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Joan Osborne

A powerful vocalist whose repertoire reveals a sure command of rock, pop, soul, blues, jazz, and a variety of other styles, Joan Osborne burst into stardom in 1995 with the release of her first major-label album, Relish. The song "One of Us" became a massive hit single, and a career as a pop star seemed assured. However, her creatively restless spirit led to conflicts with her record label, and she preferred to follow her muse, exploring different musical avenues as she pleased -- mixing covers of vintage soul tunes and like-minded originals on 2007's Breakfast in Bed, interpreting a handful of soul and blues classics 2012's Bring It on Home, and honoring one of her favorite songwriters on 2017's self-explanatory Songs of Bob Dylan -- eventually releasing her music on her own label to gain greater control. As comfortable singing with the Motown house band the Funk Brothers as she is touring as a vocalist with the Grateful Dead, Osborne's catalog shows she's impressively versatile and gifted with a fine voice, keen instincts about how to use it, and a knowledge that wisely informs her creative choices. She delivered genre-jumping music along with socially conscious music on 2020's Trouble and Strife, and explored personal and political themes on 2023's soulful Nobody Owns You. Joan Osborne was born on July 8, 1962, in the town of Anchorage, Kentucky, but it wasn't until relocating to New York City in the early '90s (to study at NYU's film school) that she began to take a singing career seriously after performing Billie Holiday's classic "God Bless the Child" at a local bar's open-mike night. In addition to Holiday, Osborne looked to such legendary vocalists as Etta James and Ray Charles as role models, as the up-and-coming singer decided not to cater to major record companies and formed her own label, Womanly Hips, which resulted in such releases as 1992's in-concert Soul Show, among others. Eventually, Osborne did sign on with a major label, Mercury, which in turn issued the singer's next release, Relish, in March 1995. The album proved to have a long life, as almost a year after its initial release, the track "One of Us" became a massive MTV and radio smash, camping out at the number one spot on the U.S. singles chart for two weeks, and Relish eventually racked up sales of three-million copies. Further tracks ("Right Hand Man" and "St. Teresa") failed to match the success of Osborne's first hit, but the singer still managed to connect with a large and appreciative audience, especially after touring as part of the 1997 edition of Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair tour. Osborne also received numerous Grammy nominations in both 1996 and 1997. Producing a worthy follow-up to Relish proved to be a time-consuming challenge for Osborne. Mercury tried to buy some time by issuing a compilation release, Early Recordings (which collected the early releases Live at Delta '88 and Blue Million Miles). In the meantime, Osborne focused on supporting a few groups/causes she felt strongly about, such as Rock the Vote and Planned Parenthood (eventually being named an honorary member of Planned Parenthood's board of advocates), in addition to covering "I'm Just a Bill" as a duet with Isaac Hayes on the 1998 Schoolhouse Rocks the Vote! benefit album. She also studied briefly with late Qawwali master Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and performed alongside such notables as Stevie Wonder, Melissa Etheridge, Taj Mahal, Luciano Pavarotti, Spearhead, Bob Dylan, and the Chieftains. September 2000 finally saw the release of Osborne's next all-new studio album, titled Righteous Love, which failed to match its predecessor's commercial success and sank from sight shortly after release. She bounced back in 2002 with How Sweet It Is, a collection of covers that leaned heavily on classic soul and R&B tunes from the '60s and '70s. A career retrospective, One of Us, followed in 2005. Vanguard picked her up shortly after this, and Osborne delivered a full-length on that label, a country-tinged effort called Pretty Little Stranger, in 2006. It was followed in 2007 by Breakfast in Bed and in 2008 by Little Wild One. After a break of three years, Osborne re-entered a recording studio with her road band and co-producer Jack Petruzzelli. They emerged with a raw, wooly collection of classic blues and R&B covers entitled Bring It on Home; it was released in the spring of 2012. She took more direct control over her next release, Love & Hate. Osborne and Petruzzelli re-teamed for co-production duties, but this time she wrote or co-wrote every song. The album was released in the spring of 2014. That same year, Osborne appeared on the debut album from Trigger Hippy, a rootsy rock & roll band featuring Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman; she also toured with the group but dropped out to maintain focus on her solo career. For her next project, Osborne turned to her fans to crowdfund a collection of Bob Dylan covers. The album, Songs of Bob Dylan, was released in 2017. In 2020, she issued Trouble and Strife, an album informed by the political and social turmoil of the era, which included guitar work from Wilco's Nels Cline. Osborne issued a single in July 2023, "Great American Cities," in which she celebrated the energy and diversity of the nation's urban centers. It was the first sampling from Nobody Owns You, released in September 2023, with Osborne focusing on personal matters as well as social commentary, fusing both in the title cut that was written as a message of empowerment to her daughter.
© Greg Prato & Mark Deming /TiVo


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