Eileen Regina Edwards was born on August 28, 1965 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada to Sharon and Clarence Edwards.
Eileen had two younger sisters: Jill and Carrie Ann.
At the tender age of 2, Eileen’s parents divorced and her mother moved Eileen & her two sisters 630 miles north to rural Timmins, Ontario.
Eileen’s mother remarried and she and her new husband, Jerry, had a son together (Mark). Jerry subsequently adopted Eileen and her two sisters.
Eileen would later admit that she endured a very difficult childhood.
Her parents earned little money and sometimes were unable to heat their home or afford groceries.
Their relationship was rocky as well and, from a young age, Eileen oftentimes was witness to the violence which erupted between her parents. Her mother also suffered through bouts of depression.
And for fear of breaking up the family, young Eileen declined to report any of these hardships to her teachers or other school personnel.
Doing her letter-best to help the family, Eileen began singing in local bars at the age of 8, earning $20 between midnight and 1 a.m. performing for lingering customers following the bar’s “Last Call”.
Although she expressed a dislike for singing in such establishments, Eileen later reflected upon this period as her own kind of on-the-road performing arts school:
“My deepest passion was music and it helped. There were moments when I thought, ‘I hate this.’ I hated going into bars and being with drunks. But I loved the music and so I survived.”
Eileen wrote her first songs at the age of 10: “Is Love a Rose” and “Just Like the Storybooks”.
She commented that the art of creating, of writing songs, “was very different from performing them and became progressively important”.
In 1978, at the age of 12, Eileen was invited to perform on CBC’s (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) The Tommy Hunter Show, where she sang her version of the Dolly Parton classic “Jolene” followed by the first live performance of her original song “Is Love A Rose?”
[NOTE: You can actually find an audio recording of this performance on YouTube.]
Her valiant efforts notwithstanding, by mid-1979, matters at home became so dire that Eileen begged her mother to drive her & her two sisters 420 miles south to Toronto to seek refuge in a homeless shelter. Her father Jerry remained behind but they would all rejoin him two years later in 1981.
Eileen would soon enroll at Timmins High & Vocational School.
During this period, she was also the singer for a local band called Longshot, covering popular Top 40 songs of the day.
She also earned extra money by working at her father’s reforestation business in rural Northern Ontario.
Although the work was demanding and the pay low, Eileen later reflected that she “loved the feeling of being stranded.”
“I’m not afraid of being in my own environment, being physical, working hard. I was very strong, I walked miles and miles every day and carried heavy loads of trees. You can’t shampoo, use soap or deodorant, or makeup, nothing with any scent; you have to bathe and rinse your clothes in the lake. It was a very rugged existence, but I was very creative and I would sit alone in the forest with my dog and a guitar and would just write songs.”
Spreading Her Wings
After graduating from Timmins High School in June 1983, Eileen was eager to expand her musical horizons.
Following the breakup of Longshot, Eileen joined another top-40 band called Flirt and began touring all over Ontario.
Eileen also began taking singing lessons from Toronto-based coach Ian Garrett and would often clean his house in payment for her lessons.
In the autumn of 1984, Eileen’s talents were noticed by Toronto DJ Stan Campbell, who wrote the following words about her in an article featured in Country Music News:
“Eilleen possesses a powerful voice with an impressive range. She has the necessary drive, ambition and positive attitude to achieve her goals”.
Campbell happened to be producing an album by Canadian musician Tim Denis at the time and was featured on the backing vocals of the song Heavy on the Sunshine.
Campbell later took Eileen to Nashville to record some demos, where she became acquainted with regional country singer Mary Bailey, who had had some country chart success herself back in 1976.
Bailey had seen Eileen perform in Sudbury, Ontario, saying: “I saw this little girl up on stage with a guitar and it absolutely blew me away. She performed Willie Nelson’s ‘Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain’ and Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’. Her voice reminded me of Tanya Tucker; it had strength and character, a lot of feeling. She’s a star, she deserves an opportunity.”
Bailey later confided: “She sang a few songs that she had written, and I thought to myself, this kid is like nineteen years old, where does she get this? This is from a person who’s lived sixty years”.
Bailey acquired Eileen’s singing contract from Stan Campbell and moved Eileen into her home on Kenogami Lake, Ontario, where she practiced her music every day for hours.
In the fall of 1985, Bailey took Eileen back down to Nashville to stay with a friend, record producer Tony Migliore, who at the time was producing an album for fellow Canadian singer Kelita Haverland. Eileen was featured on the backing vocals to the song Too Hot to Handle.
