After our look back at three male artists who emerged in 1996 (Daryle Singletary and Wade Hayes) we’re widening the net a little with our current spotlight. As we all now, it’s often harder for women to make it in country music, and that was the case even in the 1990s which might be regarded as the high point for female artists’ commercial success. For the next two months we will be talking about several female singers who tried to make an impact in the 1990s, and didn’t receive as much attention as they deserved. We hope you enjoy our selection.
Jann Browne was born in Indiana in 1954. She began performing in California in the 1970s, before joining stellar Western Swing band Asleep At The Wheel in 1981. Her heart was in more traditional styles of country music, and in 1989, with the neotraditional movement in full swing, she signed a solo deal with Curb Records. Perhaps she was just a little too late to the party, perhaps she was curbed by her label, or the fact that she continued to base herself on the West Coast, but a pair of top 20 country hits and two underrated albums were all she had to celebrate. A couple of independent albums followed later. She continues to tour locally in California, and her most recent recorded work was a Buck Owens tribute album in 2007. She is planning a new record for release this year.
Linda Davis was born in Texas in 1962. She moved to Nashville in the early 1980, and formed a duo called Skip & Linda with Skip Eaton, which released a few independent singles. Regular work singing advertising jingles and song demos got her noticed, and she secured a deal with Epic Records in 1988. After failing to make a breakthrough, she temporarily gave up her solo aspirations and joined Reba McEntire’s road outfit as a backing vocalist. That put her in the right place at the right time when Reba needed a strong female duet partner for the song ‘Does He Need You’. The song was a #1 hit and won a Grammy for the pair, and it allowed Linda another shot at solo success when she signed to Arista. While she never matched the success of the Reba duet, she has continued to tour and record, releasing several albums on different labels. She returned to prominence recently when she teamed up with her husband Lang Scott and daughter Hillary (known for her band Lady Antebellum) for a very successful country gospel project, billed as the Scott Family.
Dawn Sears was born in Minnesota in 1961. In her late 20s she was signed to Warner Brothers, releasing her critically acclaimed debut album in 1991. When this failed to launch her to superstardom, she became a backing singer for Vince Gill. Decca then picked her up in 1994, again with no lasting success, and she returned to working for Gill. She achieved non-mainstream success late in her career thanks to her role as one of the lead singers of The Time Jumpers. Tragically, she died of cancer in 2014.
Ronna Reeves was born in Texas in 1968. She was on Mercury in the early 1990s, but enjoyed limited radio success despite regular appearance on the Statler Brothers’ TNN TV show which helped her to sell enough records to stay on the label for several releases. Virginia’s Donna Ulisse released a single, excellent album on Atlantic Records in 1991. When her singles failed to gain traction despite her beautiful voice, she gave up on performing and began to concentrate on songwriting. She re-emerged 10 years ago as a bluegrass singer-songwriter, and has been forging a successful career in that vein ever since. Singer-songwriter Bobbie Cryner was born in California in 1961. She released two albums for Epic, and despite stellar vocals and material she too failed to appeal to country radio. She continued writing songs for other artists for a while but has not been active lately.
Ohio-born Kim Richey is an acclaimed singer songwriter who spent the second half of the 1990s as a semi-mainstream country artist on Mercury. She is still actively wriing and recording, and has just released a new album.
Mandy Barnett, born in 1975 in Tennessee, was a throwback to the era and style of Patsy Cline. She made an impact as a teenager lying Patsy on stage, which enabled her to get a record deal of her own. Perhaps she was too retro for mainstream success in the second half of the 1990s despite massive critical plaudits, but she returned to her stage role with more success.
Julie Reeves, born in Kentucky in 1974, was more on the pop-country side. She had a deal with the short lived country imprint of Virgin Records. Her singles gained some airplay, and perhaps another label would have capitalised on that. As it was, marriage to comedy act Cledus T Judd sidelined Julie’s music career. The marriage ended in divorce and Julie is now a radio DJ. Finally, Chalee Tennison was born in Texas in 1969. A deal with Asylum Records in 1999 saw her touring with Alan Jackson, but her singles were only modestly successful despite strong vocals and material drawing on her varied life experience (teenage motherhood, failed marriages, and work as a prison guard).
These women offered a variety of styles of country music, but they share one thing: none really achieved the level of success they deserved. We hope you enjoy exploring their music.