Country singer LeAnn Rimes, whose powerful, evocative vocals invited comparisons with Patsy Cline in the mid-1990s, has gone on to set her own benchmarks for pop crossover success. Still a teenager at the outset of the twenty-first century, she is on course to become one of the most successful recording artists in country music history.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi but raised in Garland, Texas, Rimes cut her teeth singing in local talent contests. By age eleven she had recorded an album for the indie label, Nor Va Jak. She then caught the attention of Dallas deejay and record promoter Bill Mack, who took control of her career. On the strength of an active performing schedule and television appearances across Texas, Mack secured a record contract with the Curb label. The press release for her first single, "Blue" (Curb 76959; 1996; #26 pop), claimed that Mack had written it in the early 1960s for Cline; when the singer died in a plane crash, he’d waited thirty years to find the right vehicle for the song. (Although both Mack and Kenny Roberts had recorded "Blue" for Starday in the 1960s, and a rendition by Kathryn Pitt had been released in her native Australia in 1993, widespread dissemination of the story by music journalists fed the myth that Rimes was the anointed successor to Cline’s tradition.
"Blue" entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number three, selling more than 123,000 copies in its first week of release, the highest amount ever measured up that point by the SoundScan tracking system. She became the youngest singer in the history of the Country Music Association awards to receive a nomination, both for the Horizon Award and Best Country Singer. She also won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
Since this auspicious beginning, her albums—Blue (Curb; 1996), Unchained Melody: The Early Years (Curb; 1997), You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs (Curb; 1997), Sittin’ on Top of the World (Curb; 1998), LeAnn Rimes (Curb; 1999) and I Need You (Curb; 2001)—and singles—"How Do I Live" (Curb 73022; 1997; #1 country, #2 pop), "You Light Up My Life" (Curb 73027; 1997; #34). "Looking Through Your Eyes" (Curb 73055; 1998; #18 pop), "Written in the Stars" (w/Elton John; Rocket/Curb 566918; 1999; #29 pop), and "Big Deal" (Curb 73086; 1999; #23 pop)—have sold well on both the pop and country charts. "How Do I Live" was intended as the theme for the film, Con-Air, but the producers ultimately selected Trisha Yearwood’s version of the song, considering it a better fit. Nevertheless, the Rimes rendition held the record for Billboard pop chart longetivity as of early 2002; sixty-nine weeks in 1997-1998. In addition to its strong performance on the pop and country charts, it topped both the Adult Contemporary and dance charts, selling more than three million copies. Only time will tell, however, whether Rimes goes on even greater success as an adult as did Stevie Wonder, or ultimately flames out like another youthful star, Brenda Lee.
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