With a big voice and a taste for topical material, Martina McBride has been one of the most consistently successful female country acts of the past fifteen years. She reached her commercial peak when female artists were dominating the genre, but she managed to maintain her popularity when women were all but banished from country radio.
She was raised in small town Kansas, and grew up singing in her family’s country band, The Schiffters. They played at local dances in the area. Once in college, she expanded her horizons, singing with a rock band for a brief period. She soon met sound engineer John McBride, and after a brief courtship, they married in 1988. Two years later, the happy couple moved to Nashville.
John’s career took off first, as his sound engineering job with rising star Garth Brooks ended up a tour job with the biggest superstar in country music history. Martina joined him on the road with Garth, selling t-shirts. Martina recorded some demos, and when John heard that RCA was looking for a new female singer, he dropped off her tape at the label. He’d heard they were only considering solicited material, so they put her demo in a big purple envelope and labeled it “Requested Material.” The ruse worked, as the label was impressed with her tape. They asked her to put on a showcase, and she blew them away, which led to a recording contract.
Martina McBride’s first album The Time Has Come hit stores in May of 1992. While the title cut was climbing the charts, she went back on the road with Garth, but this time, she was his opening act. She had moderate success with singles from the album, and released a compelling video clip for “Cheap Whiskey” that dealt with the consequences of alcoholism and drunk driving. Though the song wasn’t a hit, it previewed the topical material that would become McBride’s trademark.
McBride had launched around the same time as fellow young brunette singers Shania Twain and Lisa Stewart, and she felt she needed to stand out more from the pack. As she prepared to launch her second album, The Way That I Am, she cut her hair short. The album became a huge success thanks to two Gretchen Peters songs. “My Baby Loves Me” took twenty weeks to get to #2, but became McBride’s first real hit. After another single, “Life #9,” followed it into the top ten, the other Peters single was sent to radio.
“Independence Day” was the harrowing tale of an abused wife who burns down the house with her husband inside of it, told from the perspective of her orphaned child. Radio was resistant, but record buyers were not. Couple with a powerful video that won her the CMA Video of the Year award in 1994, “Independence Day” pushed The Way That I Am to gold and then platinum status.
McBride followed up her breakthrough album with the stellar Wild Angels in 1995. It remains her most consistent and interesting album to date, and she scored big hits with the title track and “Safe in the Arms of Love.” In 1996, the CMA nominated it for Album of the Year and it became her second platinum album.
McBride’s biggest studio album came next, 1997’s Evolution. She led off with “A Broken Wing,” a tale of emotional abuse that radio embraced, becoming her second No.1 single. The set included her AC hit “Valentine”, a collaboration with Jim Brickman, and another #1 hit, “Wrong Again.” The final single, “Whatever You Say”, established the blueprint for McBride’s power ballads, where she sings the verses softly and then belts out the chorus. Future singles “Where Would You Be” and “How Far” were nearly carbon copies of the 1999 hit, which pushed Evolution to triple-platinum status.
Later that year, McBride’s contribution to Runaway Bride – “I Love You” – spent five weeks at #1. She performed it on the CMA awards that fall, where she was named Female Vocalist for the first time. It also served as lead single for her fifth studio album Emotion, which became her fourth platinum album, aided by the hits “Love’s the Only House” and “There You Are.”
RCA pushed McBride to higher levels of visibility in 2001, releasing a tremendously generous Greatest Hits set that featured nineteen tracks. Of the four new singles, “Blessed” was the biggest hit and remains her most recent No.1. Another single, “Concrete Angel,” found McBride exploring child abuse.
By 2002, radio had stopped playing most female artists, and for the first few years of the new century, it seemed like McBride was the only core country act without a Y chromosome. She dominated the awards, winning both the ACM and CMA Female Vocalist trophies for three consecutive years. Her double-platinum album Martina produced big hits with “In My Daughter’s Eyes” and “This One’s For the Girls”, the latter of which topped the Adult Contemporary chart.
McBride’s unconventional next move was a covers album. Timeless collected McBride’s takes on eighteen classic country songs, and it was a surprise smash, selling platinum in spite of the fact that radio barely touched it. McBride resurfaced in 2007 with Waking Up Laughing. The album featured McBride’s songwriting for the first time, as she co-wrote the inspirational ballad “Anyway.” The song earned several award nominations, and she received wide exposure when she performed it on American Idol, one night after serving as guest mentor for the contestants on “country night.”
McBride’s other singles from the album didn’t fare as well, but it still went gold. in 2008, RCA documented her powerhouse vocals on film, releasing a live concert DVD with an eight-track bonus CD included.
- “Independence Day,” 1994
- “Wild Angels,” 1996
- “A Broken Wing,” 1997
- “Whatever You Say,” 1999
- “This One’s For the Girls,” 2003
- “Anyway,” 2006
- The Way That I Am, 1993
- Wild Angels, 1995
- Evolution, 1997
- Timeless, 2005
- ACM Female Vocalist, 2002, 2003 & 2004
- CMA Video (“Independence Day”), 1994
- CMA Female Vocalist, 1999, 2002, 2003 & 2004