Born Jann Arden Richards on March 27, 1962, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; daughter of Derrell Richards (a construction contractor) and Joan (Bentley) Richards (a retired dental assistant). Education: Attended Mount Royal College drama program, c. 1980s. Addresses: Record company--Universal Music, 2450 Victoria Park Ave., Willowdale, ON M2J 4A2, website: http://www.umusic.ca/jannarden/. Management--S.L. Feldman & Associates, 8 Elm St., Toronto, ON M5G 1G7, website: http://www.slfa.com. Website--Jann Arden Official Website: http://www.jannarden.com.
Canadian singer/songwriter Jann Arden traveled a circuitous road to success, after spending more than a decade singing rock 'n' roll covers and jazz and blues standards in smoky Canadian bars and lounges. After a series of failed relationships and a bout with alcoholism, Arden emerged with a major-label recording contract, a million-selling album, and international fame. She has been considered Alberta's hottest musical export since k.d. lang.
Arden and her two brothers grew up in Springbank, Alberta, Canada, a rural town near Calgary in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Her father was a construction contractor and her mother was a dental assistant. Friends remember Jann as a happy, rambunctious child who was chronically anxious for approval. "This need was always there, as if she felt it was her responsibility to entertain everyone," a childhood friend told Chatelaine magazine. Despite that yearning, however, Arden kept her own musical interests quiet. She listened to Karen Carpenter, John Denver, and ABBA, and headed down to the family's basement when she played her hand-me-down guitar and sang her songs.
After high school Arden moved to Vancouver and began singing with a series of bar bands such as Factor Four and Hip Hugger. She recorded her debut single, "Never Love a Sailor," in 1980 under the name Jann Richards. Alcohol reportedly became her steady companion during this period. "I was making sixty dollars a week, although I usually owed the bar more than I made," she told Chatelaine.
Arden sang covers as varied as Led Zeppelin and Tina Turner, Karen Carpenter, and Billie Holiday, in bars, lounges, and at ski resorts. She tried to launch a solo career, but her addiction held her back. At about that time Neil MacGonigill, a record promoter who had grown disillusioned with the music business, took an interest in Arden. He saw enormous potential in her raw talent and offered to manage her career---if she was ready to take her singing seriously. She said she was, and the two agreed that the first step was for Arden to work on her songwriting. Eventually she quit drinking. "January 20, 1989. You don't forget the date," she told Chatelaine.
Success, however, remained elusive. Arden and MacGonigill spent nearly three years trying to interest a record company in the young singer. Then, in October of 1991, A&M executive Allan Reid heard Arden's demo tape and signed her to a recording contract, giving her the break she needed. Her first album, 1993's Time for Mercy, achieved critical and popular success in Canada. It registered strong sales, went gold in Canada, spawned the hit single "I Would Die for You," and earned Arden two Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy.
Her second album, Living Under June, vaulted Arden to international fame. One of its tracks, "Insensitive," hit the top ten lists in Canada, the United States, Italy, and Australia. Living Under June sold more than one million copies, earned Arden three more Junos, and kept her touring for more than two years. Billboard's Timothy White wrote that Arden exhibits a "thrillingly subtle and full-throated vocal vigor that makes Living Under June an extraordinary listening adventure." Elle magazine stated that the singer "pours out her gorgeous, wise songs with transcendent intensity." Chatelaine attributed Arden's wisdom and emotionally revealing songs to her difficult past, commenting that "the songs on Living Under June explore elements of that painful past and reach out with a child's yearning for her parents."
By the time Arden released her third album, 1997's Happy?, she had become a well-known international recording artist. Although the album's title seemed to pose a rhetorical question, Blood Red Cherry followed in 2001 with "14 songs proving the answer is 'yes,'" according to James Reaney in the London Free Press.
By June of 2000 Arden had sold more than two million records worldwide since her 1993 debut. She told the Ottawa Sun's Ian Nathanson that celebrity is a bit unsettling for such a private person. "If I'm going to be an icon or role model of any sort, I'd like to be one that helps people see a part of themselves that's capable of doing anything and being anything, and not being suppressed by what society thinks they should be." To that end, she began participating in charitable works such as an art auction for Children's Wish Foundation, and in performances benefiting the East Africa Maternal Newborn Aid Society and World Vision.
Although she has continued to be humble and self-deprecating in media interviews, Arden has remained a highly visible, award-winning artist, and has won countless Juno awards since her debut. "It's vindicating in some ways because I don't sell nine million records and I'm a moderate artist and I'm not 20 years old and I'm not a sex kitten," she told the Calgary Sun in 2001.
