Born August 29, 1972, in Toronto, Canada; daughter of a Trinidadian mother and white Canadian father; Education: Studied piano at Toronto's Royal Academy of Music. Addresses: Home--Toronto, Canada.; Record company--Epic Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211; 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, Phone: (212) 833-7442; (310) 449-2870 Fax: (212) 833-5719; (310) 449-2559.
Blues-styled Canadian pop singer Amanda Marshall gathered fans from around the globe after the release of her self-titled debut in 1996, an album that sold an estimated 2.2 million copies worldwide and went platinum eight times in her native Canada. However, Marshall's ascent to the top of the pop charts didn't happen overnight. It was instead a lifelong pursuit. She began playing piano and singing at the age of three, performed in clubs and theaters since her teens, toured with big name acts such as the Jeff Healey Band, and was dropped by another record company before releasing Amanda Marshall with Sony Canada (released by Epic in the rest of the world). Her bluesy, somewhat husky vocals led one critic to describe her as "the love child of Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin," as quoted by Nicholas Jennings of Maclean's.
But despite the success of her first record, Marshall realized she was capable of more. For Amanda Marshall, the young singer had only written one song and co-written two others. Believing that she could compose songs as well as sing them, Marshall either fully composed or collaborated with other songwriters on all but one track of her follow-up effort, 1999's Tuesday's Child, a record that Marshall considered a debut in its own right. "I'd really gotten my legs as a live performer when I made the first record," said Marshall, as quoted by the singer's record company, "but I only wrote one song on it, and I thought of that as a complete fluke. I didn't realize at the time that it was the beginning of a world of possibility." During her career, Marshall's records yielded seven Canadian top ten singles, including "Let It Rain," "Birmingham," "Fall From Grace," "Beautiful Goodbye,"" Dark Horse," "Sitting On Top of the World," and "Believe In You."
Born on August 29, 1972, in Toronto, Canada, Marshall displayed a love for music as far back as she could remember. "I was a very musical kid," said Marshall, according to the singer's record company, "and a kid who loved to write. I wasn't a songwriter--well, I dabbled--but I loved creative writing and storytelling. And I was a really outgoing, gregarious kid who desperately wanted to sing. There isn't a time in my life I can remember not being consumed with the idea of music and performing." Her passion for music started to blossom when Marshall was just a toddler, and at the tender age of three, her parents decided to encourage their daughter by enrolling her in classical training for piano. "Fortunately, my parents were infinitely supportive," Marshall added. "They were always shuffling me back and forth to some lesson, sitting in the car and waiting for me to come out." As a result of her parents' enduring support, Marshall was playing piano and singing in public by the time she reached kindergarten.
Her Trinidadian mother and white Canadian father (a lineage she later explored in the song "Shades of Gray" from Tuesday's Child) encouraged her musical aspirations in other ways as well. Listening to her mother's calypso and jazz records, not to mention her father's collection of rock and roll albums, further sparked her imagination. She grew up listening to their Tina Turner, Stevie Nicks, Otis Redding, and Ray Charles records in addition to various folk artists. Consequently, Marshall's sound would later become a combination of Southern rhythm and blues and folk that she picked up from her parents over the years. From the ages of nine to 17, Marshall attended Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music, continuing to study piano but never pursuing formal vocal training.
After graduating from high school, Marshall worked as a switchboard operator for a musicians' answering service, harboring the dream to one day work as a professional herself. Then in 1990, her hopes turned into reality after a chance meeting with Toronto guitarist and singer Jeff Healey, who encouraged her to sing onstage at a local club on open-mic night. "A group of us went to a jam at [the Toronto tavern] Victoria and Albert," Healey recalled to Billboard magazine's Larry LeBlanc. "I remember that her performance was many notches above what you see at the average jam." Obviously impressed by Marshall's soulful voice, Healey realized that the young singer possessed the talent to make it in the music industry and wanted to help promote her career. Shortly after Healey discovered Marshall, she signed with Forte Records and Productions, a Toronto-based production and management company that Healey ran with his bandmates Tom Stephen and Joe Rockwan. Next, Marshall formed her own band and started performing a combination of original songs and covers in local clubs. Although she quickly earned a reputation around Toronto because of her deep voice as a Janis Joplin-styled vocalist, Marshall insisted that she never intended to draw such a comparison or imitate the legendary singer. "I actually made a point of staying away from Joplin covers because of the comparison," Marshall told LeBlanc. "I don't even think I was a blues singer. I was a very rootsy singer, which with my connection to Jeff, people drew upon [the Joplin comparison] for a descriptive term."
