100 Greatest Women, #28: Faith Hill

Musician Faith Hill arrives at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S. , February 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

#28

Faith Hill

2008 Edition: #25 (-3)

The story of Faith Hill begins in the small town of Star, Mississippi. When she was only nine years old, she saw Elvis Presley in concert and knew immediately that she wanted to be an entertainer. Thanks to her ear for a great hook and ease singing diverse styles, she has become one of the top-selling female artists in country music history.

Like many singers, she began singing in church. When she was just seventeen, she fronted a country band that played in local rodeos. At nineteen, she quit college and move to Nashville to pursue her dream. When an audition to be Reba McEntire’s backup singer was unsuccessful, she sold t-shirts while looking for an industry job. She briefly married Dan Hill, an industry executive, and kept the surname after the marriage ended. She landed a job as a secretary at a publishing company. A co-worker heard her singing to herself, which led to Hill singing demos for the staff songwriters.

Gary Burr, a top songwriter, asked Hill to lend vocal support to his performances. One night at the Bluebird, a Warner Bros. executive was impressed by her talent, leading to a deal with the label. In late 1993, her debut single “Wild One” was sent to radio. It took off quickly, spending four weeks at #1, the longest run for a debut female single since Connie Smith’s “Once a Day” in 1964. She won the ACM Top New Female Vocalist the following spring. She scored another #1 hit with her second single, a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” and a #2 with the title track from her debut album, Take Me as I Am, a set that eventually sold three million copies.

Hill toured with Reba McEntire and then Alan Jackson in support of the set, but while preparing her second album, a blood vessel on her vocal cords ruptured. She would later call this a blessing, as it gave her more time to select material for her sophomore project, It Matters to Me. She launched the album with the catchy “Let’s Go to Vegas,” and followed up with four more top ten hits, the biggest of which was the title track that topped the charts for three weeks. The album went on to sell four million copies.

While touring with country superstar Tim McGraw, the professional partnership turned personal. They soon wed, and she sang the harmony on his single “It’s Your Love” in 1996. It was a huge smash, topping the singles chart for six weeks. It won them four ACM awards and a CMA trophy for Vocal Event. Hill had an even bigger hit when she returned in 1998 with “This Kiss.” The lead single from her third set Faith, it hit just when LeAnn Rimes and Shania Twain had scored some crossover success. Hill’s catchy hit found an audience in both country and pop, making her a much bigger star in the process.

“This Kiss” won Hill more awards, including her first of three ACM trophies for Top Female Vocalist. “Let Me Let Go” was another #1 hit from the album, which went on to sell six million copies. Her next set, Breathe, was even bigger. The title track topped the charts for six weeks, and was a massive pop hit, becoming the most-played song on the radio on all formats for the entire 2000 chart year. The album went on to sell eight million copies, while “The Way You Love Me,” “Let’s Make Love,” and “If My Heart Had Wings” scored at country radio. Hill won the CMA Female Vocalist trophy in 2000, and after having no luck at the Grammys in previous years, she won three in 2001, including the prestigious Best Country Album trophy.

After scoring a big pop hit with “There You’ll Be” from Pearl Harbor, earning a performance slot at the Academy Awards, Hill moved further in the pop direction with her ambitious fifth set, Cry. The Angie Aparo-penned title track won Hill a fourth Grammy. and while country radio was cool to the project, pop radio embraced “Cry” and “One.”

After a couple of years out of the limelight, Hill returned with what was arguably her strongest album to date, Fireflies, in 2005. A lot of attention was given to the contributions of songwriter John Rich to the project, and he did pen three of the big hits from the project, “Mississippi Girl”, “Like We Never Loved at All” and “Sunshine and Summertime.” But the soul of the album came from songwriter Lori McKenna, who penned the title track and the brilliant “Stealing Kisses.” When Hill went on tour with husband Tim McGraw, they invited McKenna to open for them, a prime gig given that it ended up being the most successful country tour in history at that time.

