Paula Cole wrote and sang some of the biggest hits of the 90s. She won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1998 and a BMI Pop Award for her song I Don’t Want To Wait in 1999.
Since then, she seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. So, you may be wondering where Cole’s been for the last twenty years.
We were, too, so we dug into the Internet to find out. Keep reading to see what she’s been up to!
The Story of Paula Cole
Originally from Rockport, Massachusetts, this artist grew up with teachers for parents. Her mother taught art, and her father taught biology at Salem State College, where he also played bass in the polka band. Cole starred in musical theater productions at Rockport High School, including South Pacific.
After high school, she attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied jazz and improvisation. She sang in jazz clubs and nightclubs, where she caught the attention of the jazz label GRP Records. Cole turned down a record deal with GRP, finished school, and moved to San Francisco to begin her songwriting career.
While in California, she caught the ear of Imago Records’ president, Terry Ellis. She signed with the label in 1992 and released her first album, Harbinger, in 1994. In 1996, Cole released her entirely self-produced album, This Fire. The album earned her several Grammy nominations, including producer of the year. She released a record in 1999 named Amen before taking a hiatus.
Paula Cole’s Best-Known Songs
You’ve probably heard Paula Cole’s most popular songs. Two of the tunes can be heard on her album, This Fire. Where Have All the Cowboys Gone? charted at number 8, and I Don’t Want to Wait landed at number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cole released “14” on her 2007 album Courage after a seven-year hiatus.
Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?
This song earned Cole three Grammy nominations, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year. It tells the story of a woman being swept off her feet by a manly man and happily settling down to be his housewife. Being a feminist, she wrote this song ironically, intending to take a jab at gender stereotypes.
In an interview with songfacts.com, Cole described the song by saying, “It’s so many things woven together: wit, irony, humor, melancholy, and gender role examination. It’s all these things put together musically in this plaintive, Americana pop way.”
I Don’t Want to Wait
After this song climbed to number 11 on the charts in 1998, it became the theme song for the show Dawson’s Creek. About 40 seconds of the tune played before every episode for six years. VH1 later placed the hit on their 100 Greatest Songs of the ’90s.
Paula Cole wrote I Don’t Want to Wait to inspire and celebrate changing gender roles. She remembers watching her grandparents’ traditional marriage and thinking she wanted something different for herself.
After her 1999 album release, Amen, Cole took a break from recording and performing music to focus on raising her daughter. She released Courage after her hiatus in 2007.
The top performing single on the album, “14,” looks back on her teenage experiences as a nearly forty-year-old woman. In that same interview with songfacts.com, she said that she “was looking back at who I was at 14 and wanting to break out of molds.”
Did Paula Cole Perform at Lilith Fair?
In 1996, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan became frustrated that radio stations wouldn’t play two female artists in a row. She booked a solo tour with Paula Cole as her opener to prove the radio model incorrect.
Having two female headliners, though controversial at the time, wound up being wildly successful. Their 1996 Vancouver performance, billed Lillith Fair, also featured Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey.
The following year, McLachlan founded an all-female touring festival called Lilith Fair. The radical festival grossed over 16 million dollars in the first year, making it a massive hit. The first Lilith Fair spotlighted women musicians, including Fiona Apple, Sheryl Crow, and, of course, Paula Cole.
McLachlan put together tours in 1998 and 1999 as well. Cole played again in 1998 alongside other stars like Missy Elliot and the Indigo Girls.
What is Paula Cole Doing Now?
You may be wondering what Paula Cole, one of the most iconic voices of the 90s, has been up to recently. Since ending her hiatus in the early 2000s, Cole has released seven records. Her loyal fans funded her 2012 album, Raven, with a Kickstarter campaign. Listeners enjoy her emotional, soft, pop-rock sounds on her later albums.
Her latest release, For The Birds, features artists Jason Isbell and John Paul White. The vinyl, released in 2022, has an A-side and a B-side with just one track each. The three musicians collaborated on the songs during a studio session in Nashville, Tennessee.
In 2013, Cole joined the voice faculty at her alma mater, Berklee College of Music. She still serves as a Visiting Scholar in Performance Studies at the school today while maintaining a busy performance schedule. Paula Cole gave several shows in California, Oregon, and Massachusetts in 2021. The following year, she performed along the east coast of the United States and Canada.
Paul Cole: Subtle Revolutionary
Paula Cole quickly rose to stardom, took some time off to raise a family, then returned to the music world. Cole exemplifies a true career artist. Furthermore, her work with Sarah McLachlan helped revolutionize what it means to be a female musician.
With each of Cole’s releases, you can hear her passion and artistry pouring out. She has grown tremendously as an artist over the last thirty years. She always seems ready to take on new challenges, whether becoming a professor or collaborating with new artists. If Paula Cole performs a show near you, be sure to go see this legendary artist perform!