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Jennifer Warnes Biography

Last updated: 11/01/2014 03:23:31 PM

Somewhere, right now, she's singing:

On an old record album, or over the airwaves, or into the ear of some guy in an audio parts store. From the heights of joys, or from hte burned-out basement of a broken heart, Jennifer Warnes is singing, with a voice unlike any other, one of the purest in popular music, a rate combination of strength and fragility, a voice we have come to love from her hit singles or discovered behind the titles in some of our favorite films.

Jennifer has accomplished much more than a list of memorable movies themes and chart-topping songs. Her music has been equally at home on theater stages and record charts the world over for more than three decades. She's sung in Seminole, Spanish, French, Latin, German, and Hawaiian. She's won three Academy Awards for "Best Song," a pair of Grammys, and collected a dozen chart hits, including three number ones and three top ten singles. Jennifer's songwriting skill is also admired by her peers: Her tunes have been covered by Bette Midler, Jann Arden, 10cc, Aaron Neville, and Linda Ronstadt. And, in the highly competitive music business, she is among the most sought-after session singers and vocal arrangers in the industry.

She's appeared as a guest vocalist on recordings by Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tina Turner, Harry Belafonte, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Sam and Dave, Jackson Browne, Bobby Womack, Eric Johnson, Warren Zevon, Tanita Tikaram, and dozens of others. "Her voice," says Cohen, "is like the California weather, filled with sunlight. But there's an earthquake behind it."

Jennifer's successful career began early. She was offered her first recording contract at the age of seven (her father turned it down), and made her professional debut two years later when, wrapped in an American flag and accompanied by three hundred accordions, she sang "The Star Spangled Banner" at LA's Shrine Auditorium. By age fourteen, Jennifer was a member of Actors Equity and, after high school, was offered an opera scholarship to Immaculate Heart College.

She opted instead to pursue a less conventional singing career, and began performing in the then-thriving Southern California folk club scene with singer Doug Rowell. The duo shared bills with Jackson Browne, Hoyt Axton, Steve Martin, Jose Feliciano, and Pat Paulsen. It was Paulsen who brought Jennifer to the attention of Tom and Dick Smothers, whose groundbreaking Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was a top-rated network hit at the time. Jennifer (who early in her career was billed by just her first name) joined the cast of the show in 1967.

In the meantime, she'd recorded her first album for the Parrot Records label, with which she'd inked a deal earlier in the year. ...I Can Remember Everything, a collection of eclectic pop tunes that spawned three singles, was recorded in LA's famed Goldstar Studios-the same studio where Phil Spector, Sonny and Cher, and countless other legends recorded their biggest hits. "The same day I started recording my first album," Jennifer recalls, "Bobby Darin was next door recording his new record."

Shortly after the album's release, Jennifer landed the lead in the Los Angeles production of Hair, the acclaimed "tribal love rock musical" that was a recent hit on Broadway. Parrot rush-released a single of Jennifer singing two of the songs from the show, "Let the Sunshine In" and "Easy to Be Hard," and both songs were included on her new album, See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me! (Jennifer's rendition of "Easy to Be Hard" became the first version of the song to chart in the U.S.)

After the Smothers Brothers show left the air, Jennifer toured the college concert circuit with Smothers alumnus Mason Williams, John Hartford, and John Stewart. During this time, she met Canadian poet/songwriter Leonard Cohen, whose songs she'd admired and had been performing in concert. Reprise Records, with whom she'd signed after producer/songwriter Jack Nitzsche brought her to the label's attention, released her third album in 1972. Titled simply Jennifer, the record was produced by Welsh violist John Cale of The Velvet Underground. "This record was the first indication that I was going to take a left turn with my career," Jennifer remembers. "I learned a lot working with John, who broke a lot of musical rules to great effect."

Later that year, Jennifer toured with Leonard Cohen's band, singing back-up and appearing in a documentary film about Cohen called Bird on a Wire. After a brief sabbatical in nearby Big Sur, she returned to Los Angeles and her solo career. Some session work with producer Chuck Plotkin, Russell Kunkel, and The Section at Clover Studios led to a new recording contract with Arista Records. Enlisting the help of producer Jim Price, Jennifer completed her first album for the label early that same year. Jennifer Warnes featured a collection of country-rock tunes with guest performances by famed session musicians Kenny Edwards, Russell Kunkel, and Rolling Stones keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. The album's first single, the Jim Ed Norman-produced "Right Time of the Night," went on to become one of the biggest chart hits of 1977, peaking at #6 on Billboard's Hot 100 and #4 on Cashbox's pop chart.

The album's second single, "I'm Dreaming," was also a pop hit and, after a cross-country concert tour, Jennifer began work on her next album for Arista. Co-produced by Jennifer and Rob Fraboni, Shot Through the Heart was recorded at the legendary Shangri-La studio, where The Band made several records. Jennifer worked with a stellar crew of musicians on these sessions, including Band member Garth Hudson, Ricky Fataar, Blondie Chaplin, Jim Gordon, Denny Seiwell, and Andrew Gold.

