Singer, songwriter, guitarist
An attractive, energetic woman with a big, soulful voice, Lari White—her first name is pronounced “Laiz-rie”—burst onto the country music scene in 1993. With songs that reflect both a nineties feminine savvy and independence and the romance reminiscent of torch ballads of the 1940s and 1950s, she has amassed a popularity that shows no signs of dimming. Praised equally for her abilities as a vocalist and her sensitivity as a songwriter, White has been hailed as one of the more talented of the performers to stand beneath Nashville’s “young country” banner.
Born on May 13,1965, in Dunedin, Florida, White grew up in a household where music was an integral part of family life. “Mom and Dad always had all kinds of music in the house,” she recalled to Jennifer Fusco-Giacobbe in Country Song Roundup. “We sang as a family …close gospel harmonies and rock ‘n’ roll. We had classical records, and atonal modern music, right next to Ray Charles and John Denver albums. So I have a really varied musical background.” White and her family travelled to regional churches, festivals, and community gatherings as a trio. Calling themselves the White Family Singers, the group featured Lari as an integral member from the time she was four. In addition to serving as singer, she soon became the band’s guitarist and part-time pianist.
When she hit her teen years, White struck out on her own musical path, entering talent competitions and singing in a rock band while still in high school. Her academic achievements earned her a full scholarship to the University of Miami, where she majored in music engineering and minored in voice—and spent her free time in recording studios performing background vocals and jingles as a part-time job. With one eye constantly fixed on the spotlight, White began composing her own songs during her senior year in college. Her efforts toward capturing a recording contract at a major label brought her a step closer to her goal in 1988, when she became an overall winner in the Nashville Network’s (TNN) You Can Be a Shareable television show. The prize money was enough to support a stint in Nashville.
White credits her experience with You Can Be a Star— the auditioning, stage performances, and time spent in Music City among people in the country music industry—with giving her music a focus. After several years spent singing in a variety of vocal styles, including rock, pop, and jazz, White found herself won over by the pop-based “young country” sounds coming out of Nashville. She spent a year hard at work along Music Row, trying to find her niche in the country music industry. A gig at Nashville’s Bluebird Cafe sparked the interest of a publishing company owned by veteran country artist
Born May 13, 1965, in Dunedin, FL; married Chuck Cannon (a songwriter), 1994. Education: Graduated from University of Miami.
Began performing with White Family Singers, c. 1969; overall winner, You Can Be a Star talent search television show, the Nashville Network (TNN), 1988; staff writer for Ronnie Milsap’s publishing company, Nashville, TN, 1989-90; backup vocalist on Rodney Crowell’s concert tour, 1991; signed with RCA Records and released debut EP, Lead Me Not, 1993; made acting debut in television pilot XXX’s and OOO’s 1994.
Awards: Nominated for best new female vocalist award, Academy of Country Music, 1994.
Addresses: Record company —RCA Records, One Music Circle North, Nashville, TN 37203. Management —Carter Career Management, 1028-B 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212.
Ronnie Milsap. White was brought on board as a staff writer and her songs would be cut by artists like Tammy Wynette. But it was White’s performance of her own music at a songwriter’s showcase sponsored by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) that led her out from behind the scenes to stand behind a microphone onstage.
In addition to catching the interest of several other labels, White found that veteran country performer Rodney Crowell liked what he heard from her. The two hit it off, and White quickly began to rely on Crowell as a mentor. In addition to engaging her as a backup singer in his band, the Cherry Bombs, during his 1991 tour, Crowell got White a spot on the artist’s showcase that led to an offer by RCA Records. White signed with the label, with the understanding that Crowell would continue to be active in her career. Her first album for RCA, the EP Lead Me Not, was co-produced by Crowell, Cherry Bombs guitarist Steuart Smith, and White.
White wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten songs on Lead Me Not, which was released in 1993. While accurately reflecting her strong vocal talent and the diversity of her musical influences—from blues and Latin rhythms to gospel and country pop—Lead Me Not encompassed too broad a chunk of the musical spectrum to please mainstream country radio programmers. While critics were wowed by White’s stylistic range— Country America’s Neil Pond called it “a sensory pleasure, like a road trip with unexpectedly wonderful scenic turns”—the singles released from Lead Me Not “confused country radio, where [they] never got a strong foothold,” according to Billboard.
While similar to her Lead Me Not in both its thematic diversity and the fact that White had a hand in writing most of the material, 1994’s Wishes proved to be a more focused project. And that focus was strong enough to provide the breakthrough that White needed. “That’s My Baby,” an up-beat, rollicking ode to her husband, songwriter Chuck Cannon, was just what country radio was looking for; as the album’s lead single, it started up the charts soon after its spring release. In addition, “That’s How You Know,” a ballad that features White’s powerful vocals saluting true love, was quick to follow.
In an effort to overcome her shyness onstage, White had taken several acting lessons soon after her arrival in Nashville. Her talent was soon obvious to her teacher, who encouraged her to audition for roles in and around the city. In addition to leading to a television sitcom pilot called XXX’s and OOO’s, White found that the experience of acting fueled her songwriting. “It’s amazing the effect it had on my songwriting, in terms of developing believable characters and getting a feel for voice,” she noted in an RCA Records press release. White’s theatrical training has enabled her to interact more effectively with her audience in between numbers and has given her the ability to handle whatever comes up with an easy sense of humor.
White credits her producers—Crowell, Smith, and Garth Fundis, the architect of Wishes —with allowing her to contribute to the production of her albums, a state of affairs that has not always existed, especially for female country artists. “We’ve definitely come a long way in the amount of input female artists have in the songs we sing and the sound of the records and the way our careers are run,” she commented to Country Song Roundup’s Deborah Price Evans. “There were a lot of women who fought to pave the way for us and we’re benefiting from their hard work.”
Throughout her career of songwriting and performing, White has felt it important to share who she is with her audience, expressing her unique personality and view of the world to her fans. “Performing is the best part of the whole deal,” noted the artist in her press release. “There’s a relationship between you and the audience. It’s like they communicate with you to give you permission to be extravagant and emotional and extreme, things maybe they don’t have the luxury of doing because they’re trying to put food on the table and raise kids. And that’s where I feel the most at home.”
Lead Me Not, RCA, 1993.
Wishes (includes “That’s My Baby,” “Now I Know,” and “That’s How You Know”), RCA, 1994.
Comprehensive Country Music Encyclopedia, Random House, 1994.
Billboard, May 14, 1994.
Country America, October 1992.
Country Music, June 1993; July/August 1994.
Country Music City News, June 1994.
Country Song Roundup, February 1994; August 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from RCA Records publicity materials, 1994.
—Pamela L. Shelton
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