Shawn Colvin

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Artist / Musician

While most people will think of Shawn Colvin as a one-hit wonder with her 1997 hit “Sunny Came Home”, Colvin has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards, pulling down her first in 1990 for Best Contemporary Folk Recording for her album Steady On, nominated in the same category 19 years later for her Live release.
Colvin was born in South Dakota in 1956, but her musical nurturing came when her family moved to Carbondale, Illinois. When she was 12, the family moved to the town that is the home to Southern Illinois University where her father pursued a doctorate in psychology.

It was not the most appealing place, who said, “Carbondale is a funky town,” in her autobiography Diamond in the Rough. A town, “that held no charm for me.” She hated school, and tried to ditch as much as she could get away with. She was at odds with her parents. And had very few friends. She had anxiety attacks. With that, her consolation came when she was home alone singing. And her guitar.

“The guitar had permanent residence at the foot of my bed, and when trouble came in the form of panic or pain, I reached for that guitar,” as she recalls, “I could produce something totally complete with my voice and the guitar.”
The first phase was learning standard and popular folk songs – Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins, John Denver, Phil Ochs, James Taylor, Kingston Trio, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and others. This got her through junior high and most of high school.

Her first official paid gig came just after she started college at S.I.U. With a strip of bars down the main street it wasn’t difficult to find a gig. “For $30 I played four 45-minute sets.” For the next year she was either playing somewhere of sitting in with someone else and started attracting a local following.
Broadening her horizons, Colvin put a band together that featured Dennis Conroy (formerly with the popular Chicago band The Cryan’ Shames), Jack O’Boyle on guitar and Brian Sandstrom on bass. For six months they expanded their base throughout Illinois. But Colvin’s personal demons coupled with drug and alcohol use curtailed the success they were having.

Her next shot came with the Dixie Diesels, a Carbondale country-swing outfit. They were short a girl singer and she jumped at the opportunity. The band had decided if they were going to make it, Carbondale was not the place and planned to relocate to Austin. This was Colvin’s ticket out of that charmless city.

She spent two years with the Diesels, traveling the south and southwest, ultimately doing nothing more than eking out a living doing Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel and other cover material. The band did release on single – “Juke Box Boogie” b/w “Diesel Truck” (Smokey Soul 761001) – but there was no future in sight and Colvin was battling nodes on her vocal chords and she decided to stop singing.

Battling anorexia, Colvin returned to Carbondale for both family and medical care. After cleaning up, “Armed with my guitar, my protective layer of fat, and a daily ration of alcohol, I headed out for the San Francisco Bay area in the spring of 1979.”

It was a mere year later when she got a call from an old Austin musical pal Buddy Miller who urged here to move to New York and jump on the urban cowboy country bandwagon.


“I fell in love with New York,”

he writes in her autobiography. “The geeky, neurotic weirdo I’d always felt like began to seem downright normal compared to some of the things I saw everyday.”

Colvin took over the reins of the band when Miller retired, but her drinking combined with “the notional of becoming a rockabilly chick with a ponytail and poodle skirts” the rest of her life just didn’t offer a future.
1996. New York goodbye. North Carolina hello with Colvin joining up with the Red Clay Ramblers. Once again, alcohol intervened.

Seeking sobriety, she returned to New York. It was there she discovered she was meant to be a solo artist. And the songs started coming. And a reuniting with Buddy Miller Band guitarist John Leventhal resulted into a relationship with the two becoming both soul mates and a songwriting team.

While working the local folk clubs, local music magazine Fast Folk asked Colvin to add a track to their various artist compilation sampler. They asked her to do “I Don’t Know Why” and supported the record with shows in New York and Boston. As her notoriety grew, so did her original repertoire adding a song after song.
Her next break came in 1987 when Suzanne Vega, who had a recent hit with “Luka”, asked Colvin to join her on an upcoming European tour. Afterwards, Vega’s management team took a four-song demo tape Colvin had put together to Columbia Records and secured a deal.

The record label had a marketing team that put their full support behind Colvin’s debut album Steady On. They bounced her across the country. Radio interviews, TV appearances. Press. Then on to an international tour taking her from Australia to “practically every major city” in Europe.

The result – Shawn Colvin awarded a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Recording for the album.
Tours and more albums followed. In 1994, her album Fat City was nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album with the single “I Don’t Know Why” nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Two years later, similar results with her album A Few Small Repairs nominated for Best Pop Album with the single “Get Out of This House” nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Says Colvin, “The timing couldn’t have been better. It as 1996, a Lilith Fair was about to take off. Columbia decided it was time to really pull the trigger on me and threw all their weight into the marketing of A Few Small Repairs.”
During the Lilith Fair tour, Columbia released the second single off the album – “Sunny Came Home”. And Colvin became a household name. The song climbed to #7 on the Billboard charts, topping the Adult Contemporary singles chart. On top of that, named both Record of the Year and Song of the Year at the 1997 Grammy Awards.
It was then the world changed. For Colvin, not necessarily for the better. She got married. She got pregnant. And motherhood took hold. She stopped touring. She stopped recording. Four years passed with no follow up. By the time she did, releasing Whole New You in 2001, the world had changed. The record companies were no longer offering the intensive tour and press support. The feminist movement of the mid-90s had passed. And popular musical styles had moved on. The album tanked. Columbia bid her adieu.

A move to Nonesuch Records kept her career in motion. There her song style was still relevant. Three more albums – The Four Walls in 2006, Live in 2009 and All Fall Down in 2012. Live even received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

2012 also saw Colvin pen her autobiography Diamond in the Rough (William Murrow ISBN 978-0-06-175959-8).
2015 saw her catalog move over to the Fantasy label with Uncovered in 2015. The following year, she reunited with old friend Buddy Miller who produced Colvin & Earle, a collaboration with country renegade Steve Earle.

These days, the Colvin name is still strong enough to tour as much or as little as she wants. Residing in Austin, she recently completed a self-produced project The Starlighter, an album of songs adapted from the children’s music book Lullabies and Night Songs and being marketing exclusively through Amazon. A “The Starlighter” video is a visual companion to the album, an eight-song film is based on Victorian paper theatres and the illustration style of children’s books from the same era.

Grammy nominations and awards:
2009 – Nominated for “Best Contemporary Folk Album” – Live
1997 – Record of the Year – “Sunny Came Home”
1997 – Song of the Year – “Sunny Came Home”
1997 – Nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance – “Sunny Came Home”
1996 – Nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance – “Get Out of This House”
1996 – Nominated for Best Pop Album – A Few Small Repairs
1994 – Nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance – “I Don’t Know Why”
1994 – Nominated for Best Contemporary Folk Album – Fat City
1990 – Best Contemporary Folk Recording – Steady On

Steady On (Columbia 45209) 1989
Fat City (Columbia 47122) 1992
Cover Girl (Columba 57875) 1994
A Few Small Repairs (Columbia 67119) 1998
Holiday Songs and Lullabies (Columbia 69550) 1998
Whole New You (Columbia 85448) 2001
These Four Walls (Nonesuch 79937-2) 2006
Live (Nonesuch 310140-2) 2009
All Fall Down (Nonesuch 530682) 2012
Uncovered (Fantasy 37415-2) 2015
Colvin & Earle (Fantasy 39150) 2016
The Starlighter (SLC 001) 2018
Steady On: 30th Anniversary Acoustic Edition (SLC 002) 2019

Shawn Colvin