Shot Through the Heart is a moody mix of folk tunes and country-rock songs, like the album's first single, "I Know a Heartache When I See One," which was a major hit in the summer of 1979. Two more hits were culled from the album in 1980: a cover of the Bacharach/David favorite "Don't Make Me Over," and "When the Feeling Comes Around," written by Jennifer's longtime friend, Hawaiian bandleader Rick Cunha. "Lost the Good Thing We Had," a duet with Steve Gillette from his latest album, was also a hit on the country charts later that year.

Jennifer toured again with Leonard Cohen in 1979. "During that tour, the seeds were sown for what would become the Famous Blue Raincoat album," she says. "Leonard's band formed the crux of the band that performed on that record. I met (accompanist) Bill Ginn and Roscoe Beck then, and I've worked with them often ever since."

In April of 1980, Jennifer's recording of "It Goes Like It Goes," from the Sally Field film Norma Rae, was awarded the "Best Original Song" prize at the annual Academy Awards presentation. It would be the first of a record four Oscar-nominated movie themes for Jennifer, all but one of which would take the award. (Only Jennifer's recording of Randy Newman's "One More Hour," from the 1981 film Ragtime, would stop short of an Oscar win.)

"It Goes Like It Goes," featured in 1982's The Best of Jennifer Warnes (which also included her latest hit, "Could it Be Love"), would signal the beginning of a new phase in Jennifer's career. In demand as a vocalist for major films, she would go on to record ten movie themes over the next eighteen years. Her next soundtrack song, "Up Where We Belong," was certainly the biggest of her movie hits so far. Recorded for the film An Officer and a Gentleman, the duet with Joe Cocker spent three weeks at the top of the Billboard singles charts, and held the top spot in several other countries as well. The song won both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for "Best Original Song," a Grammy award for "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group," and was certified gold. "Up Where We Belong" was also named "Song of the Year" at the prestigious Tokyo Music Festival in 1981.

Jennifer followed these new successes with a project she'd dreamed about for years. "I'd wanted to record an album of Leonard Cohen songs from the very beginning," she recalls. "I'd brought the idea to several other record labels, but they weren't interested." Finally, Jennifer-who'd left Arista in 1981-set about making that album. Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, released in 1986, would go on to sell more than a million copies worldwide and remain a favorite of audiophile fans, who consider it the perfect musical sound recording. The album was certified platinum in Canada and one of its songs, "A Singer Must Die," was nominated for a Grammy award for "Best Vocal Arrangement" by Van Dyke Parks and Bill Ginn.

Co-produced with C. Roscoe Beck, Famous Blue Raincoat is a labor of love that is still lauded by critics around the world. The album-which includes a duet with Cohen on "Joan of Arc" and a written collaboration between the two, "Song of Bernadette"-was a professional triumph in more ways than one. Because she retained ownership of the Raincoat master tapes, Jennifer broke a long-established pattern of artistic domination by record labels. Her foresight set a precedent among recording artists who want to maintain ownership of their recorded performances.

Jennifer capped 1987 with a high-profile ensemble performance and another #1 movie duet. In November, she performed-along with Jackson Browne, Bruce Sprinsteen, J.D. Souther, kd lang, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Bonnie Raitt-in "A Black and White Night," a Roy Orbison tribute held at LA's Coconut Grove. That same month, Jennifer's new single, a duet with former Righteous Brother Bill Medley, was released. "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," from the film Dirty Dancing, peaked at #1 on Billboard's Hot 100. Early in 1988, the song won a Grammy for "Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group," and its Oscar win for "Best Song" the following month broke Jennifer's own record for most Oscar-winning songs by any singer in the history of the Academy Awards. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack album has been certified triple platinum and is still selling.

In 1992, Jennifer released the long-awaited follow-up to Famous Blue Raincoat. The Hunter featured five original Warnes compositions, and its first single, "Rock You Gently," was an immediate radio and chart success. The album, which Jennifer co-produced with Roscoe Beck and Elliot Scheiner, reunited many of the musicians who had played on Famous Blue Raincoat. Notably absent was the late Stevie Ray Vaughn, whom Jennifer memorialized in the song "True Emotion," which was the album's second single. The Hunter's Scheiner was nominated for a Grammy award for "Best Engineering."

Earlier in the year, Decca Records had re-issued Jennifer's first two albums in a package entitled Just Jennifer. In a review of these early recordings, one critic commented, "It's no surprise to discover, in these early sides, the same distinct musical personality we've come to love in Warnes' later work. Her talent for reclaiming off-center songs is apparent in these tracks, and the promise of her voice-soon to become a much-loved, under-appreciated national treasure-is there, too."

Jennifer's music-which has most recently included a reunion with Bill Medley on the single "Show Me the Light"-continues to inspire critics and fans alike. "One's sound is as particular as one's own physique," Jennifer has said. "It's as sensitive as one's nerve, as expressive as one's openness of heart. Voices don't lie."