100 Greatest Women, #26: Martina McBride

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.

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.

Martina McBride

Essential Singles

  • “Independence Day,” 1994
  • “Wild Angels,” 1996
  • “A Broken Wing,” 1997
  • “Whatever You Say,” 1999
  • “This One’s For the Girls,” 2003
  • “Anyway,” 2006

Essential Albums

  • The Way That I Am, 1993
  • Wild Angels, 1995
  • Evolution, 1997
  • Timeless, 2005

Industry Awards

  • ACM Female Vocalist, 2002, 2003 & 2004
  • CMA Video (“Independence Day”), 1994
  • CMA Female Vocalist, 1999, 2002, 2003 & 2004

==> #25. Faith Hill

<== #27. Kathy Mattea

100 Greatest Women: The Complete List


  1. Some people might argue this is too low of a spot for a four time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year. However, I think this is pretty close to where she belongs. Martina has a great voice, but she never put together that career defining album.

    It will be interesting to see in what musical direction Martina goes from here. It is becoming clear that country radio is more interested in playing Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift then Martina McBride. Will Martina continue to bid for play on country radio, or will she moved in more diverse musical directions?

  2. I think that putting her so low is crazy. She’s been the most consistent female on radio since the early 90’s. Whether you like her music or not, her impact on the country music scene deserves much higher than 26… especially considering she was in fact the only striving female for about 3 years. I’m thinking somewhere in the top 15 or top 10.

  3. I agree with Steve, but I’m pleased to see her on the list. A few I havn’t seen yet that should be here, and correct me if I’m wrong, are Alison Krauss, Reba, Emmilou, Loretta, Dolly, and Tammy. Can’t wait to see where and if they place.

  4. You have her placed slightly where I have her, but she’s clearly been a force in County music for the last 16 years. It seems that a good percentage of today’s aspiring female singers are Martina wannabes so she clearly has been influential.

    I have very mixed feelings about Martina McBride, the artist. My three favorite albums for Martina were her first two , plus TIMELESS. Most of the rest I have passed on except for the GREATEST HITS collection. Even TIMELESS leaves me with mixed feelings – I really enjoyed hearing the classic songs again BUT apparently the classic songs were harder to sing well as Martina doesn’t do that good a job with most of them – either that or her vocal chops have been hugely overrated.

    On the other hand, Martina’s image and persona are squeeky clean, and apparently justifiably so, making her an extremely positive role model. The value of that is hard to overstate

  5. Yay, good to see Martina! Kind of hoped she would be higher, but that’s cool. I would have to say she’s one of my favourite artists in country. She’s always very good, puts out great songs that I can relate to, lives by her beliefs which is so inspiring!

  6. Martina below Faith? I refuse to criticize Faith as she has recorded deeper material than her radio fare, but in terms of influence (as Paul touched upon), there is no competition.

  7. I won’t argue about the placement of Martina on the list, but I have never quite developed the kind of enthusiasm for her that others have, for two reasons.

    One, while I do understand that her squeaky clean image and persona are traits to be admired, I feel that a lot of the material she chooses as a result rarely rise above bland adult contemporary stuff that is radio friendly and seems to try to appeal to an audience that may not have a long-term interest in country music. Two instances where she has cut loose from that mould (“When God Fearing Women Get The Blues”; “Love’s The Only House”) didn’t exactly set the country radio world on fire.

    Secondly, while she may have a very powerful voice, she sometimes overdoes it in the manner of one too many pop and R&B divas. Being “little but loud” (as she likes to quote Little Jimmy Dickens) shouldn’t be the only thing her voice is known for being.

  8. I would have probably put her down a little higher, but I’ll see who you put after this. I have mixed feelings about this, without Martina country music would have really been just male domination from 2002 and even till now. Male country singers dominatiing the genre is a little sad but hopefully that trend will start changing more and more. Martina is one of my favorite country singers, she had a timeless song that everyone knows no matter what music you like, Independece Day, like you had said. She had and still has some very good songs. She had very good songs from 1997-2003. Independce Day gave contry music and Martina more attention, but she didn’t really shake things up for country music like Shania Twain. Not that we need two Shania’s or anything. Either way you can’t deny she has an amazing voice and has a great taste in music.

  9. Well, I’m a little biased here, b/c Martina is another of my favories. Her career has certainly been a slow build, which is odd in today’s music world. Like others have said, I do think some of the younger country music females have borrowed heavily from Martina (much like women in the 90s did from Reba).

    All of that to say that I think she probably should have been a bit higher. We’ll see who is above her, but with her record at the CMAs alone she should be higher than she already is…

    Still—great job on this list. :)

  10. The CMA streak was impressive, but it goes hand in hand with the fact that country radio wasn’t playing any other female artists at that time. You couldn’t build up such a streak during the years where there were many major female artists. After Reba’s four-year streak from 1984-1987, eleven different women won the award in fifteen years, including McBride’s first win in 1999, before she returned in 2002 to dominate the category. It was so competitive for that trophy in the nineties that big female stars like Shania Twain and Lorrie Morgan never won.

  11. I don’t think I would have placed Martina any higher. While I think she has a great voice and comes across as a wonderful person, I don’t think she has had quite the artistic impact on country music that the artists yet to come on this list have had. Her longevity has been impressive and her presence on male-dominated country radio a breath of fresh air, but I can’t really think of a Martina song that I’ve LOVED other than “Independence Day.” That song will remain a classic. It’s too bad the rest of her material hasn’t been as edgy or interesting. Most of her remaining songs fall into the Hallmark card category. Beautifully sung, but they play them over the loud speakers at my local grocery store and drug store…on repeat. The difference between Martina and the artists yet come (IMO) – Martina sings me a beautiful song….Reba, for example, makes me feel a beautiful song. I love country music that makes me feel something. Maybe it’s a personal preference.

    Great list Kevin!

  12. I’ve loved Martina’s music up to her Wild Angels album. Unfortunately, her music has been touch and go for me since then, though I do have all of her albums. She has an undeniably great voice and I always hope for great things from her.

  13. Leeann,

    That’s interesting. “Wild Angels” was where my enthusiasm for McBride peaked as well. That was like a Ronstadt record. Loved it. I also enjoyed her first two albums. I first noticed McBride when I saw the video of “That’s Me”, which is still one of my favorite songs she’s ever done.

  14. Martina’s albums are very weak. She has a great voice and some good songs but never have I enjoyed one of her albums.

  15. I kinda of agree with Cory. I like the hit singles, but I haven’t really found an album which I throughly enjoyed. Faith Hill’s Breathe is a great album that I enjoyed all the way through

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