Mary Chapin Carpenter has been a force to be reckoned with in country music. Since she first hit the scene in the late 1980s, she’s produced hit songs that have won over countless fans.
She’s an incredibly talented songwriter and has a deep passion for singing and performing.
There aren’t too many country musicians that have managed to cross over into pop music. But Mary Chapin Carpenter is one such artist.
Let’s find out more about this award-winning country singer and her rise to fame.
The Story of Mary Chapin Carpenter
Country singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter was born February 21, 1958, in Princeton, New Jersey. When she was eleven, she moved to Japan with her family. They remained there for two years while her father worked for the Asian Edition of Life Magazine. It was during this time that Mary learned to play the guitar.
When her family returned to the US, they settled briefly in Washington D.C. Mary attended Princeton Day School for the first part of high school before graduating in 1976 from The Taft School in Waterton, Connecticut.
While in school, Mary continued to play guitar and learned the piano. She never really considered music anything more than a hobby. It wasn’t until she graduated from Brown University in 1981 that she performed publicly for the first time. Her father encouraged her to play at a local open-mic bar, which was not easy for Mary, who was fairly shy.
They paid Mary $40 that night, and she decided right then that she could make a living playing music.
Rise to Fame
After college, Mary returned to Washington D.C. and played local gigs for a few years. There, she met guitarist John Jennings who would produce eight of Mary’s albums.
Mary signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and released her first album, Hometown Girl, in 1987. The folksy album highlighted Mary’s songwriting talent, but the songs mainly got played on college radio stations.
But just two years later, after Columbia decided to promote her as a country artist, she released her second album, State of the Heart. This 1989 release put Mary Chapin Carpenter into the country mainstream. The album reached #28 on the Billboard Country Album chart.
Her third album Shooting Straight in the Dark, was released in 1990 and included her hit song Down at the Twist and Shout. This single earned Mary her first Grammy Award for Best Country Female Vocal Performance.
It seemed Mary Chapin Carpenter was making a solid name for herself as a top country artist. Her 1992 album Come On Come On went quadruple platinum and included seven hit singles. One of those hits, Passionate Kisses, initially sung by Lucinda Williams in 1988, managed to cross over into the mainstream pop charts.
Becoming a Legend
There was no stopping Mary’s climb to the top in the music world. Her passionate lyrics touched the hearts of everyone who heard her songs. Mary wrote from personal experiences and the highs and lows most of us are familiar with in life. Her tunes all have themes of family, relationships, heartbreak, work-life, and having fun.
By 1994, Mary won five Grammy Awards, two Country Music Awards, and two Academy of Country Music awards.
Throughout the first half of the 90s, Mary wrote songs for other artists like Joan Baez and bluegrass musician Tony Rice. She also co-wrote a song with pop singer Cyndi Lauper called Sally’s Pigeons.
Mary did have a few relationships, including one with her producer John Jennings, but mainly remained single throughout her 30’s. In a 1994 profile in Entertainment Weekly, the author describes her as “a spokes-singer for the thirtysomething single woman.”
Mary remained single until 2002, when she married Tim Smith. However, that marriage only lasted eight years, and in 2010, they divorced. Mary has never remarried, mainly remaining single while focusing on her music career.
Did Mary Chapin Carpenter Have a Stroke?
In 2007, right before setting out on tour in support of her ninth album, The Calling, Mary suffered a pulmonary embolism. It literally stopped her in her tracks and forced her to take the necessary time off to focus on her health.
While in recovery, she found a new interest in cooking. In the 20 years since her career had begun, Mary rarely had time for anything besides making music and touring. Spending time at home allowed her to watch cooking shows on the Food Network and even have dinner parties with friends.
Six months after her embolism, Mary began writing music again. Her 2010 studio album The Age of Miracles included these new songs. The album topped the Folk and Country music charts and reached #28 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Is Mary Chapin Carpenter Still Performing?
After The Age of Miracles, Mary released five more studio albums, her most recent being The Dirt and the Stars from 2020. The songs on that album were written in her farmhouse in Virginia but recorded in Bath, England, at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios.
In November 2020, Mary recorded a special concert without an audience in Virginia’s legendary Wolf Trap venue. It also happens to be her favorite place to perform. The show aired on PBS last August and can still be streamed on their website.
From the Muse: You can also purchase the ‘One Lonely Night’ concert DVD or watch it on Amazon Prime.
Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Best Known Songs
He Thinks He’ll Keep Her is a song from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s 1992 hit album Come On, Come On. It tells the story of a woman who marries at 21, raises three children, and at age 36 realizes she no longer loves her husband. The song reached #2 on Billboard’s Country chart.
Carpenter’s 1994 catchy number Shut Up and Kiss Me earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Performance. Feeling cautious about falling in love isn’t uncommon, and this song explains that hesitancy in a straightforward way. Benmont Tench, the piano player for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, adds his special touch to the song’s album version.
I Feel Lucky is another hit single from her 1992 album Come On Come On. That release produced a total of seven chart-topping singles. The line “No tropical depression gonna steal my sun away” expresses how you may feel on your luckiest of days.
Mary Chapin Carpenter Continues to Impress
Mary Chapin Carpenter is a country music phenomenon! Numerous hit songs and albums, plus her five Grammy Awards, are a testament to that fact. With her strength and passion for songwriting and performing, we’re sure we’ll be seeing more from Mary Chapin Carpenter before too long. Have you seen her perform One Lonely Night? Tell us what you thought!