Lee Ann Womack was born in Jacksonville, Texas, in 1966. Her part-time DJ father encouraged her interest in country music as she grew up. After attending South Plains Community College for a year, where she studied singing country music and sang in the college’s band Country Caravan, she moved on to Belmont College in Nashville where she studied music business and made her first contacts with MCA as an intern, whilst honing her skills as a singer and songwriter. She dropped out of college to marry fellow singer/songwriter Jason Sellers in 1990 and give birth to their daughter Aubrie Lee a year later. This marriage did not last, ending in divorce in 1997, and in 1999 Lee Ann married producer Frank Liddell, with whom she had another daughter.
In 1995 she signed a publishing deal with Tree as a songwriter, and a year later got a recording deal with Decca Records. Her debut album was an immediate success, and launched her as one of the artists most rooted in traditional country music at a time when more pop-influenced artists were dominating the airwaves. She was named the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Female Vocalist. Ex-husband Jason also got a record deal (with BNA) at roughly the same time, but his career failed to take off.
Lee Ann transferred to sister label MCA when Decca closed its door in 1999. Her music was to become more contemporary over the next few years, particularly after she enjoyed a monster hit in the form of the inspirational ‘I Hope You Dance’ in 2000, which swept the wards, winning the CMA and ACM Single and Song of the Year awards, and a Grammy for Best country Song. The song’s crossover success introduced her to a new audience, and brought opportunities including the chance to sing at the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2001 she was CMA Female Vocalist of the Year. However, her fans were disappointed with the direction her music was taking, and her career began to decline.
In 2005 she made a triumphant return to traditional country music with the deliberately retro sound (and artwork) of There’s More Where That Came From, harking back to the glory days of Tammy Wynette in the 1970s, with a selection of material heavy on the cheating songs which had fallen out of favour with country radio in recent years as the industry concentrated on more ‘family friendly’ content and the positive up-tempo numbers ironically decried by Alan Jackson. The album was named the CMA Album of the Year. Three years later she released her most recent album, 2008’s critically acclaimed Call Me Crazy. Her fans have been waiting too long for new music, with the exception of odd tracks like 2009’s rather disappointing single ‘There Is A God’ and the superb ‘Liars Lie’ on the Country Strong soundtrack. However, rumor has it she has been back in the studio and is looking to make a comeback in 2012.
Although she has only released six studio albums and one Christmas album, with patchy singles success of recent years, Lee Ann Womack has had a remarkable impact on the genre. She is widely regarded as the standard bearer for traditional country among female singers on major labels, and as one of the finest singers in country music regardless of sub-genre. She is in demand to duet with or sing harmony on records by artists of the caliber of George Strait (CMA Vocal Event of the Year ‘Good News, Bad News’) and Alan Jackson (‘Til The End’).
Although she is a favorite of the MKOC writers, we haven’t picked Lee Ann as a Spotlight Artist before now because we’d been hoping that we could tie it in with a new album release. Although I understand she should have a new album released next year, we just couldn’t wait any longer. So over this month we’ll be mixing up our end-of-year coverage with a look at the music of Lee Ann Womack.