LeAnn Rimes in concert
By Rick Hynum
In a sense, LeAnn Rimes is a voice from the past a poignant reminder of a bygone era when country music was pure and heart-felt.
But don't let that Patsy Cline-style yodel fool you. Already a superstar at 15, Rimes is considered by many to be the future of C&W, a fresh and youthful stage presence with an astonishing singing voice and, it is hoped, real staying power.
Northeast Mississippians will get their first view of the Jackson-born Rimes in concert at 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 8, at the Tupelo Coliseum.
Opening for Rimes will be Bryan White, another wet-behind-the-ears artist with a string of hits under his belt.
Tickets for the concert are still available. Prices are $24.50 plus service charge. They can be purchased at all Ticket King outlets or by phone at 841-6528.
An early start
Rimes' show biz "discovery" is the stuff of near-legend these days. Almost anyone who watches CMT can relate how Rimes won her first song-and-dance competition at the age of five and told her parents, Wilbur and Belinda, that she wanted a life in show business.
The announcement wasn't exactly a surprise. "My dad has tapes of me doing 'You Are My Sunshine,' 'Getting to Know You' and 'Have Mercy' by the Judds," Rimes recalled, in press materials for the tour.
"I knew this girl could sing before she was two years old," her father told Country Wave Magazine. "The good Lord just gave her this gift, I reckon. I've got tapes of her at 18 months with me picking the guitar and her singing. She could sing on pitch even then."
Once the family moved from Jackson to Texas, the six-year-old Rimes auditioned for and nearly snagged the lead in "Annie II" on Broadway. At seven, she played Tiny Tim in a Dallas musical production of "A Christmas Carol," then became a two-week champ on TV's "Star Search" at eight.
After earning rave reviews for her various appearances around the state including an a capella rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Dallas Cowboys games Rimes cut her first album at 11. It included a single originally composed for Patsy Cline herself a little number simply called "Blue."
Cline had died before she could record the song. Its composer, Bill Mack, put it aside for more than 30 years until he heard Rimes sing at one of her local appearances.
"My dad said the song was too old for me," Rimes said. "I loved it, though, and I kept bugging him about it. Then I got the idea to put the yodel thing to it."
Needless to say, the "yodel thing" worked. The album, "All That," made its way into producer Mike Curb's hands at MCG/Curb Records. "Someone sent me her CD," he said. "I put it on and everyone just turned their heads and said, 'Who is that?'"
Rimes' first CD for MCG/Curb was titled, appropriately, "Blue," and put her on the road to superstardom practically overnight. The quadruple-platinum record also included Rimes' duet with the legendary Eddy Arnold on his classic hit, "Cattle Call."
"It was Mike Curb's idea to do (that) song," she said. "Eddy Arnold was great. He kind of adopted me as his granddaughter and then his daughter."
Rimes co-wrote one of the cuts, "Talk to Me," with Ron Grimes and John Rutherford. But her specialty continues to be reworking other artists' songs. On "The Early Years," the 1997 follow-up to "Blue," Rimes made a hit of the Righteous Brothers' oft-covered "Unchained Melody." That record went double platinum.
A few months later, she put out the triple-platinum "Inspirational Songs," which featured her renditions of classic tunes like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "Yesterday" as well as "The Rose" and Debbie Boone's "You Light Up My Life."
But the true test of Rimes' career may lie in her ability to work the same magic with original material. To her credit, she's working to hone her songwriting chops. Meanwhile, she has also branched out into acting, starring in the highly rated ABC movie, "Holiday in Your Heart," last Christmas.
"I want to continue singing and writing songs," she has said. "I'd like to act. College is also an option for me. I've always wanted to help children and I've thought about studying speech pathology."
For now, though, music is her calling. And Rimes seems confident that her remarkable voice will continue to open doors.
"It comes from somewhere deep inside," she has said. "My mom and dad can both sing, but I just really think God gave me a gift that, hopefully, I will be able to use for a long time singing country, the music I really love, both the new and traditional stuff."