Born Deana Kay Carter on January 4, 1966, in Goodlettsville, TN; married musician Chris DeCroce (later divorced); engaged to filmmaker Chris Hicky; children: (daughter) Gray Hayes Hicky. Education: University of Tennessee, degree in rehabilitation therapy. Addresses: Record company--Vanguard Records, Welk Music Group, 2700 Pennsylvania Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404. Website--Deana Carter Official Website: http://www.deanacarter.net.
Reporter Bruce Fuller of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune once asked, "What music coming out of Nashville these days seems suitable for early mornings with a cup of expectations, for twilight on a doubtful summer evening, for that midnight hour between disappointment and dreams?" The answer? The barefoot and independent-minded vocalist Deana Carter. From her bittersweet "Strawberry Wine" to her ironic "Did I Shave My Legs For This?," Carter burst onto the country music scene in 1996, just as her Dad nicknamed her, with a 'Little Bit of Sunshine.'" After several label moves and career setbacks in the early 2000s, Carter's independent spirit and creative drive remained undiminished.
Deana Kay Carter was born on January 4, 1966, in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Named after famous crooner Dean Martin, Carter and her two brothers, Ronnie and Jeff, were raised by their practical mother Anna, a homemaker, and their musician father, Fred Carter Jr. Deana Carter told People magazine that "there was always music in our house. At family gatherings, you either found a harmony part or washed dishes. I chose the harmony part." Carter also recalled working for Nugget, her Dad's record label: "I lived in that place, packing 45s and labeling them in the back room with my brothers and my mom. It's just something I love." Carter saw her father become a studio musician legend, playing guitar, according to Carter's website, on "over 90% of all recording sessions in Nashville" throughout the 1960s and 1970s, for stars such as Roy Orbison, Simon & Garfunkel, and Elvis Presley. She too longed for a career in music. At age 17 Carter tried to land a record deal but failed. She told Country Standard Time reporter Robert Loy that "it didn't work out because I wasn't ready. Plain and simple, at 17 you've just haven't lived enough."
Carter began "living enough" by attending the University of Tennessee, where she earned a degree in rehabilitation therapy. After working for more than a year with stroke and head injury patients, however, she left the job. As she told Loy, "It just broke my heart every day. I had a couple patients that died." So she returned to music by playing in Nashville clubs, supporting herself and paying back her student loans through waitressing and other odd jobs.
In 1991 Carter landed her first record deal with Capitol, but her first album was released only in Europe. Soon after, as she remembered in People, "I was dropped, picked up and dropped again [by Capitol]. I just wrote more songs." As Loy wrote, Carter "made a difficult task [songwriting] even harder by refusing to settle for writing anything less than the perfect, definitive song." Carter told Loy, "I wanted to write a song that was credible enough to have depth and meaning. I ended up sabotaging myself cuz I was trying to write deep, murky, dark stuff, trying to be creative---which means I was just faking it. And it doesn't resonate if it's not real."
By the mid-1990s, Carter's career and personal life took an upward turn, and in 1994 she finally received a big break. After hearing her demo tape, Willie Nelson invited her to sing at his Farm Aid concert, making her the only solo woman to perform that year. In 1995 Carter wed musician and video art director Chris DiCroce. That year she also re-signed with Capitol records, even though she was 45 minutes late to her audition with Capitol's president Jimmy Bowen. Carter knew that Bowen had worked with her father and, as she told Country Spotlight's Elianne Halbersberg, "at least his credibility was impeccable," so she brazenly told Bowen, "You need to decide today because I'm not taking a phone call." Bowen said, "I guess we got a deal."
In 1996 Capitol released Carter's debut album, Did I Shave My Legs For This?. Carter's imprint on the album went beyond her singing. She co-wrote six of the album's songs, and was the inspiration behind its unusual 3D-hologram cover art. Reviewing a concert in support of the album, Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Hilburn wrote that Carter "injects a song with the seemingly natural intimacy that is sometimes hard to spot in the entertainment-conscious razzle-dazzle of the pop and country worlds." "Strawberry Wine" became Carter's breakthrough hit, and in 1997 Carter and "Strawberry Wine" received the Country Music Association's (CMA) award for Song and Single of the Year.
