy Ray Cyrus, would pick the next campaign tune. Bonus: The victor will have the opportunity to perform at Nashville’s CMA Music Festival this June.
“Billy Ray and myself, I don’t think we’re too bad at picking songs,” Loveless says, chuckling. “I’m probably going to be a little critical; I’m always critical of my own songwriting.”
Loveless—the “Honky-Tonk Angel” who has stuck to country and bluegrass since her self-titled debut in 1987—may soon have a surprise for fans. “My next project, it’s going to be different,” she says. “I don’t want to give it away. But I’m going to dabble in some other forms of music.”
Photograph courtesy of Drive4COPD.com