Marshall spent the next seven months honing her stage presence, performing solo around Toronto and touring North America with the Jeff Healey Band. Then in 1991, Stephen secured her a record deal with Columbia Records, a label based in the United States. Despite her stage experience and musical training, Marshall remained unprepared when the opportunity arose. She held few ideas regarding the style of music she should pursue, and when Columbia executives suggested she try grunge rock, Marshall met the label's proposal with a flat denial. After a frustrating year in the studio trying to develop tracks for a debut album, Marshall and record producers made little headway. Consequently, Columbia released the hopeful performer from her contract.
Despite Marshall's regrettable experience with Columbia, her management refused to give up on the promising singer. Thus, Stephen proceeded to contact Richard Zuckerman, a marketing executive with Sony Canada, to inquire about a Canadian-based recording contract. Following a period of negotiations, Marshall accepted an offer from the label in 1994 and started to record demo tapes. But again, the singer's inability to focus on a musical direction persisted. Rather than focus on a single style, Marshall sought to combine all of her past influences into a cohesive body of work. In order to remedy the situation, another Sony executive, Michael Reth, suggested adding Los Angeles-based songwriter/producer David Tyson to the project as a songwriting collaborator. After accepting Sony's proposal, Tyson listened to Marshall's demo and was instantly floored by her voice. "I really liked the voice and her phrasing," the songwriter noted to LeBlanc. "There were some decent songs on the tape, but there wasn't enough happening to imply a [musical] direction." In fact, only two of the songs from Marshall's tape appeared on her debut release: the singer's rendition of Marc Jordan and John Capek's "Promises" and her own composition "Sitting On Top of the World," a Canadian top ten hit later covered by country singer LeAnn Rimes. She also helped write two other tracks that appeared on her debut, including another Canadian top ten single, "Dark Horse."
Under Tyson's guidance, Marshall learned to trust herself and also shed the burden of inexperience and youth. As she commented to LeBlanc, "Making the record was a real life-changing experience. I was in a strange city by myself and I was on my own in this apartment, writing songs and getting around without a car. I was taking cabs and buses. It was really exciting." Working together from February until August of 1995, Marshall's self-titled debut was produced mostly at Tyson's home studio in Beachwood Canyon in the Los Angeles area. Amanda Marshall was released in Canada by Sony Music Entertainment (Canada) on October 17, 1995, and released worldwide on Epic Records in January of 1996. Marshall's collaboration with Tyson proved monumental, as sales of her debut soared. The singer's blend of folk, jazz, and rhythm and blues, brought to life by her husky, soulful voice, propelled her into a global audience. By 1999, Amanda Marshall had hit the platinum mark eight times in the artist's native Canada, remained in that country's list of top 200 albums since its release three years prior, and sold an estimated 2.2 million units worldwide. In 1997, Marshall went on to receive three Canadian Juno Music award nominations to add to her single nomination she earned in 1996.
The singer saw an overwhelming success in the international market, particularly in Scandinavian countries and most notably in Norway. As of 1999, Amanda Marshall was certified gold in Germany, Norway, Holland, and Australia. Likewise, Americans applauded Marshall's efforts, and after an appearance on the Rosie O'Donnell Show in 1997, pop sensation Elton John lauded Marshall as the world's brightest rising star. By 1999, Marshall's debut had sold over 300,000 units in the United States. Her profile in the U.S. was further enhanced by the inclusion of one of her songs, "This Could Take All Night," on the soundtrack for the Kevin Costner film Tin Cup.
