Born February 5, 1971, in Columbia, MO; daughter of Pat Boggs (mother), Jack Evans (father), and Melvin Boggs (stepfather); two brothers: Jay and Matt; four sisters: Lesley, Ashley (sings backup for Evans), Erin, and Allyx (born c. 1989); married musician Craig Schelske; one son: Jack Avery (born August 21, 1999). Addresses: Home--Springfield, TN; Record company--RCA Records, 1540 Broadway, New York City, NY 10036; Fan Club--Sara Evans Fan Club, P.O. Box 509, Knoxville, TN 37901 Phone: (212) 930-4000 Fax: (212) 930-4468.
Throughout her life, Sara Evans only held but one dream: to sing and compose country songs. "God put me on this earth to be a singer," said Evans, as quoted by John Meroney of American Enterprise. "It's what I love to do more than anything, and I'm going to make it." Moreover, Evans wanted to succeed by returning to the traditional country songs brought to life by legendary stars such as Patsy Cline, Hank Snow, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, and Patty Loveless, musicians Evans considered her greatest influences. During the late 1990s, an era when most aspiring country musicians turned to contemporary, pop radio-friendly tunes, Evans made her initial mark by performing country songs that looked to the past, exemplified by her 1997 debut entitled True Lies. But despite critical acceptance and a nomination by the Academy of Country Music in 1998 for best new female vocalist, True Lies made little impact. Thus, for her follow-up release, 1999's No Place That Far, Evans bowed to producers, who persuaded the artist to update her repertoire, and finally earned the popular recognition she had longed for since her childhood.
Sara Evans was born February 5, 1971, in Columbia, Missouri. She spent her early years, along with her six brothers and sisters (sister Ashley later sang backup for Evans, and sister Allyx, born around 1989, started performing with a Missouri-based band at about nine years of age), on a farm outside Franklin, Missouri, where her family raised corn, beans, tobacco, and livestock for a living. Although the family remained poor, Evans nevertheless enjoyed a happy upbringing, recalling fond memories of the stories her grandfather used to tell her about the Grand Ole Opry, the longest-lived radio show in the United States. Established in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 28, 1925, the live program brought the songs of legendary performers to homes across America and established Nashville as the undisputed center of the country music industry.
Hearing tales of the stars who graced the stage of the Grand Ole Opry struck a chord with the Evans children, and by the age of four, Evans and her two older brothers started traveling on weekends and during the summer months as the Evans Family Band. Inspired by the underlying foundation of country music, the group performed gospel and bluegrass music at festivals and church revivals. Before long, word spread of the young girl's awe-inspiring talent, leading the band to rename itself the Sara Evans Show. As the band's popularity grew, the Sara Evans Show eventually brought in about fifty dollars for each performance, but the extra money failed to uplift the family's meager income; Evans's mother once resorted to trading firewood for Levi jeans in order to give the children Christmas presents. Another unfortunate incident occurred when Evans, eight years old at the time, suffered a debilitating injury when a speeding car hit her as she crossed a highway. The accident left her with two shattered legs, cracked wrists, and countless stitches. Doctors told her she would probably walk with a limp for the rest of her life. Determined to make a full recovery, Evans spent a full year in physical therapy and healed completely, except, as she noted to Country Music, "my left leg looks a little odd. It's got this little bow in it that protrudes above the knee."
Went to Nashville
Evans longed to see Nashville since first hearing of the Grand Ole Opry and made her first trip to the city at age eleven. Accompanied by her father, Evans made the journey in order to record a single, "What Does a Nice Girl Do in the Meantime," with the song "I'm Going to Be the Only Female Fiddle Player in Charlie Daniels' Band" on the record's flip side. While the single went unnoticed, Evans continued to hold the dream of making it in Nashville. Therefore, after graduating from high school and a short stint at college, Evans returned to Nashville with serious plans of breaking into country music. "I skipped college, and had no other aspirations but to sing," Evans told Meroney. "So I came here with my older brother, started waiting tables at the Holiday Inn on Briley Parkway, and tried to meet whomever I could."
The person who inspired Evans the most was Craig Schelske, a musician from Oregon whom she would later marry. "He was a room service waiter trying to do the same thing," the singer revealed to Meroney. "We started dating, fell in love, and he asked me to go to Oregon with him and sing in his band." Evans accepted her companion's offer and spent the next three years performing with Schelske's band throughout the Pacific Northwest. For the first time in her career, Evans finally met some of the biggest names in country music as the band opened for such renowned performers as Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, and Clay Walker. Evans earned decent money as well, usually performing six nights per week. Nevertheless, she felt that returning to Nashville would provide her with a more certain chance at success.
Upon her return to Nashville, Evans soon realized that most artists had turned away from traditional country and toward a style that appealed to a wider, mainstream audience, a transition accelerated by country superstar Garth Brooks in the early 1990s. Thus, traditional country and its use of fiddles, mandolins, and rhythm instruments (like the acoustic guitar and bass) were often replaced by a more neutral, pop sound recorded with rock and roll production elements. Progressive country revealed more complexity as well, often abandoning the use of just three chords per song in favor of more adventurous guitar work. By the mid 1990s, country music--fueled by contemporary artists--had surpassed both pop and urban contemporary formats as the number one music choice of music behind rock.
Although excited by such changes, Evans had always felt partial to the traditional style and sought out entertainment lawyer Brenner Van Meter, who by coincidence was considering leaving her law practice to manage talent, for advice. Taken by Evans's gifted singing and songwriting ability, as well as by the singer's preference to perform traditional country, she arranged for Evans to meet her husband, John Van Meter, an executive at Sony Tree Publishing Company. The couple believed that the time might be right for a gritty country singer to break into the business, and Evans accepted a job recording songs for writers to submit to major artists as potential album tracks. Soon, established songwriters were seeking out Evans's vocals to give their music a test run.
