Easton, Sheena (originally, Orr, S. Shirley)
Easton, Sheena (originally, Orr, S. Shirley)
Easton, Sheena (originally, Orr, S. Shirley), petite Scottish pop singer; b. Bellshill, Scotland, April 27, 1959. Sheena Orr was the youngest of six children. Her father worked in a steel mill, and when he died in 1969, her mother worked as a laborer to support the family. She studied to be a speech and drama teacher at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Dance and worked in a band evenings to help pay her tuition. She briefly married Sandi Easton, and kept his name.
Shortly after graduation in 1980, the 21-year-old performer became the subject in the BBC documentary series The Big Time. The crew followed her on her quest to become a pop star, capturing an audition for EMI and the recording of her debut single. The song, “Modern Girl’ was released just before her episode, but topped out only at #56 on the U.K. charts. Her next single, “9 to 5,” a pleasant paean about waiting for her baby to come home from work, did considerably better, hitting #3 on the U.K. charts. “Modern Girl” made a comeback in the wake of this success, zooming to #8 and making Easton the first artist since the 1950s to have two simultaneous U.K. Top Ten singles.
The single “9 to 5” came out in the U.S. in 1981, but to avoid confusion with the Dolly Parton hit of the same name, the record company retitled the tune “Morning Train.” The single sold a million copies and topped both the pop and adult charts. The U.S. release of “Modern Girl” hit #18. Her eponymous debut album went gold and hit #24. In the wake of this phenomenal start, Easton performed the theme to the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only, which hit #4.
Her sophomore effort You Could Have Been with Me came out shortly after her debut. Although the title track reached #15, and the follow-up, “When He Shines,” hit #30, the album did not sell nearly as well as her debut, despite being in release when Easton won the 1981 Best New Artist Grammy. Her next album, Madness, Money and Music, did even worse. However, when it looked like Easton was destined to succumb to the Best New Artist curse and flash in the pan, her duet with Kenny Rogers on “We’ve Got Tonight” topped the country charts and brought her to #6 in the pop charts. Building on this, Easton took her next singles, “Telefone (Long Distance Love Affair),” to #9 and “Almost Over You” to #25, propelling the Best Kept Secret Album to a respectable #33. Still, there was a problem with Easton, and that was her wholesome image. People perceived songs like “Morning Train” and “We’ve Got Tonight” as music for women who subscribed to Phyllis Shafaly. The sweetness in this music was almost painful.
Easton took a step back during 1984 and recorded an album of her greatest hits in Spanish, along with a few other Spanish tunes. Ironically, the album earned her a second Grammy Award for Best Mexican American Performance for a duet with Luis Miguel.
After reassessing her English career, Easton replaced the sweetness with sass and sexuality. The platinum A Private Heaven featured the funky tune “Strut,” which went to #7 on the charts, and the even funkier “Sugar Walls,” a tune written and produced by Prince (as “Alexander Nevermind”). The song was so risque it earned the ire of the Parents Music Resource Council (PMRC), then at the height of its power trying to get record companies to label recordings based on their content. Needless to say, the song rose high on the charts, reaching #9. The album topped out at #15.
Easton’s next album didn’t fare nearly so well. Do You did reach #40 on the chart and produced one single, the #29 hit “Do You.” In 1987, EMI was sold. Easton did not like the new management and managed to get out of her contract. Despite review copies of her next album, No Sound but a Heart, being sent out to the press, it never came out in the U.S. Instead, she worked again with Prince, recording “U Got the Look,” with him. That tune went to #2. She became part of his entourage, appearing in the tour documentary Sign o’ the Times. She also returned to acting, working on the hit TV series Miami Vice.
In 1989, Easton surfaced again musically with the soulful The Lover in Me. The title track, an early production of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, went to #2 pop, topping the R&B charts. Another collaboration with Prince, “101,” didn’t do well on the pop charts, but hit #2 R&B. She recorded “Arms of Orion” with Prince later in the year for the soundtrack to the movie Batman, and the tune hit #36 pop. In 1991, she released What Comes Naturally. The title track went to #19. Recognizing her fortunes slipping as a recording artist, Easton took to the stage, touring in a revival of Man of LaMancha. By 1992, the play had hit Broadway.
In the 1990s, Easton kept active as a recording artist, cutting a track for the film Fern Gully and making an album of standards called No Strings, but acting became her mainstay. While she remains a very popular singer in Japan (and continues to release records in that market), her acting and voiceover work in commercials became her mainstays through the 1990s.
Take My Time (1981); Sheena Easton (1981); You Could Have Been with Me (1982); Madness, Money and Music (1982); Best Kept Secret (1983); A Private Heaven (1984); Do You (1985); No Sound but a Heart (1987); For Your Eyes Only (1989); The Lover in Me (1989); What Comes Naturally (1991); Sheena! (1992); No Strings (1993); Body and Soul (1997).