During this period, Eileen struggled with something of an identity crisis: while she excelled at singing & writing country music, her true passion was rock-and-roll.
In late summer 1986, Mary Bailey arranged for Eileen to meet John Kim Bell, a conductor who had close contacts with the directors of the Canadian Country Music Association. Bell recognized Eileen’s true talent & marketability even though she continued to express her desire to be a pop or rock singer rather than country.
Eileen’s first break finally came on February 8, 1987, when Bell staged a fundraiser for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto where she performed with Broadway star Bernadette Peters, jazz guitarist Don Ross and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Her performance received little acclaim, but it convinced Bell, who hated pop music, that Eileen should stay well away from it and concentrate on country music.
Tragedy Yields A Big Break
On November 1, 1987, Eileen’s mother and stepfather died in a car accident approximately 30 north of Wawa, Ontario.
So Eileen moved back to Timmins to take care of her younger siblings.
Shortly thereafter, she moved everyone Huntsville, Ontario, where she supported them by earning money performing at nearby Deerhurst Resort.
A few years later, her siblings moved out, leaving Eileen to contemplate her singing career in earnest.
She assembled a demo tape of her songs and her Huntsville manager set up a showcase for Eileen to present her material to record executives.
She caught the attention of a few labels, including Mercury Nashville Records, who signed her within a few months.
It was at this time when she changed her name.
Her debut self-titled album was released in 1993 and reached a modest No.67 on the U.S. Country Albums Chart.
While the album failed to sell significant copies initially, it gained positive reviews from critics and would go on to be certified platinum six years later; “platinum” denotes an album with sales exceeding 1 million.
(In her 2011 autobiography From This Moment On, she expressed displeasure with her debut studio album, revealing that she had very little creative control and expressed frustration with not being able to showcase her songwriting ability.)
In 1997, she released her follow-up album, Come On Over, which would firmly establish her as a successful crossover singer.
Slowly, following the release of singles “Love Gets Me Every Time” and “Don’t Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)”, which allowed her to make more appearances in the Billboard Hot 100, the album started racking up sales.
It never hit the top spot, but with the multi-chart hit single “You’re Still the One”, sales skyrocketed.
Other songs like “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much” joined several other tunes which eventually saw release as singles.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m talking about Eileen Twain, who had changed her name to Shania several years earlier.
Awards and accolades
The list of Shania Twain’s songwriting awards is much too extensive to list here.
In total she has won 188 awards from 1993 to the present day, including:
- 39 BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) Songwriter Awards
- 26 Canadian Country Music Awards
- 12 Junos (an award presented annually to Canadian musical artists and bands to acknowledge their artistic and technical achievements in all aspects of music)
- 9 Billboard Awards
- 5 American Grammys
- 5 American Music Awards
- 4 ACMAs (Academy of Country Music Awards)
- 2 CMAs (Country Music Association) and
- 1 Bambi Award (presented annually by Hubert Burda Media to recognize excellence in international media and television, awarded to personalities in the media, arts, culture, sports and other fields “with vision and creativity who affected and inspired the German public that year,” both domestic and foreign).
Additionally, she received the following accolades:
- The city of Timmins, Ontario renamed a street for her, gave her the key to the city and built the Shania Twain Centre in her honor
- On November 18, 2005, Twain was invested as an Officer in the Order of Canada (O.C. is a national order and the second highest honor for merit in the system of orders, decorations and medals of Canada, second only to membership in the Order of Merit, which is the personal gift of Canada’s monarch)
- Twain was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the Juno Awards on March 27, 2011
- On June 2, 2011, Twain received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- In 2016, Twain was declared the “Artist of a Lifetime” by CMT and was given a special award during the 2016 Artists of the Year ceremony
- In January 2017, it was announced that Twain will have her own exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame titled Shania Twain: Rock This Country; this exhibit opened on June 26, 2017 and will run through 2018
- In 2018, Twain was announced as the second recipient of the CCMA (Canadian Country Music Awards) Generation Award; this is awarded to artists who have had significant impact in the country music industry as well as awareness of country music worldwide.
Today, her net worth is estimated to be north of $370 million.
Not to shabby for a young lady who started her singing career in front of a bunch of drunks!
So yes, great endings oftentimes have humble beginnings.
Here’s where YOU fit in…
And as I’ve written previously, the lesson here is that this applies to you as well.
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Now, whether you recognize it or not, you and Shania have a LOT in common.
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And if you found this content helpful, I would love to read your comments below!
Yours in success,