In 2006, Hill released her first American hits collection, The Hits. It included her latest duet with McGraw “I Need You,” which was also on his album Let it Go. She followed with her most recent solo release, the Christmas collection Joy to the World, in 2008.  It went gold.  In the years that followed, Hill released several singles that promised to be from her long-awaited seventh studio album, but that release never came. Instead, Hill parted ways with Warner Bros. and her final release for the label, Deep Tracks, collected album cuts alongside some previously unreleased material.

In recent years, Hill has primarily collaborated with McGraw, singing harmonies on the big 2014 hit, “Meanwhile Back at Mama’s.” They toured again in 2017, and both of them signed to Sony Nashville. That year, they released their first duets album, The Rest of Your Life, which sold strongly and produced a top ten hit with “Speak to a Girl.”

Essential Singles

  • Wild One, 1993
  • It Matters to Me, 1995
  • This Kiss, 1998
  • Let Me Let Go, 1998
  • Breathe, 1999
  • The Way You Love Me, 2000
  • There You’ll Be, 2001
  • Cry, 2002
  • Mississippi Girl, 2005
  • Like We Never Loved at All (with Tim McGraw), 2005

Essential Albums

  • It Matters to Me, 1995
  • Faith, 1998
  • Breathe, 1999
  • Cry, 2002
  • Fireflies, 2005

Industry Awards

  • Academy of Country Music Awards
    • Career Achievement Award, 2006
    • Music Video of the Year
      • It’s Your Love (with Tim McGraw), 1998
      • This Kiss, 1999
      • Breathe, 2000
      • Forever Country, 2016
    • Single of the Year
      • It’s Your Love (with Tim McGraw), 1998
      • This Kiss, 1999
    • Song of the Year
      • It’s Your Love (with Tim McGraw), 1998
    • Top Female Vocalist, 1999, 2000, 2001
    • Top New Female Vocalist, 1994
    • Vocal Event of the Year
      • It’s Your Love (with Tim McGraw), 1998
      • Just to Hear You Say That You Love Me (with Tim McGraw), 1999
  • Country Music Association Awards
    • Female Vocalist, 2000
    • Music Video of the Year
      • This Kiss, 1998
    • Vocal Event of the Year
      • It’s Your Love (with Tim McGraw), 1997
  • Grammy Awards
    • Best Country Album
      • Breathe, 2001
    • Best Country Collaboration With Vocals
      • Let’s Make Love (with Tim McGraw), 2001
      • Like We Never Loved at All (with Tim McGraw), 2006
    • Best Female Country Vocal Performance
      • Breathe, 2001
      • Cry, 2003

100 Greatest Women: 10th Anniversary Edition

Next: #27. Crystal Gayle

Previous: #29. Martina McBride

 

16 Comments

  1. My 3 most frequently played FH songs on i-tunes are:
    “Let Me Let Go” (Steve Diamond & Dennis Morgan)
    “The Secret of Life” (Gretchen Peters)
    and, since I love funny songs
    “Dearly Beloved” (Georgia Middleman & Fred Wilhelm – from Fireflies but not a single)

  2. Faith is a personal favorite of mine. Breathe, Cry and Fireflies regularly get played. I think she doesn’t want to release music that is going to do poorly sales wise but I really wish she would. Imagine her doing some Lori Mckenna, Liz Rose, Hillary Lindsey songs.

    My personal favorite are: You’re Still Here, Breathe, This Kiss, Fireflies, and It Matters to Me. Her harmonies on meanwhile back at mama’s are gorgeous too.

