100 Greatest Women, #91: Lori McKenna

#91

Lori McKenna

2008 Ranking: New Entry

Lori McKenna’s talent as a songwriter has made her a major player in mainstream country, while she has also cultivated a consistent career as an Americana artist.

McKenna’s career path has been unconventional, starting with the region where she got her start. She hails from New England, and Massachusetts has remained her home base even as she’s become an in-demand songwriting partner on Music Row.  She already had three kids when she started playing open mic nights in and around Boston. She made enough of a name for herself to release four independent CDs in the early 2000s, receiving critical acclaim for 2002’s Pieces of Me and 2004’s Bittertown.  The latter album led to a publishing deal with Harlan Howard Music.

McKenna’s big break came when Faith Hill heard one of her songs, and then requested to hear everything McKenna had ever recorded.  Hill recorded four McKenna songs for her 2005 album Fireflies, including the title track, “Stealing Kisses,” “If You Ask,” and the iTunes exclusive track, “Lone Star.”  Hill became so smitten with McKenna that she was invited to open for Tim McGraw & Faith Hill’s tour that year, and she appeared with the duo on an episode of the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Warner Bros. Nashville signed McKenna as an artist, re-releasing Bittertown and also the Tim McGraw and Byron Gallimore-produced 2007 set, Unglamorous, which became McKenna’s biggest-selling album.  McKenna returned to the indie music scene afterward, releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums that included Lorraine, Massachusetts, and The Bird & the Rifle.  It was Rifle that gained McKenna her first big awards attention as an artist, earning her Grammy nominations and the Americana Award for Song of the Year for “Wreck You.”

But it was McKenna’s songwriting that gained her the most notoriety during this period. Following her work with Hill, McKenna began co-writing with some of the biggest Nashville songwriters. She scored a big hit in 2013 with Hunter Hayes’ “I Want Crazy,” and Little Big Town sent “Sober” to radio the same year.  Keith Urban, Alison Krauss, and Reba McEntire also recorded her compositions.  In 2015, Little Big Town had a massive hit with “Girl Crush,” which won the Grammy for Best Country Song and also Song of the Year from the ACM and the CMA.  One year later, she became the first woman in history to win the CMA for Song of the Year two years in a row, this time for the Tim McGraw smash, “Humble and Kind.” That song also won her a second Grammy for Best Country Song.  On the strength of these hits, McKenna became the first woman in history to win the ACM Award for Songwriter of the Year.

McKenna continues to commute between New England and Nashville, balancing her successful career as a singer and a songwriter with her dedication to her family, usually limiting her performances to the northeast and middle Tennessee.

Essential Singles

  • Stealing Kisses (Faith Hill), 2006
  • Unglamorous, 2007
  • Salt, 2013
  • Girl Crush (Little Big Town), 2015
  • Humble and Kind (Tim McGraw), 2016
  • Wreck You, 2016

Essential Albums

  • Pieces of Me, 2002
  • Bittertown, 2004
  • Unglamorous, 2007
  • Lorraine, 2011
  • Massachusetts, 2013

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Song of the Year
      • Girl Crush, 2016
    • Songwriter of the Year, 2017
  • Americana Music Honors & Awards
    • Song of the Year
      • Wreck You, 2017
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Song of the Year
      • Girl Crush, 2015
      • Humble and Kind, 2016
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Song
      • Girl Crush, 2016
      • Humble and Kind, 2017

Next: #90. Gretchen Peters

Previous: #92. Kelly Willis

8 Comments

  1. Despite Lori McKenna having wrote clunkers like “God Made Girls”, the majority of the songs with her name are great “Humble and Kind” being the crown jewel.

    Still wondering if we will see artists like Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris and Lauren Alaina. All 4 are new but all have seen success, but none of them outside of Maddie & Tae has a ton of acclaim (Lauren Alaina has some, Maren Morris has a bit and Kelsea Ballerini has very little).

    It’s also interesting for me because we have female artists like Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Karen & Kimberly of LBT and Kimberly Perry of TBP who could show up.

    With how many new entries there has already been I’m excited to see what other new arrivals will show up.

  2. Lori McKenna is one of the best female country songwriters in the last decade. Unglamorous, Lorraine, and Massachusetts are fantastic albums. I’m glad Lori has been getting a love in the past few years for writing hit songs from Little Big Town to Tim McGraw. I will say this, the one artist that captures Lori’s songwriting perfectly is Faith Hill. Faith’s amazing voice and Lori’s detailing songwriting is a match made in heaven.

  3. She’s written so many great songs, including some of my favorites from last year. I’ve been wanting to write an artice that highlights that she’s one of the most compassionate open hearted songwriters in country music these days. Along with “Humble and Kind”, she’s also helped to write “Happy People” by Little Big Town and “Bottle by My Bed” by Sunny Sweeney. She’s also written great songs with Angalena Presley for her 2017 album.

  4. Love “Humble & Kind”, “When Someone Stops Loving You”, “Happy People”, etc.
    To see what other songs she has written, I checked Lori McKenna on BMI and got nothing. Checked ASCAP – nothing. Back on BMI, I found her as Lorraine Ann McKenna with 1,068 “work titles” – too many to check out.

  5. One of my favorite McKenna compositions I haven’t seen anyone mention yet is “Bible Song” from Sara Evans’ 2005 album Real Fine Place. Definitely worth checking out.

  6. Song-writers are off to a very good start here. Massachusetts is very good. McKenna, Lindsey, and Rose is the song writing group the world needs.

    My favorite by other artists are Stealing Kisses, Girl Crush, Stealing Kisses and Like I’ll Never Love You Again. I have to be in the right mood for Humble & Kind. Seeing Tim perform in concert was a moment though.

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