100 Greatest Women, #53: Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman (Little Big Town)

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#53

Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman (Little Big Town)

2008 Edition: New Entry

Founded all the way back in 1998 and active in mainstream country music since the turn of the 21st century, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman have emerged as two of the most dominant female voices in the genre through their work in Little Big Town.

Fairchild and Schlapman began singing together in college, with Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet later joining them to complete the band.  They got the attention of Nashville record labels fairly quickly, but their first contract with Mercury Records resulted in disagreements with the label over their musical direction, and nothing was ever released.  They moved on to Monument Records, which had their breakthrough success as a revived imprint with the Dixie Chicks, and released their eponymous debut album to little fanfare in 2002.

Little Big Town then moved on to Equity Records, and this time, they were a hit. On the strength of the hit singles “Boondocks” and “Bring it On Home,” their sophomore set, The Road to Here, went platinum and earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.  Their next set for Equity, A Place to Land, failed to replicate that success, despite critical acclaim for the album as a whole and its lead single, “I’m With the Band.”

A high profile tour with Sugarland and Jake Owen helped maintain awareness for the band, and a live cover with those acts of “Life in a Northern Town” even reached the top thirty of the country singles chart solely on unsolicited airplay, a better showing than any of the three singles from A Place to Land.

Undeterred, the band signed with Capitol Records, where they would have their biggest and most consistent commercial success. Their fourth album, The Reason Why, returned them to the country top ten with the hit, “Little White Church.”  But it was their next album, Tornado, that launched them to the A-list.  It sold a million copies, and its lead single, “Pontoon,” won them their first Grammy, along with a CMA Award for Single of the Year.  It also kicked off a streak of Vocal Group wins at the CMA Awards, with six consecutive victories through the most recent ceremony in 2017.

Their next album, Pain Killer, brought another hit with its lead single, “Day Drinking,” but saved its greatest impact for the follow up, “Girl Crush,” co-written by Lori McKenna.  Its victory for Single of the Year made them the second band in history to win that award twice, after Lady Antebellum achieved the feat a few years earlier. They won an ACM award for their supporting harmonies on the Miranda Lambert hit, “Smokin’ and Drinkin'”, which kept them on the country radio charts as they pursued a pop side project with Pharrell Williams, the 2016 set, Wanderlust.  The band joined the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in 2014, which preceded a successful residency at the Ryman Auditorium in 2017.

The band returned in 2017 with “Better Man,” another huge hit that was penned for them by Taylor Swift. It brought them their third Grammy in 2018, and helped its album, The Breaker, become their third #1 country album, as well as their third top ten on the overall album chart.  They are currently touring the country with Miranda Lambert in support of this project, which cemented their status as the one of the most successful country bands of the decade and the biggest to feature multiple female vocalists since the Dixie Chicks.

Essential Singles

  • Boondocks, 2005
  • Bring it On Home, 2006
  • Little White Church, 2010
  • Pontoon, 2012
  • Tornado, 2012
  • Girl Crush, 2014
  • Better Man, 2016

Essential Albums

  • The Road to Here (2005)
  • The Reason Why (2010)
  • Tornado (2012)
  • Pain Killer (2014)

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Crystal Milestone Award, 2016
    • Music Video of the Year
      • Tornado, 2013
    • Top New Vocal Duo/Group, 2007
    • Top Vocal Group, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017
    • Vocal Event of the Year
      • Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (with Miranda Lambert), 2016
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • International Artist Achievement Award, 2018
    • Single of the Year
      • Pontoon, 2012
      • Girl Crush, 2015
    • Vocal Group of the Year, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Duo/Group Performance
      • Pontoon, 2013
      • Girl Crush, 2016
      • Better Man, 2018

 

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #52. Jennifer Nettles (Sugarland)

Previous: #54. Matraca Berg

2 Comments

  1. I had their album with “Boondocks” but quickly tired of it and gave it away. Never cared much for LBT til their recent singles “Better Man”, “Happy People” and “When Someone Stops Loving You”.

  2. I love Little Big Town. I’ll admit I came late to the Little Big Town party when their Tornado album drop, but Tornado and Sober made me a fan of them. I have loved most of the singles they been releasing in the past few years. From Girl Crush, Better Man, Happy People, and When Someone Stops Loving You. Kimberly and Karen are amazing vocalists (even though I personally prefer Kimberly over Karen).

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