The singer-songwriter whose background seemed unlikely to produce a Grammy Award-winning artist may well be Mary Chapin Carpenter.
Born in Princeton, New Jersey, she lived in Japan as a youth, attended some of New Jersey’s most exclusive private prep schools and graduated from one of the country’s most prestigious New England colleges. Carpenter began writing songs and playing guitar and piano still in high school. After graduating from Brown University with a degree in American Civilization in 1981, she began performing around Washington D.C. where she met producer, John Jennings, who persuaded her to collaborate with him.
This collaboration resulted in the 1987 release of “Hometown Girl,” an album with many of the tracks written by Carpenter, such as “A Lot Like Me,” “Family Hands,” “Just Because” and “Waltz.” Carpenter and Jennings co-wrote the sixth track on the 1987 album called “A Road Is Just A Road.” Though it produced no singles, it established Carpenter as a singer-songwriter.
In 1989 she released her album, “State of the Heart” with two of the album’s four singles that made it to the Country charts, “How Do” at No. and “Something of a Dreamer” at No. 16, written by Carpenter. “Never Had It So Good,” a No. 8 Country single, was co-written with Jennings.
Further commercial success came with Carpenter’s third album, “Shooting Straight in the Dark.” The album reached No. 11 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart. Carpenter’s composition “Down at the Twist and Shout” peaked at No. 2 and nabbed her an invitation to perform it at Super Bowl XXXI. The song won Carpenter a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1992. For the album Carpenter also wrote “You Win Again” and co-wrote with Jennings “Going Out Tonight,” both making it to the Top 20.
It was 1992’s “Come On Come On” album that carved Carpenter’s mark into Country songwriting history. Climbing to No. 6 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, seven of the album’s singles resulted in three years of chart topping success for Carpenter. Five of the singles were written or co- written by Carpenter such as the No. 11 hit “The Hard Way,” a No. 2 single “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” and “I Take My Chances.” The No. 4 hit “I Feel Lucky” brought her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1993. Country super star, Joe Diffie co-wrote and recorded the No. 2 hit single, “Not Too Much To Ask” with Carpenter. Penned by Lucinda Williams, Carpenter’s recording of “Passionate Kisses” garnered her the Grammy for Best Female Vocal Performance and Song of The Year in 1994. “Come On Come On” was certified platinum four times and sold more than four million copies. The album reached No. 4 on Canadian charts and made Billboard’s Top 200.
Carpenter’s first and only No. 1 album was 1994’s “Stones in the Road.” Carpenter wrote “House of Cards,” “Tender When I Want to Be,” which reached No. 6 as a single,” and the No. 1 “Shut Up and Kiss Me.”
In 1995 Carpenter won the Grammy for the Best Country Album for her work on her fifth album, “Stones in the Road.” For “Shut Up and Kiss Me” she was awarded her fourth consecutive Grammy for the Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1995.
Carpenter’s sixth album, “A Place in the World,” for which she wrote all 12 tracks, made it to number three on Billboard charts in 1996. She released the album “Time* Sex* Love*” in 2001, which veered from Country by addressing issues from middle-aged women’s perspective, with all tracks written or co-written by Carpenter. Her 2008 Christmas album, “Come Darkness, Come Light,” contained several original songs. All tracks on the 2004 album “Between Here and Gone,” 2007’s No. 10 charting album the “The Calling” and 2010’s “The Age of Miracles” album were written by Carpenter. Country favorites Vince Gill and Alison Krauss sang the background vocals on a few of “The Age of Miracles” songs. The album reached No. 6 on Billboard Magazine Top Country Albums and peaked at number #28 on the Billboard’s 200 albums chart. She released “Ashes and Roses” in 2012, “Songs from the Movie” in 2014 and “The Things That We Are Made Of ” in 2016.
In 2012 Carpenter was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition to her songwriting and ability to play multiple instruments, she was recognized for her vocals with 1990 and 1992 Top Female Vocalist awards from the Academy of Country Music as well as 1992 and 1993 Female Vocalist of the Year awards from the Country Music Association.
Throughout her career, she has actively supported various charities, including CARE and Habitat for Humanity, and has conducted fundraising concerts for such causes as the elimination of landmines. Having sold more than 14 million records, Carpenter is actively touring and continues to write and record.
This copyrighted story by Sasha Dunavant was originally published between 2012-2023 in Country Reunion Magazine and Country Reunion News.