Eventually, Evans met well-known songwriter Harlan Howard, who wanted to sell his 1964 classic "I've Got a Tiger By the Tail"--written with Buck Owens, who also recorded the song--to a major female singer. Believing that Evans's voice would help to promote the song, the Van Meters invited Howard to sit in during recording. "I went in, sang the song, came out of the singing booth, and there's Harlan Howard on the couch," recalled Evans, according to Meroney. "He said, 'Are you that little girl in there singing? You're great. I've been looking for you for years to sing my music. I can't believe how country you are.' I had never even thought about it before." With Howard's help and encouragement, Evans and her management felt confident enough to approach RCA Records about her own singing career. To Evans's amazement, RCA's chairman, Joe Galante, offered the singer a contract the same day of her audition.
Evans released her debut for RCA, Three Chords and the Truth, in the fall of 1997. Produced by Pete Anderson, her first full-length album included the Howard/Owens single in addition to the understated ballad "Unopened," the Patsy Cline-inspired "Imagine That," and her own co-written "The Week the River Raged." Although the album failed to bring in substantial revenues--Chuck Eddy of Rolling Stone declared Three Chords and the Truth "Nashville's Most Unjustly ignored debut" that year--critics hailed the record and Evans a major success. "Sara Evans is so good she's scary," concluded Paul Verna for Billboard magazine. "At once a preserver of the best of country's history and a progressive writer and singer forging a timeless contemporary country sound, she invites favorable comparisons to the best country divas.... Evans is a considerable country talent." The impressive debut also led the Academy of Country Music (ACM) to nominate Evans in 1998 as the year's best new female vocalist.
Despite sluggish sales, the ACM and critical recognition helped Evans forge ahead, and the following year brought forth No Place that Far, the singer's follow-up album. Regarding her debut, most radio stations grumbled at the fact that, in addition to the record's lack of progressive tracks, Evans and Anderson had set up studio in California rather than in Nashville. Therefore, for her second project, RCA hired Nashville-based producers Norro Wilson and Buddy Cannon. Her label also encouraged the singer to collaborate with Nashville songwriters such as Tom Shapiro, Tony Martin, Billy Yates, and Mantraca Berg. "It was a difficult process," Evans told Chet Flippo in Billboard, "but I feel we did it without being too contemporary. I think it's what radio is really wanting. The song search was extremely difficult. You want songs that are country but also songs that radio will accept.... Joe [Galante] had to very gently pull me more in that contemporary direction. Because, the bottom line is, if we can't get on radio, we can't do anything. That's just the way it is right now. Eventually, it will happen. I just have to stay in that frame of mind."
The album's title-track and second radio single, written by Evans along with Shapiro and Martin and featuring the vocals of Vince Gill, travels through uplifting gospel territory as well as into depressing rural harmonies reminiscent of the Carter Family. The song became Evans's first hit, climbing to the number one position on Billboard's Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart in March of 1999. Evans's favorite song, though, was one written by Howard and Beth Nielson Chapman entitled "Time Won't Tell." "Garth [Brooks] and Trisha [Yearwood] wanted it for their duet project, but Harlan gave it to us," she revealed to Flipp. "He's always been very big about helping new artists, going all the way back to Patsy Cline. That was a great catch. It's got to be heard. That one of the greatest songs Harlan's ever written."
No Place that Far, with its stylistically varied songs, also fared well with critics. Eddy, for example, applauded Evans's ability to perform both contemporary and traditional songs. The reviewer further added, "Evans' real forte is brisk commercial stuff, mainly about women starting over: a rockabilly duet with George Jones that hints at his old Fifties white lightning; a heading-out-of-New Orleans-with-Rand McNally divorce waltz in which both the knot and (if you trust her pronunciation) the night come untied; and an album-opening hoedown where her big, brave alto yearns for a corner in Winslow, Arizona." Country music fans approved of Evans's effort as well, and the release rose to the top of the Billboard country album chart in early 1999. That same year, the musician earned additional honors as the Country Music Association (CMA) nominated her for two awards: video event of the year and the CMA's Horizon award, both for her work in 1998. After marrying Schelske, Evans made her home in Springfield, Tennessee. The couple had one son, Jack Avery, born August 21, 1999.
by Laura Hightower
Sara Evans's Career
Started performing with older brothers as the Evans Family Band (later renamed the Sara Evans Show) at age four; recorded first single "What Does a Nice Girl Do in the Meantime?" in Nashville, TN, at age eleven; signed with RCA Records, 1996; released debut Three Chords and the Truth, 1997; released follow-up effort, No Place that Far, RCA, 1998.
October 6, 2004: Evans and her husband, Craig Schelske, welcomed the birth of their third child, Elizabeth Audrey. Source: People, November 8, 2004, p. 99.
October 4, 2005: Evans' album, Real Fine Place, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.
May 23, 2006: Evans was named top female vocalist at the Academy of Country Music Awards. Source: Academy of Country Music, www.acmcountry.com/content/index.php, May 28, 2006.
- American Enterprise, March/April 1998, pp. 52-57.
- Billboard, October 11, 1997, p. 83; September 26, 1998, p. 32; March 6, 1999, p. 114.
- Country Music, June/July 1999, p. 44.
- Rolling Stone, December 1, 1998, p. 128.
- "Country Singer Sara Evans Gives Birth," CDNOW, http://www.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/redirect/leaf=allstararticle/fid=16030, (October 24, 1999).
- Today: theEnews, http://www.theenews.com/bms/tdn-slug82499_saraevans.html, (October 24, 1999).