  3. Faith Hill is one of my all time favorite artists period. Faith progression in country music is something special. She went from being the girl next door with a powerful, soulful voice to a bonafide legend that adapted with the times and wasn’t afraid push the boundaries of her artistry. IMO, Faith has one of best discographies ever in country music. Personally, Faith has never release a bad solo project. Take As I Am, is a great debut album, It Matters To Me is one of the best sophomore albums ever in country music, Faith was a solid album, Breathe is one the greatest pop-country albums of all time, Cry is criminally underrated album that deserved more love, and Fireflies is Faith’s best album and it’s one the greatest country albums of the 00’s. This Kiss is still my all time favorite Faith Hill track and it’s still the catchiest song that I have ever heard. Breathe is a close second though. I can’t praise Faith anymore because it’ll take me forever to stop singing it.

  4. In what way did pop radio embrace “Cry” and “One” considering neither made the top 40 at Top 40 radio?

  5. I guess I would have ranked her a little lower since she hasn’t released a solo studio album in 13 years.

  6. I would also rank Faith Hill a little lower. I would have ranked her behind Martina McBride and Kathy Mattea. Kathy’s three studio albums released between 2008 and 2018 have artistic relevance and strong ties to the roots of country music. Kathy’s new recording of “Ode to Billy Joe” is a gem.

  7. KJC – AC radio isn’t the same as pop radio, though.

    Michael A – What dos Hill not having released an album in 13 years have to do with her placement on an all-time list? Patsy Cline hasn’t released an album in years either, but she’s surely going to be high on the list.

  8. Hi Jason,

    It’s funny. I was actually thinking of Cline too when I wrote that comment. I guess I just so admire careers with longevity. For an artist with a small discography, I would look at that small output’s influence on the genre as a whole. All of our lists of the 100 Greatest Women in Country Music are highly subjective and such a matter of personal taste. I actually have everything Faith Hill has ever released (I think). I would have really loved to have seen her grow and give us more than just a taste of some of what we got on her last album (with “Stealing Kisses”, etc.).

  9. Hi Michael

    Do you also have the Europe-only “Love Will Always Win” album? It’s essentially a reissue of “Faith” with one or two de-countrified arrangements which work really well.

    The title track is one of Faith’s all time greatest ballads and her vocal on it just soars, there is a rocked-up version of Piece Of My Heart and a David Foster-produced version of “Let Me Let Go” which features IMO one of Faith’s best vocals ever.

    If you don’t have it, get it immediately!

  10. Thanks for the recommendation, ChrisOV! It looks like relatively inexpensive copies are available on Amazon. I have all of her studio releases plus her holiday album and two compilations (The Hits and Deep Tracks). There are quite a few artists for whom I collect EVERYTHING. Hill isn’t necessarily one of them. Still, I do have her contributions to a number of various artist compilations (the Tammy Wynette tribute, Disney, VH1 Divas, soundtracks for The Prince of Egypt, The Grinch & Country Strong and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”) as well as her stand alone singles (“American Heart” and “Come Home”).

  11. I’m mostly oblivious to Faith’s music. Literally, all I know of hers is “This Kiss”, “Breathe” and “Where Are You Christmas”, and that was due to the spins those three get on one of the local pop radio stations in Houston (the Christmas one is only spun around the holidays). But from what I gathered, I think her vocal abilities are a divisive subject – some say she can sing, others say she can’t. Me? I’m indifferent.

    Now as for this countdown… how much longer do we have to wait for any further movement? It’s been a week since the last entries, and there are some women I’m still anticipating!

  12. @Rez
    Maybe the wrting staff is just one of two things: Dead or lazy. (Heck, even their Twitter’s been quiet the last couple of days.) But I suspected Underwood and Miranda Lambert were gonna get MUCH higher rankings (think Top 20 positions!) than in 2008, too. That also goes for Lee Ann Womack – haven’t seen her yet, and she was #33 in 2008.

  13. @Jman

    The fact that these comments are moderated, I do not think the first option holds water. Next, they have posted and retweeted stuff on twitter in the past 24 hours. Anyway, I am still excited to see these contemporary artists (CU and ML) get HUGE gains they deserve. :)

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