Born Filippina Arena; her name was abbreviated to Tina, 1975; grew up in suburban Melbourne, Australia, the middle of three daughters of Italian immigrants; early influences were Carole King, Aretha Franklin, and Barbara Streisand; contemporary idols include Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Maria McKee; married to Ralph Carr. Addresses: Fan club--Tina Arena Information, Box 2305, Richmond VIC 3121, Australia.
At 29 years old, Tina Arena was Australia's most successful female singer. Actually a veteran in the music business, she has been singing professionally for over 20 years. "As an artist, I'm not very one-dimensional," Arena stated in the Auckland Sunday News. "I certainly like to diversify. I'm inspired by so many different styles. The listeners would be bored if they kept hearing the same old bloody thing. There's a bit of a rock bitch in me too that likes to come out occasionally."
Her singing style has been characterized as something between rock and R&B. Carole King, Aretha Franklin, and Barbara Streisand were her early music idols. Arena is an international star who writes the lyrics and melodies to most of her songs. "I found strength through writing these songs because I've been able to personally let go and be totally honest," the artist stated in her Epic Center biography. "I'm a believer in honesty and optimism, and I guess that positivity in my character comes through. But all I wanted to do was come up with great songs reflecting my life. I feel most comfortable writing about personal experiences, and that's what I've done.
Arena grew up in suburban Melbourne, the middle of three daughters of Italian immigrants. Born Filippina Arena, her name was abbreviated to Tina in 1975. At age three, she would listen and sing the Spanish, Italian, and French songs that were in the family record collection. The song "You're My World," sung by Daryl Braithwaite, was one she memorized and sang often as a child. Her first performance was at age eight, when she sang "You're My World" in front of 400 guests at a family wedding. The audience loved it so much that they gave her a rallying ovation, which moved the young Arena to tears.
She soon went on to compete in television talent contests, winning three out of four that she participated in. After one performance, she was asked to be a permanent member of the cast. Almost overnight, she became known as "Tiny Tina" on a show called Young Talent Time, which was a popular Australian TV show. She was a weekly TV star for about seven years, displaying her maturity and confidence in front of the camera. Fortunately, Arena was not overcome by her success. She proudly stayed away from drugs and bad relationships. At 16, she even went to work as an insurance clerk while also singing live in Melbourne pubs.
Overnight, it seemed Arena went from TV sensation to pop music icon. She grew up performing on-stage, in bars and theatres, on the radio, and on tours. At the age of 21, she started to play in bands, and released her first single, "Turn Up the Beat," in 1985. She took a break from singing in 1993 to appear in the nationwide Australian stage production of the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, in which she was the narrator. Her debut album Strong As Steel was very successful, with the single "I Need Your Body," reaching platinum status.
Soon afterward, she went to Los Angeles in an effort to gain independence, something she didn't have while producing records in Australia. "I've done something that I have wanted to do for many years," Arena proclaimed in her Epic bio. "And going to LA like I did proved that I was very able to do it. It was a fantastic learning experience and I felt a great sense of liberation."
While in the United States, she recorded the album Don't Ask in 1996, which marked a milestone for the singer as she felt it was her first independent effort. "I had gotten used to singing other people's songs, but this time they are my songs and my experience so I can sing them like I mean it," Arena stated in her Epic bio. "The record is honest and sincere and simple." Don't Ask went ten times platinum in Australia, and was released in the United States in March of 1996, gaining airtime on over 200 radio stations. The single "Chains" focuses on breaking through stereotypes, which was the way she characterized her own singing career. "I've finally begun believing in my ability," the artist announced in the Sony Music Artist Info website. "I think it's so important to believe in yourself and know that if you work hard, it will pay off." She wrote ten of the 11 songs on the album. "Chains" hit gold after eight weeks, then platinum in 12. Soon, it reached the Top Ten in Britain and the American Top 40.
Don't Ask went gold in it's first month of release, platinum in six months and over eight times platinum within a year. This made her the highest selling female artist in Australian history. In 1995 Arena toured Europe, appearing on Top Of The Pops TV program, which reached an audience of 60 million people. One of the proudest moments of her career was at the Australian Record Industry Awards in October of 1995 when she was awarded the Best Pop Release and Song of the Year for "Chains." She also won the award for the highest selling Australian album and the Best Australian Album Award for Don't Ask. In addition, she was awarded Female Artist of the Year. Other accolades she earned were Variety Club Entertainer of the Year, an Advance Australia Foundation award, and a World Music Award.
She returned to Los Angeles in 1996 and 1997 to record her third album, In Deep. She wrote four of the songs on the album. Contributions on the other seven songs came from Mick Jones, David Tyson, Christopher Ward, Dean McTaggart, Pam Reswick, and Steve Werfel.
Ralph Carr began to manage Arena's music career and the two were married in December 1995. They live in the inner city of Melbourne. Arena had maintained many of the friendships she formed in high school. According to the Artist Info website, she once told a reporter, "I feel rejuvenated ... I've really taken control of my own destiny. I've made the decisions about where I've wanted to go, what I've wanted to write about, who I've wanted to work with and how I want to be received."
At the age of 29, Arena announced in September of 1997 that she is starting a charitable foundation to help disadvantaged children. "Look, I'm not Mother Teresa," she told Steve McCarty of the South China Morning Post. "But I want to give something back to the world; I just like giving so much more than receiving. I've been lucky, I have such a strong support network that I've never had to go jabbing my arm. I didn't fall into any traps like that after the whole child-star business." She feels her foundation can right some wrongs that she sees in her native country. "The suicide rate among Australian youngsters is climbing," she told McCarty. "Unemployment and dysfunctional families are partly the reason. Some kids just don't have any motivation. I'm hoping to fund youth education programmes by going out and performing at different events, setting up performance camps, giving them a goal."
Among her contemporaries, Arena is influenced by Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, and Maria McKee. In a nonmusical sense, she was also inspired by Princess Diana, who, she told McCarty, "was a great role model for women, and we've lost some of that hope now." About men, she added, "a wicked sense of humour: you need it as a weapon against the male testosterone when you're on the road."
by Bill Bennett
Tina Arena's Career
Began charitable foundation to help disadvantaged children, 1997.
Tina Arena's Awards
Penguin Award for Best New Talent, 1983; Aria Award for Female Artist of the Year, Best Pop Release and Song of the Year for "Chains," Album of the Year for Don't Ask, Variety Club Award, Entertainer of the Year, 1995; Young Australian of the Year Award, Outstanding Achievement Award from the Medibank Private Arts, Advance Australia Foundation Award for recognition of outstanding achievement in music, World Music Award, MO Award for Rock Performer of the Year and Performer of the Year, 1996.
- Selective Works
- Strong As Steel, Epic, 1994.
- Don't Ask, Epic, 1996.
- (Contributor) One Fine Day soundtrack, Epic, 1996.
- In Deep, Epic, 1997.
- Billboard, December 14, 1996.
- Daily News, April 28, 1996, p. 35.
- The Dominion, November 9, 1996, p. 22.
- South China Morning Post, September 26, 1997, p. 5.
- The Sunday News, August 17, 1997, p. 21.
- Time, August 12, 1996, p. 79; October 14, 1996, p. 56; September 22, 1997, p. 122.
- Additional information was obtained from the Sony Music Artist Info website and from the Epic Center Artist Biography website.