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Talent, dreams and determination are an intoxicating little cocktail. It's a recipe that has served to propel a lithesome Georgia blonde from local honky tonks to the world's most prestigious stages. For Trisha Yearwood, there was never any other path but music.
Sitting in a Nashville studio listening to mixes of her Big Machine Records debut, "Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love," it is obvious Yearwood is living the dream and loving every minute of it. With three Grammys, three Country Music Association honors, and 19 top ten singles to her credit, including such career-defining hits as "She's in Love With the Boy," "Perfect Love," and "How Do I Live," it might be tempting to rest on her considerable laurels, but that's not in Yearwood's nature.
After all, a career in music has been Yearwood's goal since she was five-years-old. "Most little kids ask Santa Claus for a doll or a bike for Christmas. I was asking for a tape recorder because I wanted to hear my voice on tape. I have tapes of me singing when I was five or six. When I die I'm sure somebody will find them, but not until then," she says with a laugh.
Yearwood remembers getting a copy of Carole King's classic "Tapestry" album as a Christmas gift and recalls that vividly as a defining moment. Somewhere she began summoning the courage to pursue her dream. "When you are that age, especially in a small town where nobody does this for a living, people sort of say, 'Oh that's cute,'" the Monticello, Georgia native says.
In her small community, declaring she wanted to be a country singer was tantamount to wanting to become the president of the United States. It seemed a lofty dream with little chance of reality, but Yearwood remained undaunted. "Some people at five or six-yeas-old already know what they want to be, and I did. That was the beginning and the desire to do it just got stronger and stronger."
Like most hopeful young artists, Yearwood began singing around her hometown, and though she became a big fish in that small pond, deep inside she wondered if she really had the goods to succeed. She found her validation in a little bar in Macon, Georgia. "It was a talent night and I was 16 and not old enough to go into a bar," she recalls, "but if you won, you got $50 and you got to come back on Friday night and sing with the house band. I talked to my parents and I said, 'You guys go with me and we'll do it.' I won! I got to go in and sing that Friday night with the band and that $50 check is still hanging on my bulletin board in Georgia."
Still in her teens, Yearwood talked her parents into a vacation in Nashville and a visit to the Grand Ole Opry. Driving down Music Row her dream became palpable. "Just seeing those buildings and knowing there were people making records in there and writing songs, it was exciting," she says. "I knew I just had to get back here. I remember praying about it and just asking God 'If this is not the path, if I'm supposed to do something else, then just please take this desire away,' because there was this painful desire to do it. I had no clue how to go about it, but that strong desire never went away, so I just felt like it was what I was supposed to do."
After graduating from Belmont University, and serving a stint as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Yearwood landed a job as the receptionist for Mary Tyler Moore's MTM Records. It was there she first met Big Machine Records president Scott Borchetta, who was working in promotion. "Watching people on a daily basis live your dream, I thought I really have to get off my behind here and make something happen or I'm going answer the phones for the rest of my life," she recalls.
She started singing demos, and earned a reputation for her solid work ethic, engaging personality and phenomenal voice. Songwriter Kent Blazy frequently used Yearwood on his demos and it was in his attic studio that she first met Garth Brooks. "He booked us to sing a duet demo," she recalls. "We were singing on one mic and it felt like we'd sung together forever. That day Garth called Bob Doyle, his manager, and said 'I've heard her. I just heard the best singer.' But it wasn't like he was Garth Brooks. He was this guy who had just signed with Capitol Records and had finished his first album, but hadn't had a single out yet."
Brooks introduced her to his producer, Allen Reynolds, who introduced her to producer Garth Fundis. Soon after, Yearwood did a showcase and landed a deal with MCA Records. "My first showcase we did was the night that Tony Brown said, 'Let's make a record,'" she remembers. "I'd been in Nashville for five years at that point, but when it happened, it happened fast. Fundis had a song called 'She's In Love With The Boy' sitting in his drawer in his office. He had it in that drawer for several years and just hadn't found the right place for it and it ended up being for me."
"She's in Love with the Boy" topped the Billboard country singles chart in August 1991. Her self-titled debut album has been certified double platinum and of the 10 albums that followed, all have been certified gold and six have been certified platinum. "Songbook: A Collection of Hits" has achieved quadruple platinum status. Yearwood has won three Grammy Awards; including best country female vocal performance for "How Do I Live." She's a two-time winner of the Country Music Association's female vocalist award, and has also netted the Academy of Country Music's top female vocalist honor. Inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 1999, Yearwood has won kudos for her recurring role on the TV series JAG as a Navy forensic specialist.
After more than 15 years on the MCA roster, Yearwood exited to sign with Big Machine Records. "Signing with Scott seemed really natural for me," she says of reuniting with Borchetta, a friend since the MTM days who also played a major role in her success at MCA. "They are very, very focused and they are very excited about what I'm doing. A lot of the people on this staff are people that I've worked with during the years. Scott and I have really worked together for 20 years. He was the head of promotion when 'She's In Love With The Boy' came out on MCA."
Having found her new label home, Yearwood entered the studio with longtime friend and producer Garth Fundis to record her 12th album. She says the word that immediately springs to mind when she's thinking of the new project is energy. "It's usually really easy to find ballads, but when it comes to up tempos, I'm really lucky if I find two or three that I really like. This time, we cut eight songs in two days and I think we had two ballads out of all of that. I'm really excited because it's like a live show to me. I love ballads and that's my bread and butter, but I'm really enjoying the energy of this record."
Such gems have always bee a staple of Yearwood's artistry. "I always thought my biggest hits have been happy accidents. I didn't know 'She's In Love With The Boy' was going to be that big. I didn't know 'How Do I Live' was going to be that big and those allow me to do some of the other songs that are maybe a little more left-of-center," she says. "I always called it the Emmylou factor. I was always checking my integrity level and saying, 'Okay would Emmy sing this? Could I pass her on the street if I sang this song?'
"I think I was actually a lot more serious in the beginning and finally Garth Fundis said, 'You have to lighten up a little bit. Everything doesn't have to be so deep. You can have some fun and nobody's going to think you've lost your artistic integrity.' I think we've had more fun on the later albums because I have lightened up a little bit. I can sing the gut-wrenching stuff, but I can have fun too. I think I'm able to sing some happier songs with sincerity in a way that I never did, not that I wasn't happy before, just not this level of happy. I can actually put a little more into those kind of songs."
Yes, Trisha Yearwood is happy these days. There's a light in her smile and buoyancy in her tone that's undeniable and absolutely infectious. "It still amazes me that I make a living doing what I love to do," she says. "I don't ever feel like it is work. I feel really grateful and blessed to get to do what I love. I love, love, love to sing."
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