Archive for the ‘Features’ Category

100 Greatest Women, #24: Connie Smith

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Connie Smith

“There’s really only three female singers in the world: Streisand, Ronstadt and Connie Smith. The rest of us are just pretending.” – Dolly Parton

Connie Smith was born in Indiana, but she grew up in West Virginia, where she first began singing publicly. She later moved to Ohio, and though she was soon a housewife and mother, she still sang in her spare time. She performed on local television shows, and when she won a talent contest in 1963, she was discovered by Bill Anderson. He quickly arranged for her to be signed to RCA Records, and wrote a song especially for her called “Once a Day.”

When that record was released in the summer of 1964, she was an overnight success. The song spent an astonishing eight weeks at #1, and it still holds the record for the longest run at the top by a female artist. It launched her into stardom, and Smith became one of the most popular female acts of the decade. She scored three #1 albums, topping the charts with Connie Smith, Cute ‘N’ Country and Born to Sing. Another album released during the same time frame, Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, spent many weeks at No. 2.


100 Greatest Women, #25: Faith Hill

Friday, June 6th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Faith Hill

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.


100 Greatest Women, #26: Martina McBride

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Martina McBride

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.


100 Greatest Women, #27: Kathy Mattea

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Kathy Mattea

She was a gifted child who had been skipped a grade, who then dropped out of college and followed her songwriting boyfriend to Nashville. He had given up his dream before a year was through, but Kathy Mattea stuck around, laying the foundations for a career that has already spanned twenty-five years.

Mattea was born in West Virginia, the daughter of a man who was the first in his family to find work outside the coal mines. She started singing in Girl Scout camp, and developed a love for folk music. Only seventeen when she began her studies at West Virginia University , she joined a bluegrass band called Pennsboro. The band leader and principal songwriter wanted to try his luck in Nashville, and Mattea made the bold decision to drop out of college and follow him to Music City.

Only nineteen when she arrived, Tennessee law prohibited her from serving alcohol. This made a waitressing job impossible. She got in touch with the only West Virginia native she knew in town, and he told her that the Country Music Hall of Fame was hiring tour guides. Her outgoing personality landed her the minimum-wage job, and provided her formal introduction to the world of country music.


100 Greatest Women, #28: Anne Murray

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Anne Murray

There may never have been a more unassuming female superstar than Anne Murray, who quietly built up an impressive run of hits that stretched two decades long. All this from a soft-spoken high school gym teacher who half-heartedly pursued the fame and fortune that came looking for her instead.

For Murray, music had only been a hobby. As she studied for her physical education degree at the Canadian University of New Brunswick, she tried out for the weekly CBC television series Singing Jubilee. They already had enough alto singers, but the producer remembered her. Two years had passed since the audition and she was already a high school gym teacher. The producer called her up with an offer to join at TV show called Let’s Go. She took the job, but kept teaching at the same time.

She struck up a friendship with the show’s musical director Brian Ahern. He asked her to record for the independent label Arc, and in 1968, she released her debut album What About Me? It did well enough to capture the attention of Capitol Records, who signed her to a deal. When her first single for the label, “Snowbird”, was released, it was an surprise hit, selling a million copies and going top ten on both the country and pop charts.


100 Greatest Women, #29: Mary Chapin Carpenter

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Mary Chapin Carpenter

The list of intelligent female singer-songwriters that have made it big in country music is fairly short. Brown-educated and world-traveled by the time she performed publicly, Mary Chapin Carpenter brought a sophistication to country music that was eagerly embraced by the industry and fans alike.

Carpenter began singing the folks songs that she loved when still in high school. Reportedly, classmates threatened to cut her guitar strings if she sang “Leavin’ On a Jet Plane” one more time. The divorce of her parents contributed to her introversion, and she was a reluctant public performer. After attending Brown, earning a degree in American Civilization, she attempted to pursue her musical ambitions.

Fate intervened when she met John Jennings, who would become her primary collaborator. At the time they met, she still considered music a hobby and was determined to “get a real job.” He pushed her to start performing original material, and she demonstrated her sense of humor early on by dubbing her own publishing company “Get a Real Job.” Her demo caught the attention of Columbia Records, who released it as is in 1987, under the title Hometown Girl. It became a popular record on college radio, and the label felt she could reach a larger audience if she pursued a country career.


