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Branch, Michelle

Branch, Michelle

Singer, songwriter

A breakout pop star with her platinum debut album Spirit Room, Michelle Branch's debut single "Everywhere" hit number 12 on Billboard 's Hot 100; the video won MTV's Viewer's Choice Award. She won a Grammy Award in 2003 and saw her second album Hotel Paper also go platinumand all this from a young woman who appears to be breaking the mold of female pop singers. Beth Wood of the Copley News Service wrote, "Hailed by fans and the media as the 'UnBritney,' she was the antidote to sexed-up young girls with slick song-and-dance routines, skimpy costumes and prefab careers."

Branch has struck platinum with an image that borrows more from traditional rock 'n' roll than the smooth choreography of contemporary performers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera: She writes most of her own songs, plays the guitar, and is most often seen sporting jeans, a T-shirt, and a pair of tennis shoes. Her lifelong dream to perform has been fulfilled in only a short period of time. She told Jon Bream of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "It's exciting to have this for a job, to play guitar and travel around the world."

Born Michelle Jacquet Branch on July 2, 1983, in Flagstaff, Arizona, her father is a plumber-contractor and her mother is a restaurant manager. She claims that from the age of three she knew she wanted to sing and performher first wish was to be on Broadway in musicals like Cats or Oklahoma. Other influences were found in her parents' record collection, which included bands such as the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. By the age of eight she was begging her mother to send her to voice lessons.

Branch's family moved to Sedona, Arizona, when she was eleven years old. About that time she started performing at local fairs; she also started writing her own lyrics and recording them, a cappella, on tape. Her focus turned from musical theater to pop when she attended a New Kids on the Block concert and saw the crowd's reaction to the group. After her parents gave her a guitar when she was 14, she told David L. Coddon of the San Diego Union-Tribune, "I got a chord book and literally locked myself in my room and kept playing the chords over and over. Two weeks later, I came out ... and played a song I'd just written for my parents." Now accompanied by her guitar, Branch continued to record her compositions on tape.

Those tapes would prove instrumental in establishing her career. In 1999 a family friend was showing a condo to a music manager from Los Angeles. The friend called Branch and convinced her to bring the tape over to the condo. Jeff Rabhan was so impressed he helped Branch record her demo album Broken Bracelet and booked her on a tour opening for the band Hanson. She soon caught the attention of Maverick Records, the company started by legendary pop star Madonna.

Branch's debut album with Maverick was Spirit Room, and it featured songs she'd written before she ever had a record deal. The album's first single, "Everywhere," became a huge hit, landing at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The video won an MTV Viewer's Choice Award in 2001. The video for her second single, "All You Wanted," was nominated for Best Female Video and Best Pop Video and became a favorite on MTV's Total Request Live. Spirit Room went platinum a year later, and made it as high as number 28 on Billboard 's charts.

In 2002 Branch's songs were used in the television show Gilmore Girls and in the film American Pie 2. She toured with female rocker Sheryl Crow and opened for country rock darlings the Dixie Chicks. Her third single from Spirit Room, "Goodbye to You," hit the Billboard Top 10. She also made a guest appearance on the television show American Dreams as 1960s singer Lesley Gore. For the role Branch sported a blonde wig and performed Gore's 1963 hit single "You Don't Own Me."

Branch's sudden rise to fame threw her into the company of some of the music industry's most powerful and popular performers, putting her in awe of her good fortune. As a fan of Crow's, for example, Branch was amazed to find herself in the same building as her idol. She told Alisa Blackwood of the Associated Press, "Little things like that freak me out more than performing because I'm such a fan."

In 2002 Branch was invited to work with guitarist Carlos Santana, who was recording his album Supernatural. Her rendition of the song "Game of Love," the result of their collaboration, was an incredible success, reaching number one on the Billboard charts and staying there for 13 weeks. Branch and Santana won a Grammy Award in 2002 for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

Branch began 2003 by performing at the Super Bowl XXXVII pregame show. Her second album, Hotel Paper, was released in June of that year and promptly hit the charts, eventually reaching number two; the single "Are You Happy Now?" landed in the top ten. The album title reflected Branch's peripatetic lifemost of the songs she wrote for the album were composed while on tour the previous year. One track, in fact, was a duet with her former touring partner, Sheryl Crow. That year also saw Branch headline her first tour. Unfortunately, the intense schedule took a toll on her health; toward the end of the year she was forced to cancel several appearances. She recuperated in time to perform at the half-time show of the Major League Soccer Cup championship.

Despite her illness, Branch ended 2003 on a happy noteher second single from Hotel Paper, "Breathe," made it into the top ten. Hotel Paper went platinum, and her single "Are You Happy Now?" earned her a third Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

Branch's career seems to have been blessed. When asked about the ease with which she succeeded, Branch told Blackwood, "It's so funny because it felt so natural and I fell into it so easily. It's one of those things, I felt like I was meant to do this." Though her star rose quickly, she plans to be around for a long time. Speaking of her hopes for the future she told Blackwood, "I really want to establish myself as a writer and have people take me seriously as a writer. ... That's probably the most important thing to me, above singing and guitar playing. ... Maybe in the future I'll even write songs for other people."

For the Record . . .

Born Michelle Jacquet Branch on July 2, 1983, in Flagstaff, AZ; daughter of a plumber-contractor and a restaurant manager.

Grew up singing at home and at local fairs; taught herself to play guitar, age 14; auditioned for manager Jeff Rabhan and recorded demo album Broken Bracelet, 1999; signed with Maverick Records and recorded debut album, Spirit Room, 2001; recorded Grammy Awardwinning song, "Game of Love" with Santana, toured with Sheryl Crow and Dixie Chicks, and appeared in a cameo role on American Dreams, 2002; released second album, Hotel Paper, performed in Super Bowl XXXVII pregame concert, and headlined her own world tour, 2003.

Awards: MTV Viewers Choice Award, 2001; Grammy Award, Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals (with Carlos Santana), 2003.

Addresses: Record company Maverick Records, 9348 Civic Center Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210, phone: (310) 385-7800, fax: (310) 385-7711. Home Michelle Branch, P.O. Box 20425, Sedona, AZ 86341. Website Michelle Branch Official Website: http://www.michellebranch.net. E-mail [email protected]

Selected discography

Broken Bracelet, Independent, 2000.

Spirit Room, Maverick, 2001.

(With Carlos Santana) Supernatural, BMG/Arista, 2002.

Hotel Paper, Maverick, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

Associated Press, March 10, 2002; July 2, 2002. Copley News Service, August 4, 2003.

San Diego Union-Tribune, January 23, 2003, p. 2.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), May 17, 2002, p. 5E.

Times Union (Albany, NY), November 18, 2003, p. F1.

Online

Michelle Branch Official Website, http://www.michellebranch.net (March 3, 2004).

"Michelle Branch: She's 'Everywhere,'" MTV, http://www.mtv.com/bands/b/branch_michelle/news_feature_100601/index.jhtml (February 3, 2004).

Eve M. B. Hermann

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