Canadian singer Anne Murray (born 1945) was the first Canadian female singer to reach the top spot on the American music charts as well as being the first to earn a gold record, for 1970's "Snowbird." During her long career she has sold over 50 million albums. Her alto voice has garnered her fans and accolades from many different genres, including pop, country, and adult contemporary as well as winning her dozens of music awards.
A Childhood of Song
Born Morna Anne Murray on June 20, 1945, singer Anne Murray is the only daughter of James Carson Murray, a doctor, and Marion (Burke) Murray, a registered nurse and homemaker. The Murray family lived in Springhill, Nova Scotia, a town of only a few thousand people centered around the coal mining industry. One of six children, Murray grew up with five active brothers. On her website Murray noted that "I often think that perhaps the reason I became a successful singer was that, as a kid, I could never do anything as well as my brothers. I wanted to do something better than they did." With that inspiration coupled with her love of music, Murray first studied piano and then, from the age of 15, voice. One of Murray's earliest performances was of the religious song "Ave Maria" at her high school graduation in 1962.
Murray studied at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax briefly, then transferred to the University of New Brunswick at Fredericton to study physical education. She completed her degree in 1966. However, she did not forget her love of music during those studies. She unsuccessfully auditioned for a Canadian network television series, Singalong Jubilee , in 1964; in 1966, she again auditioned for the same series, and this time was cast. She worked on the show during the summer following her graduation from the University of New Brunswick before turning to a more stable career as a physical education instructor at a high school on Prince Edward Island.
Became a "Snowbird"
Her career as a teacher never progressed beyond that first year. Murray returned to Singalong Jubilee as a featured soloist during the summer of 1967 and also accepted a spot on another television show, Let's Go , aimed at teenagers. After appearing on the cast recording for Singalong Jubilee , Murray received an offer from the show's musical director, Brian Ahern, to record a solo album. In 1968 Murray released her first album, What About Me . She made her major label debut the following fall with the Capitol Records release This Way Is My Way . Not a songwriter herself, Murray performed and interpreted the songs of others, including a track called "Snowbird" penned by novice Canadian songwriter Gene MacLellan.
Although not selected as a single from This Way Is My Way , "Snowbird" appeared on the b-side of the album's second single, "Biding My Time." Radio stations began playing the song and it quickly became a hit. The song was one of the most played selections in North America in 1970 and garnered Murray an American gold record (meaning that the single had sold over 500,000 copies), a first for a Canadian female solo artist. Murray's song became both a pop and country standard. Speaking to an interviewer for Canada's Globe and Mail in 2006, Murray recalled, "I definitely fought against being labeled country at a very early stage in my career because I wanted to do everything. I didn't want to be labeled. I love all the music and was influenced by so many different kinds of music that I should be able to do any of it if I chose to." Murray's fans included even John Lennon, who told Murray at the 1974 Grammy Awards that her version of "You Won't Tell Me" was his favorite Beatles' cover. At that same awards ceremony, Murray received her first Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, for her hit "Love Song." However, this was not Murray's first major award—her first was the Juno award (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) for Best Female Vocalist in 1971.
With the success of "Snowbird" and other songs, Murray began appearing regularly on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and other popular variety shows of the time, including such major programs as American Bandstand, The Muppet Show , and Saturday Night Live . Both Murray's professional and personal lives blossomed during the 1970s. In 1975 Murray married Bill Langstroth, and the following year the couple had their first child, William. In 1979 Murray gave birth to a daughter, Dawn. For a few years after her marriage, Murray essentially dropped out of the music world to focus on her family.
Murray returned to record more diverse material in the late 1970s, including a children's album called There's a Hippo in My Tub in 1977. This album won the Juno for Best Children's Album in 1979; that same year, Murray again received the Juno for Best Female Vocalist. In 1978 she scored a major country and pop hit with the song "You Needed Me." This track earned Murray her second Grammy Award.
A Prolific Artist
Murray continued to record and perform extensively during the 1980s, releasing at least one album every year except 1985. In 1980 Murray received her third Grammy Award in the Best Country Vocal Performance category for the song "Could I Have This Dance." That same year, she was honored with a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. In 1983 Murray's song "A Little Good News" garnered her a fourth Grammy, again for Best Country Vocal Performance.
In July of 1989 Murray opened the Anne Murray Centre in her hometown of Springhill, Nova Scotia. The community's coal mining industry unexpectedly shut down in the 1958 after a series of mining accidents, and Murray wanted to promote a new industry for the struggling area. The Anne Murray Centre displays artifacts from Murray's career and aims to promote music appreciation in the Nova Scotia region. Shortly after the opening of the center, Maclean's magazine noted that Murray "herself is coming to terms with the idea that she is a Canadian institution."
In 1984 Murray became a Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada's highest civilian honor. From the mid-1980s on, Murray's commercial appeal declined somewhat. In the late 1980s country music listeners' tastes shifted considerably from softer, more adult contemporary-influenced sounds to harder, more traditional rock-country bands. Despite this shift, Murray's albums continued to be commercially and critically acclaimed.
A Long and Celebrated Career
In 1993 Murray was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. After the death of her longtime friend and manager, she signed with a new manager and her career took a different turn. During this transitional phase Murray did not release any material; the period between 1993 and 1996 remains her longest musical hiatus. In 1997 Murray released her first live album, and two years later she again explored a new style with an album of inspirational songs, What a Wonderful World . This album went platinum in both the United States and Canada, showing Murray's continued commercial appeal. The following year, Murray became one of the charter inductees on the Canadian Walk of Fame.
Murray entered another new genre in 2001 with the release of her album What a Wonderful Christmas . Achieving gold status in Canada—an unusual feat for a seasonal album— What a Wonderful Christmas became one of the more successful Christmas albums of all time. In 2002 Murray released an album of classic country songs entitled Country Croonin' . The album went platinum in Canada and Murray embarked on a tour to support it. Three years later Murray released her 33rd studio album, All of Me , to critical praise. Writing in People magazine, Ralph Novak commented that "All in all, this excellent album makes for an ideal companion piece to Murray's 2002 collection of country standards, Country Croonin' ."
In a rare crossover between Murray's personal and professional life, she and her daughter Dawn set out in the late 1990s to promote awareness of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. Dawn suffered from the disease for several years before seeking treatment, and mother and daughter appeared on television talk shows in the hopes of preventing other young women from experiencing the same problem.
During her career, Murray has sought to put her talents to use for many good causes. After a tsunami devastated southeast Asia in late 2005, Murray joined a contingent of Canadian performers to appear in the massive benefit Canada for Asia, sponsored by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). In 2006 Murray received a Legacy Award from the Canadian Songwriters' Hall of Fame, acknowledging her long career as a premiere interpreter of songs. During her career, Murray has performed more than 80 songs written by Canadian songwriters, showing her dedication to the arts of her native country. Unlike many successful Canadian performers, Murray has lived in Canada her entire life, mostly in the Toronto area.
To date, Murray has sold over 50 million albums. In addition to her four Grammy awards, she has received nearly 25 Juno awards, three American Music awards, three Country Music Association awards, and three Canadian Country Music Association awards. In addition to these wins, she has been nominated for many other awards. With a career spanning 40 years, Murray's storied alto seems guaranteed to please fans for years to come.
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