100 Greatest Women, #30: Lorrie Morgan

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Lorrie Morgan

There are many second generation country stars that build on the legacy of the famous parent that came before them. Lorrie Morgan is one of the few that actually eclipsed her famous parent, becoming one of the most popular female country artists during the nineties gold rush.

Of course, she’d been chasing the dream long before that. She was born the daughter of George Morgan, an Opry member who had his biggest hit in 1949 with “Candy Kisses.” Morgan has described herself as an “Opry brat,” a kid who grew up backstage of the venerable institution. She was 13 when she made her own Opry debut, garnering a huge ovation for her rendition of Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses.” Three short years later, her father died suddenly. Still a teen in high school, she dedicated herself fully to pursuing her own singing career, both to carry on her father’s legacy and help pay the bills he left behind.

To say things went slowly would be an understatement. She was nineteen when she released her first single, the Eddy Raven-penned “Two People in Love” on ABC Records. After that stopped at #75, she put out the Liz Anderson-penned “Tell me I’m Only Dreaming” on MCA, which also failed to capture an audience. A third single in 1979, “I’m Completely Satisfied With You,” was a studio-spliced posthumous duet with her late father. It stopped at No. 93.


100 Greatest Women, #31: Rose Maddox

Saturday, May 31st, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Rose Maddox

She was only ten years old when her big brothers pulled her into their band, needing a female singer on the spot to land a regular performing gig on the radio in Modesta, California. She quickly learned as many songs as she could, and joined her brothers to form The Maddox Brothers & Rose, one of the most influential hillbilly bands of all-time.

Her family had moved to California during the Dust Bowl, and her brothers loathed the idea of manual labor for a pittance of pay. They found a dedicated audience willing to pay their bills for a few songs in return, and they toured the west coast, hopping from rodeo to rodeo and club to club, playing for nominal fees plus tips. Another act playing the same circuit was Woody Guthrie, and Rose caught his show when she was only twelve. She heard him perform “Philadelphia Lawyer,” and she helped make the song a country classic through her performances of it.

The Maddox Brothers & Rose won a California State Centennial contest in 1939 that landed them their own syndicated radio show. The act’s popularity spread beyond their California home base, and their career seemed unstoppable until national events intervened.


100 Greatest Women, #32: Lynn Anderson

Friday, May 30th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Lynn Anderson

She was the daughter of songwriters Casey and Liz Anderson. Raised in California, she witnessed the West Coast country music scene when it was most vital. But in her early years, she was as likely to perform with a horse as she was with a microphone, winning the California Horse Show Queen title in 1966.

At that time, her mom was scoring some hits on the country charts, so daughter followed mother into the music business. She recorded for the small label Chart, and found success quickly. After scoring hits with “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away)” and “Promises, Promises”, she was named the then-regional ACM’s Top Female Vocalist in 1968. Her album Promises, Promises went to #1, and in 1969, just missed the top spot with her single “That’s a No No.”


100 Greatest Women, #33: Lee Ann Womack

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

100 Greatest Women


Lee Ann Womack

When she released her debut album in 1997, she was widely hailed as the great hope for traditional country music, a much-needed counterpoint to the pop crossover sounds that were beginning to dominate the genre. With time, Womack would prove that she wasn’t so easy to pigeonhole.

She grew up in Texas, the daughter of a country radio disc jockey. Her dad turned her on to the sounds of classic country music and she was smitten. When the time came for college, she attended South Plains Junior College in Texas, since it was the only school she could find that offered a major in country music. She took the next logical step and moved to Nashville after that, attending Belmont University for a brief time.

While at the school, she interned at MCA Records. She was a dedicated follower of George Strait, and it was his label where she wanted to record. By the early nineties, she had settled down in Nashville with a husband and young child, while building up her songwriting catalog and putting on showcases. Tree Publishing caught a showcase, heard her demo and signed her. She scored some cuts on albums by Bill Anderson and Ricky Skaggs, but her stint as a staff writer was short-lived. Decca, an imprint of MCA, signed her to her own recording contract, and she started work on her debut album.



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