R.I.P. Phoebe Snow

Here’s to a great little lady who left us way too soon…

Phoebe Snow

(born Phoebe Ann Laub; July 17, 1950 – April 26, 2011)

Phoebe Snow hit Billboard’s Top 40 twice

1.  Poetry Man/ Shelter 40353/ February 1975/  #5
2.  Gone at Last (Paul Simon, Phoebe Snow & the Jessy Dixon Singers/ Columbia 10197/ September 1975/ #23

Some of her other songs:

Never Let Go

At Last (with the NY Rock & Soul Revue)

It’s In His Kiss (with Linda Ronstadt)

Let The Good Times Roll

If I Can Just Get Through The Night

Harpo’s Blues

Dirty Work (with Donald Fagen, Woodstock NY)

Snow was an American singer, songwriter, and guitarist, described by The New York Times as a “contralto grounded in a bluesy growl and capable of sweeping over four octaves.” [To me she had a soulful style not unlike Aaron Neville -RS]

Snow was raised in a household where Delta blues, Broadway show tunes, Dixieland jazz, classical music and folk music recordings were played around the clock. As a teenager, she carried her prized Martin 00018 acoustic guitar from club to club around Greenwich Village, playing and singing on amateur nights.

Her stage name is the same as a fictional advertising character created in the early 1900s for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, a young woman named Phoebe Snow, who appeared on boxcars traveling near her hometown.

She was briefly married to Phil Kearns, and, in December 1975, gave birth to a severely brain-injured daughter, Valerie. Snow resolved not to institutionalize her but instead care for her at home, which she did until Valerie tragically died on March 18, 2007 at the age of 31. Snow’s efforts to care for Valerie probably negatively affected her professional career; it also adversely affected her personal life. Snow continued to take voice lessons, and she studied opera informally.

It was at the Bitter End club in 1972 that Denny Cordell, a promotions executive for Shelter Records, was so taken by the singer that he signed her to the label and produced her first recording.

She released an eponymous album, Phoebe Snow, in 1974, featuring guest performances by The Persuasions, Zoot Sims, Teddy Wilson, David Bromberg and Dave Mason.

Snow’s album became one of the most acclaimed debut recordings of the era. It spawned the Billboard Hot 100 #5 hit single, “Poetry Man,” which reached number 4 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and won Snow a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, thus establishing her as a formidable singer/songwriter.

The cover of Rolling Stone magazine followed, while she performed as the opening act for tours by Jackson Browne and Paul Simon (with whom she recorded the hit single “Gone at Last” in 1975).

1975 also brought the first of several appearances as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, on which Snow performed both solo and in duets with Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt. During the 1975 appearance, she was seven months pregnant with her daughter.

Her second album, Second Childhood, appeared in 1976, produced by Phil Ramone. It was jazzier and more introspective, but suffered disappointing sales.

Snow moved to a harder sound for It Looks Like Snow, released later in 1976 with David Rubinson producing.

1977 saw Never Letting Go, again with Ramone, while 1978’s Against the Grain was helmed by Barry Beckett. After that Snow parted ways with Columbia; she would later say that the stress of her parental obligations degraded her ability to make music effectively.

In 1981, Snow, now signed with Mirage Records, released Rock Away, recorded with members of Billy Joel’s band; it spun off the Top 50 hit “Games”. The 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide summed up Snow’s career so far by saying: “One of the most gifted voices of her generation, Phoebe Snow can do just about anything stylistically as well as technically … The question that’s still unanswered is how best to channel such talent.”

Snow spent long periods away from recording, often singing commercial jingles for AT&T and others in order to support herself and her daughter. During the 1980s she also battled her own life-threatening illness.

Snow returned to recording with Something Real in 1989 and gathered a few more hits on the Adult Contemporary charts. Also, Snow composed the Detroit’s WDIV-TV Go 4 It! campaign in 1980. She sang Ancient Places, Sacred Lands on Reading Rainbow’s tenth episode The Gift of the Sacred Dog which was based on the book by Paul Goble and narrated by actor Michael Ansara. It was shot at Crow Agency, Montana in 1983.

Snow performed in 1989 on stage at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City as part of Our Common Future, a five hour live television broadcast originating from several countries.

In 1990, she contributed a cover version of the Delaney & Bonnie song “Get ourselves together” to the Elektra compilation Rubáiyát which included Earth Wind & Fire guitarist Dick Smith. In 1992, she toured with Donald Fagen’s New York Rock and Soul Revue and was featured on the group’s album recorded live at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Even when she wasn’t recording her own works, Phoebe continued to tour extensively as a solo artist throughout North America, Great Britain, Germany, and the Far East.

Throughout the ’90s she made numerous appearances on the Howard Stern radio show. She sang live for specials and birthday shows.

In 1997, she sang the Roseanne theme song a cappella during the closing moments of the final episode.

Snow has performed with a numerous artists including Lou Rawls, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dave Grusin, Avenue Blue with Jeff Golub, Garland Jeffreys, Jewel, Donald Fagen, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Queen, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Jackson Browne, Dave Mason, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, Cyndi Lauper, Roger Daltrey, Chaka Khan, CeCe Peniston, Take 6, Michael Bolton, Thelma Houston, Mavis Staples, Laurie Anderson, Tracy Nelson, and The Sisters of Glory (with whom she performed at the second Woodstock festival), among others.

She also sings the title track on the 1997 Laura Nyro tribute album, Time and Love, and recently Snow joined the pop group, Zap Mama, who recorded its own version of “Poetry Man,” in an impromptu duet on the PBS series, “Sessions At West 54th.” Hawaiian girl group Na Leo also had a hit on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1999 with their cover version of “Poetry Man.”

In May 1998, Snow received the Cultural Achievement Award by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. She is also the recipient of a Don Kirschner Rock Award, several Playboy Music Poll Awards, New York Music Awards and the Clio Award.

She performed for President Clinton, the First Lady, and his cabinet at Camp David in 1999.

In 2003, Snow released her album Natural Wonder on Eagle Records, containing ten original tracks, her first original material in fourteen years.

Snow performed at Howard Stern’s wedding in 2008, and made a special appearance in the film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom as herself. Some of her music was also featured on the soundtrack of the film. Her Live album (2008) featured many of her hits as well as a cover of “Piece of My Heart.”

Snow planned to release a new album in 2010, and had been scheduled to begin touring with her band in March, but tragically she suffered a brain hemorrhage on January 19, 2010 and underwent surgery. She was placed in a medically induced coma, regaining consciousness only briefly. She died on April 26, 2011.

–o–
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