In addition to touring with her own band and with Healey's group to support her debut, Marshall also performed with Joe Cochrane during his "Life Is a Highway Tour" and with the pop group Tears for Fears in 1996. Her travels continued throughout 1997, again singing with her own ensemble and opening for rock musician John Mellencamp. While such an intense touring schedule may seem tiring for many, Marshall said she thrived on singing before a live audience. "I am really comfortable being a performing artist," she revealed to Debbie Hodges of the Christian Science Monitor, "and to me that is why I make records--to get out and tour." That year, Marshall toured 15 countries in 14 months, including Norway, where her debut topped the charts. "People abroad keep asking me what's in the water in Canada, because of all the women singers," Marshall told Diane Turbide in an interview for Maclean's, in reference to the success of other successful Canadian women who achieved an international following during the 1990s such as Shania Twain, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrissette, and Celine Dion. However, Marshall refused to lump herself in a category with other female pop stars, Canadian or otherwise. "I really don't know any of them," she remarked to Jennings, adding, "it's ridiculous to think that I would feel connected to Sheryl Crow by virtue of the fact that we're both female and have curly hair. We're all pop singers. We have that much in common. But it diminishes the value of what we do individually to think that we all feel the same way or share any kind of sisterhood."
During the two demanding yet rewarding years following the release of her debut, Marshall gathered much of the material brought to life in the songs of her second album, Tuesday's Child, released in May of 1999. Throughout her time on the road, Marshall, who had enjoyed writing stories since her childhood, kept notebooks to capture her ideas and feelings. "It [touring} allowed me to get out in the world and live a little bit," the singer reflected, as quoted by Epic. "But your life becomes a series of extremes. Your day is great, or there's a horrible crisis. You're always meeting people but rarely getting to know them." In order to organize her thoughts into songs, Marshall sought the help of songwriter/producer Eric Bazilian, who also wrote songs for Joan Osborne and the Hooters. The two songwriters clicked right away and arranged to write together at Bazilian's home in Philadelphia.
Tuesday's Child, largely produced by Don Was (producer for well-known musicians such as the Rolling Stones and Bonnie Raitt), featured a host of famous recording artists such as Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's group the Heartbreakers, in addition to notable session musicians like Steve Jordan, Waddy Wachtel, and Kenny Arnoff. Songwriters Carole King and Desmond King also collaborated with Marshall, although Bazilian helped pen ten of the record's 13 tracks. In all, Marshall wrote or cowrote all but one of the bluesy ballads and radio-friendly rockers for Tuesday's Child. One of her own original singles, "Believe In You," also appeared on the platinum-selling soundtrack for the television show Touched By An Angel.
Although some critics believed that Marshall wasted her unique vocals on safe and radio- ready pop songs, the artist herself saw Tuesday's Child as an unqualified success given her songwriting involvement. "This album is not a huge musical left turn, but it's closer to me musically," Marshall explained to LeBlanc. Following the release of her second album, the singer toured for a short time around Europe, returned to perform in Canada in June, and began touring the U.S. in July. Marshall prefers to keep some secrecy about her personal life. Her boyfriend of several years is also a member of her performing band.
by Laura Hightower
Amanda Marshall's Career
Met musician Jeff Healey, 1990; signed with Columbia Records, 1991, but was released from contract; accepted recording offer from Sony Canada, 1994; released self-titled debut in Canada, 1995; released worldwide by Epic Records, 1996; nominated for one Juno award, 1996; nominated for three Juno awards, 1997; released second effort, Tuesday's Child, 1999.
- Billboard, November 11, 1995, p. 68; May 22, 1999, p. 18.
- Calgary Sun, May 21, 1999, p. G8.
- Christian Science Monitor, April 7, 1997, p. 14.
- Edmonton Sun, May 23, 1999, p. SE4; July 5, 1999, p. 29.
- London Free Press, June 18, 1999, p. C6.
- Maclean's, March 24, 1997, p. 52; May 24, 1999, p. 52.
- Ottawa Sun, June 12, 1999, p. 25.
- Toronto Star, May 26, 1999.
- Additional information provided courtesy of Epic Records.