Carter's next single was the album's title tune, a song that Halbersberg described as "the result of a gripe session over her philandering, freeloading ex-boyfriend, whom she supported for almost two years by working three jobs." "Did I Shave My Legs For This?"---a funny rant about a man's total ignorance of his wife's attempt to grab his attention---showed Carter's ability to convey not only bittersweet melancholy, but also playful irony. Carter told McCall that "music is a very serious business with me. It's something I hold up high and respect. If I'm writing a funny song or a parody, it still has to hold weight and have credibility. You can have fun with what you're doing, but don't let the music suffer."
Carter's success continued in 1998 with the release of her second album, Everything's Gonna Be Alright. The title song was written in 1971 by Carter's father for a sister who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The album, from the title track to the Lynyrd Skynrd-influenced "The Train Song" to a cover of 1960s singer Melanie's "Brand New Key," showed a musical variety that was unorthodox in mainstream country. Although Everything's Gonna Be Alright fell well short of the multi-platinum success of its predecessor, Carter continued to live by her own musically experimental philosophy.
Parting ways with Capitol in 2002 after a series of creative disagreements, she searched for recording opportunities that would let her feature her own songwriting creations and work with producers of her choice. A delightful detour along the way was a quiet holiday album, Father Christmas, recorded for the small folk-oriented label Rounder. In 2003 Carter signed with Arista Nashville, but her sole album for the label, I'm Just a Girl, sold a scant 82,000 copies.
Carter didn't give up. She moved from Nashville to Los Angeles. After her marriage broke up she became pregnant by filmmaker Chris Hicky, whose film of her pregnancy was shown on the Country Music Television (CMT) cable channel. The two were engaged by 2005. Carter continued to write new material, and her free-spirited attitude appealed to executives at the durable independent label Vanguard. "We signed her," Vanguard publicity director Lellie Capwell told the Los Angeles Times, "so she could make the kind of record she wanted to make."
Carter wrote or co-wrote all 11 songs on her 2005 release The Story of My Life. The album, which flirted with pop-rock styles, earned a rave review from Thom Jurek of All Music Guide, who termed it "a seamless collection of gorgeously written and sung tunes." Music from The Story of My Life gained airplay on the Sirius satellite radio network, an increasingly important avenue of exposure for musicians in the mid-2000s, and the world, it seemed, had not yet heard the last of Deana Carter.
by Ann M. Schwalboski and James M. Manheim
Deana Carter's Career
Worked for father's record label Nugget before failed attempt to land a record contract at 17; signed to Capitol Records in 1991, but was dropped before releasing a song; only solo woman to perform at Willie Nelson's Farm Aid concert, 1994; released debut album, Did I Shave My Legs For This?, which included the hit single "Strawberry Wine," on Capitol, 1996; contributed songs to two movie soundtracks: Anastasia and Hope Floats; released second album, Everything's Gonna Be Alright, Capitol, 1998; released holiday album Father Christmas on Rounder label, 2001; signed to Arista label, released I'm Just a Girl, 2003; signed to Vanguard label, released The Story of My Life, 2005.
Deana Carter's Awards
Country Music Association (CMA) Single of the Year, for "Strawberry Wine," 1997; Country Music Television (CMT) award, for Female Video Artist, 1997.
- Selected discography
- Did I Shave My Legs For This? Capitol, 1996.
- (Contributor) Anastasia (soundtrack), Atlantic, 1997.
- Everything's Gonna Be Alright Capitol, 1998.
- (Contributor) Hope Floats (soundtrack), Capitol, 1998.
- (Contributor) Touched By An Angel (soundtrack), Sony Music, 1998.
- Father Christmas Rounder, 2001.
- I'm Just a Girl Arista Nashville, 2003.
- The Story of My Life Vanguard, 2005.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 21, 1997.
- Chicago Sun-Times, April 10, 2005, Sunday Showcase section, p. 4.
- Country Spotlight, January 1, 1997.
- Country Standard Time, November 1996.
- Los Angeles Times, February 2, 1997; March 15, 1997; March 19, 2005, p. E1.
- Minneapolis Star-Tribune, February 9, 1997.
- People, February 24, 1997; March 31, 2003, p. 33; April 4, 2005, p. 42.
- "Deana Carter," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 24, 2005).