48 years ago today, Martina Schiff was born in the small town of Sharon, Kansas.
She grew up with music all around her, listening to country albums after school and performing with her family in their band ‘The Schiffters’. In 1988 she married John McBride and the two moved to Nashville to pursue careers in country music. John, a sound technician, became the concert production manager for Garth Brooks and Martina went on tour with her husband.
Her professional career began while she was selling t-shirts on tour with Garth. The country star was sufficiently impressed with her that he offered her the position as his supporting act if she could get a record deal. Martina recorded her demo with the help of her husband, put the tape in a purple envelope and sent it off to RCA records – boldly marking it as ‘requested material’ to ensure she would be heard. It worked like a charm. Martina signed with RCA and released her debut album ‘The Time Has Come’ in 1992, following up with a more modern sound on ‘The Way That I Am’ the year after. That’s when I first encountered her music.
In late October of that year I was sitting on the floor in front of the TV – an angsty soon-to-be unemployed 18-year old with no real direction in life – lazily channel surfing to pass the time. I flipped to CMT Europe just as the video for ‘My Baby Loves Me‘ began, heard the opening chords, and suddenly Martina’s larger-than-life, impossibly blue eyes filled the screen. I was transfixed. The very next day I went out to buy her record. A few weeks later I sat on a bus in Stockholm, looking out the window and my eyes fell on a concert poster. As fate would have it Martina was the opening act on Garth Brooks’ upcoming world tour, and they were coming to Sweden! I had not heard of Garth Brooks at the time, so I bought a ticket solely to see Martina.
On April 23rd 1994, five months after first hearing her, I sat in the middle of the 4th row and saw her perform live – it was a wonderful show, and besides playing songs from her albums she did an absolutely beautiful rendition of Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’. That summer – 20 years ago now – I joined her fan club (member number 828), and I have been a devoted fan and fan club member ever since, watching her career develop from up-and-comer to established country super star. Sadly, I have only been able to see her live twice more, and so far I have only met her once (at the Merritt Mountainfest of 2002).
Over the years she has released ten studio albums, one live album, and three compilations – and she has appeared as a guest on many more records, and she has performed with a number of great artists and won many awards. Martina has always been aware of social issues – many of her albums have included songs and videos raising awareness about everything from drunk driving to domestic violence to breast cancer, and she has been active with a number of charities and fund raising auctions. I really admire that quality of not shying away from uncomfortable issues, speaking out about difficult things through her music and her fame. I won’t go into further detail about her life and career here though, Dear Reader – that information is easily available elsewhere on the internet for those of you who are interested.
The decision of how to portray her here was a very difficult one, and it has taken me weeks of thinking and considering different approaches. In the end I chose to depict her as she was when I first discovered her, twenty years ago, and to just keep it simple and clean. The original is A4 size, charcoal crayon on paper.
Martina McBride has without a doubt been one of the most important artists I’ve listened to in my life, and I can safely say that I would not be who I am today if I hadn’t discovered her music when I did. So on that note:
Happy Birthday, Martina – I hope I get to follow your career for another twenty years!