MUSIC

The queen of country

A smoky-voiced star sings from the heart

Anthony Wilson-Smith July 20 1992
MUSIC

The queen of country

A smoky-voiced star sings from the heart

Anthony Wilson-Smith July 20 1992

The queen of country

MUSIC

A smoky-voiced star sings from the heart

In a career—and life—that has traced a series of peaks and valleys, one of Michelle Wright’s greatest triumphs was winning the Canadian Country Music Association award for female vocalist of the year in 1990. The day after the ceremony, she was busy cleaning her Toronto apartment when a deliveryman brought flowers and a message of

congratulations from a previous CCMA winner: country superstar Anne Murray. Wright, a native of tiny Merlin, Ont., 60 km east of Windsor, recalled recently: “In many ways, that meant as much in itself as winning the award.” Two years later, with the release of her third album, Now & Then, and its hugely popular single, Takelt like a Man, the 31-yearold singer appears to be poised for international success. Declared Jim Baine, editor and publisher of Toronto-based Country Magazine: “There is every likelihood that Michelle is about to become Canada’s next superstar.”

An anthem to fidelity and the importance of long-term relationships, Take It like a Man has

sold 45,000 copies in Canada and 175,000 in the United States since its release on May 11. With at least two more of its singles planned for release, Now & Then is, according to industry insiders, nearly certain to sell more than a million copies by the fall. And the video for Take It like a Man, which showcases Wright’s dark good looks, was the most popular selection last week among viewers of both the Nashville Network and Country Music Television—the two principal U.S. country-music networks with a combined audience of more than 66 million. Predicted David Ross, publisher of Nashville’s Music Row Magazine: “Anything is likely to happen to Michelle in the next she months.” Wright, who moved to Nashville last September, acknowledges that such a description also applied to her once chaotic life. Early in her career, she was renowned within the music industry as much for her self-abusive habits as for her distinctive smoky alto voice. She says that the trauma of her parents’ separation when she was a child and, later, a “degrading relationship with someone who made me feel worthless and who was not worth listening to” led to a drinking problem. Wright ended the relationship, and quit drinking on Oct. 11, 1987. One month later, she settled in with her new boyfriend, bass guitarist Joel Kane, a member of her band.

Now, she says, her biggest vices are cigarettes and an unquenchable addiction to bingo that appalls Kane and most of her other friends. At the home she recently bought in a Nashville suburb, Wright spends much of her time sewing and doing her own renovations. Said her manager, Brian Ferriman: “Michelle is very comfortable now with who and what she is.” That sense of ease is reflected in the care and attention that Wright gives to her fans. At a recent country festival in Ottawa, Wright signed autographs and chatted with audience members until the moment she was called onstage. Then, after her performance, she

spent more than two hours meeting many of the 6,000 people in attendance.

Wright’s chaotic past and tranquil present are reflected in some of the contradictions in her image. Her sexy onstage manner and style of dress—she frequently performs in a formfitting black, low-cut bodysuit—have far more in common with rock singers than the more restrained image attached to women country vocalists. But her songs, which she does not actually write, are carefully chosen to espouse values and emotions that are important to her. Several of the numbers on her newest album celebrate sobriety. And One Time Around, which will be the next single from the album, describes a woman’s transformation from someone who “never wanted love but only wanted lovers” into a person who is thinking “’bout home, kids and neighbors.”

Although the lyrics are not hers, Wright says that the sentiments are. Added the singer as she checked her makeup before her recent show: “I have always said that I want a baby by the time I’m 33, so then I could take a few years out and get back onstage when the little fella’s old enough to travel on the road with me.” Then, with a husky laugh, she turned to Kane, who stood nearby, and said: “You think you can stand the sight of me cooing and gurgling over a baby, honey?” For a now-healthy and happy Wright, her best days—and biggest audiences—still he ahead.

ANTHONY WILSON-SMITH in Ottawa