One of Canada's most accomplished popular singers, Anne Murray was a multi-Grammy-winning pop and country artist who enjoyed numerous No. 1 hits in her native country, as well as eight Top 20 singles in the United States, including "Songbird," "Danny's Song" "You Needed Me" and "Could I Have This Dance." Murray rose to international fame in the 1970s on the strength of her polished, mellifluous voice and talent for bridging pop, country and adult contemporary tastes with her material. Her soothing style would eventually lead to over 50 million albums sold over the course of a four-decade career that spanned the singer-songwriter era, a significant sea change in country music, and her own displacement from the pop charts in the late 1980s and 1990s. Murray rebounded in the early 2000s with a string of albums that tackled classic country, traditional songbook numbers and duets with fellow superstars, which generated platinum sales and renewed interest in her music. Murray was also a significant supporter of Canadian musical talent, recording over 80 songs by writers and artists from her native country. Anne Murray's enduring popularity underscored her status as one of late 20th century pop music's most well loved figures.
Born Morna Anne Murray on June 20, 1945 in the Canadian mining town of Springhill, Nova Scotia, she was one of six children by James Carson Murray, the town's doctor, and his wife, Marion, a registered nurse. Murray took up singing initially as a means of establishing her own identity as the sole daughter amidst five active brothers, and studied both piano throughout her adolescent years before also taking voice lessons as a teenager. One of her first public performances came at her high school graduation in 1962, where she performed "Ave Maria." Murray then studied at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax for a year before transferring to the University of New Brunswick to pursue a degree in physical education. While there, she auditioned for the CBC variety show "Singalong Jubilee" (1961-1970), but was turned down because the program already had a alto singer in its cast. Two years later, she was asked by the show's producers to give another audition, which led to her joining "Singalong Jubilee" in 1966. Following graduation from college that year, she appeared on the program for one summer before leaving to pursue what she believed to be a more stable career as a physical education teacher at a high school on Prince Edward Island.
Murray left her teaching job in 1967 to join the cast of a new variety show, "Let's Go" (CBC, 1964-68). However, she soon returned to "Singalong Jubilee," appearing on two of their album releases before heading to Toronto at the suggestion of the show's musical director, Brian Ahern, to record her solo debut LP. Released by the independent Arc label, What About Me (1968) featured several original compositions by Ahern, who also produced the album, as well as covers of songs by country and folk artists like Joni Mitchell, John Denver, Scott Mackenzie and Tom Paxton. It performed well enough to attract the attention of the Canadian division of Capitol Records, which signed her to the label in 1969. Her first album for Capitol, This Way is My Way (1969), featured the single "Snowbird," which became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and country charts, as well as the first of eight No. 1 singles on the Adult Contemporary chart in America. The single also made Murray the first Canadian artist to receive a gold record from the Recording Industry Association of America.
For much of the early 1970s, Murray was a staple of American variety programs, most notably "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour" (CBS, 1969-1972). But her recording career would experience something of a fallow period from 1970 to 1972, with only "A Stranger in My Place" breaking into the Top 40 singles. A 1972 cover of Gordon Lightfoot's "Cotton Jenny" brought her back to the Top 20 on the country chart, but she would not return to the pop Top 10 until 1973, when she released a cover of Kenny Loggins' "Danny's Song." The following year, Murray scored her first Grammy Award for another Loggins tune with Jim Messina, "Love Song," which preceded her first No. 1 country single, "He Thinks I Still Care." But this string of career highpoints was soon followed by an ebb period in which Murray focused her attention on her personal life. She married CBC producer Bill Langstroth in 1975, and gave birth to their two children, William and Dawn, in 1976 and 1979, respectively. Her native country continued to pay tribute to her accomplishments during this period, most notably with the Juno Award for Female Vocalist of the Year and induction into the Order of Canada that same year.
Murray began making inroads back to music in 1977 with the release of the children's record There's a Hippo in My Tub, which won the Juno for Best Children's Album in 1979. She soon returned to the country charts with a 1978 cover of "Walk Right Back" that preceded the biggest pop hit of her career. "You Needed Me" (1978) marked her first chart-topping hit on the pop charts, and netted both the Grammy for Best Pop Vocal and the Academy of Country Music's Song of the Year, as well as her second Juno for Female Artist of the Year. For the next eight years, Murray scored nine straight No.1 hits on the country chart, including "I Just Fall in Love Again" (1979), the Grammy-winning "Could I Have This Dance" (1980) from the "Urban Cowboy" (1980) soundtrack, and "A Little Good News" (1983), which netted her a fourth Grammy. In 1984, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, her country's highest civilian honor.
But changing tastes in country and pop music brought an end to her remarkable easy-listening run on the charts in 1986. Murray had her last No.1 on the American and Canadian country charts that year with "Now and Forever (You and Me)." In 1989, she opened the Anne Murray Centre in her hometown of Springhill, which showcased a large collection of memorabilia from her personal and professional life. Three years later, she released "Everyday" (1991), which became her last single to reach the U.S. country charts. A period of personal struggle soon followed, including the death of her longtime manager, Leonard Rambeau, and divorce from her husband. After her induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1993, Murray remained absent from the recording business for the next three years, though she remained a popular concert attraction in Canada and the United States.
In 1996, Murray signed with a new manager, Bruce Allen, who had shepherded the career of several successful Canadian artists, including Bryan Adams. She returned to recording the following year, releasing her first live album, An Intimate Evening with Anne Murray in 1997, which reached No. 45 on the U.S country albums chart. Her debut for the contemporary Christian market, What a Wonderful World (1999), was a bona fide hit, topping the Christian chart and achieving platinum sales. Murray soon roared back to the Top 20 on the U.S. country charts with Croonin' Country (2002) and All of Me (2005), a collection of standards that reached No. 13. In the midst of this extraordinary revival, Murray was honored twice by her native country; first, with the Legacy Award which the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame gave to her and Leonard Cohen in 2007, followed with a limited edition postage stamp as part of a tribute to Canadian musicians which included Paul Anka, Gordon Lightfoot and Joni Mitchell.
The following year, Murray released Duets: Friends & Legends (2008), a collection of songs performed with a wide variety of other female artists, including Canadians Celine Dion, Shania Twain, k.d. lang and Nelly Furtado, as well as Olivia Newton-John, Carole King, the Indigo Girls and a posthumous collaboration with soul legend Dusty Springfield. The record, which also featured a duet with Murray's daughter, Dawn Langstroth, reached No. 2 on the Canadian pop charts and achieved double platinum status in that country after just two months. In America, it entered the pop album charts at No. 42 - her highest placement since What a Wonderful World - and soared to No. 8 on the country albums chart. She subsequently took to the road on what she described as her final major tour, which concluded in Toronto in 2008. The following year, Murray published her autobiography, All of Me (2009), which chronicled her rise to fame. The book enjoyed a lengthy stay on the Canadian non-fiction bestseller list
By Paul Gaita