Arden was selected to participate in a Canadian touring production of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues in 2001. According to the Winnipeg Sun, Arden was already familiar with the work when she was asked to participate. "I really wanted to do this. It's a really interesting piece of writing, an interesting discourse on the nature of being a woman," she commented. She followed that production with a brief appearance as a real estate agent in the film Snowbound, a.k.a White Lies. "It was a walk in the park really---it was 20 lines and a kooky little character," she explained in the Calgary Sun.
After these experiences, Arden decided to make a half-hour pilot called "The Arden Diner." The sitcom-variety-talkshow aired on CTV and the Comedy Network in November of 2001. In late 2001 a greatest hits collection titled Greatest Hurts: The Best of Jann Arden was released. Also included on the 16-track collection were new two tracks, "Thing for You" and "Nevermind," and a dance remix of "Sleepless."
In 2002 Arden began a Canadian tour in support of the album, in which she performed with various symphony orchestras. One performance was recorded and released as a live album. A follow-up studio project was the 2003 release of her seventh album, Love Is the Only Soldier. It was the first album that Arden had produced and recorded in her basement, and on which she used her touring band.
Despite the melancholy that frequently invades Arden's songs and the difficult detours she has experienced on her way to success, hope permeates her music and her outlook. The artist is proud of her resilience and tenacity. "I used to worry that my songs were too sad or depressing," Arden confessed to Nicholas Jennings of Maclean's. "Now, I don't really care because life is about imperfection and making mistakes." Arden's ability to maintain her sense of humor has also been essential to her survival. When asked whether her songs are autobiographical, Arden replied to Maclean's Barbara Wickens, "They must be. I couldn't make up that pathetic life."
by Dave Wilkins and Linda Dailey Paulson
Jann Arden's Career
Recorded debut single, "Never Love a Sailor," as Jann Richards, 1980; worked in bars and with cover bands, c. 1980s; signed to A&M Records, 1991; released Time for Mercy, 1993; the million-selling Living Under June, 1994; and Happy?, 1997, on A&M; singles included "I Would Die for You," "Could I Be Your Girl," "Good Mother," and "Insensitive"; hosted Juno Awards, 1997; released Blood Red Cherry on Zoe label, 2001; toured with Canadian production of The Vagina Monologues, 2001; took small role in film Snowbound; produced television pilot, "The Arden Diner," 2001; released Greatest Hurts compilation, 2001; Live With the Vancouver Symphony, 2002; and Love Is the Only Soldier, 2003.
Jann Arden's Awards
CJ92 (Calgary Radio), Best Female Vocalist, 1993-94; Juno Award, Best New Solo Artist, 1994; Juno Awards, Single of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, and Female Vocalist of the Year, 1995; Much Music Video Award, Video of the Year, 1995; Juno Award, Best Video, 1996; Western Canadian Music Awards, Outstanding Major Label Album, Outstanding Pop Recording, and Outstanding Songwriter of the Year, 2000; Juno Award, Best Female Artist, 2001; Juno Award, Best Songwriter, 2002; Western Canadian Music Award, Outstanding Songwriter, 2003; Western Canadian Music Award, Outstanding Producer (with Russell Broom), 2004.
- Selected discography
- Time for Mercy A&M, 1993.
- Living Under June A&M, 1994.
- Happy? A&M, 1997.
- Blood Red Cherry Zoe, 2001.
- Greatest Hurts: The Best of Jann Arden (compilation), Polygram, 2001.
- Live With the Vancouver Symphony Universal, 2002.
- Love Is the Only Soldier Universal, 2003.
- Billboard, April 13, 1994; September 28, 1996.
- Calgary Sun, June 3, 2000; March 9, 2001; May 12, 2001; July 11, 2001; October 30, 2001.
- Chatelaine, October 1995.
- Edmonton Journal, March 7, 1997.
- Edmonton Sun, March 18, 2000; June 18, 2000; May 18, 2001; October 30, 2001; November 4, 2001; March 8, 2002.
- Elle, April 1995.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 10, 1995.
- Hamilton Spectator, September 22, 1997.
- London Free Press, June 1, 2000; June 5, 2000.
- Maclean's, April 10, 1995; October 6, 1997; December 23, 1996.
- Ottawa Citizen, November 23, 1995.
- Stereo Review, July 1995.
- Toronto Sun, Sunday, March 19, 2000; October 26, 2001.
- Variety, June 16, 1995.
- Winnipeg Sun, February 8, 2001; April 9, 2001; September 12, 2003.
- "Jann Arden," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 15, 2004).
- "Jann Arden," Jam! Music Database, http://www.canoe.ca/JamMusicArtistsA/arden.html (October 15, 2004).
- Jann Arden Official Website, http://www.jannarden.com/home.php (October 15, 2004).