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Jennifer Warnes is one of the most renowned singers of our time. Her voice is one of the loveliest instruments in contemporary music. As a solo artist or a duet partner, on albums or in movies, Warnes sings it straight from the heart. Her voice is pure. The emotions it conveys are pure, too.
"To this day, I'm not as interested in music as people think," says Warnes. "I'm more interested in how close we can get through the music."
Warnes has recorded songs that have won both Grammys and Oscars, songs that have topped the pop charts and honored the most subtle aspects of art.
Her smash duet with Joe Cocker, Up Where We Belong, is a defining example of her vocal majesty. Warnes is an artist with extraordinary emotional range. Her collaborations with Leonard Cohen - on his records, as well as on her classic album Famous Blue Raincoat - have a haunting, delicate beauty to them. For all the power and command in her voice, Warnes' singing reveals great emotional vulnerability.
Born in Seattle, Warnes was raised in Anaheim, California - when there was still the scent of citrus in the air. She describes the atmosphere of her childhood as mostly musical. "All the women in our family had the most melodic way of talking and laughing.
Their voices were rich with expression," she says.
Though Warnes was offered an opera scholarship to Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles she instead chose to join the cultural revolution, performing on the Southern California folk club circuit in the late 1960s - opening for Jackson Browne, Jose Feliciano and Randy Newman. The first of eight solo albums was recorded at Gold Star Studios assisted by The Wrecking Crew, released in 1968.
In 1968 Warnes joined the cast of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, a groundbreaking variety television show that wore its left-leaning political spirit and love for music with pride. In one of her first television appearances she performed two songs with Donovan in an episode that won an Emmy Award. During that same period, Warnes performed the lead role in the Los Angeles production of the rock musical Hair. In 1971 Velvet Underground member John Cale produced her third album "Jennifer" and she was introduced to Leonard Cohen, who was a close friend and collaborator. Warnes toured with Cohen in 1972, appearing with him in the documentary film "Bird On a Wire" and touring again with Cohen again in 1979. Their musical collaborations continued until his passing on November 7, 2016, with Warnes performing on six of Cohen's albums, most recently, his CD titled Old Ideas, 2013.
In the 1970's she had several hit singles - including Right Time of the Night, which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Singles chart in 1977. This song was also a top 10 hit on the pop and country charts. In 1979, Warnes enjoyed another crossover success with her single I Know a Heartache When I See One.
In 1986, Warnes partnered with bassist Roscoe Beck to produce an album of Cohen compositions - Famous Blue Raincoat - a richly nuanced recording frequently cited as the masterpiece of her career. Treasured by audiophiles, Raincoat is a platinum seller that demonstrates the range and depth of her skill as a singer and producer. On this album Warnes duets with Cohen, rocks with guest soloist Stevie Ray Vaughan and enlists Cohen's help with her own composition Song of Bernadette, which remains among one of her loveliest and most recognizable recordings.
In the 1980's Warnes became the in-demand singer for film soundtracks. She performed a record breaking three songs that won the Oscar for Best Song: It Goes Like it Goes, from the film Norma Rae; the Warnes-Joe Cocker duet Up Where We Belong, from the film An Officer and a Gentleman; and the Warnes-Bill Medley duet (I've had) The Time of My Life from the film Dirty Dancing. A fourth song - Randy Newman's One More Hour, from Ragtime - received an Oscar nomination. These duets - Up Where We Belong and (I've had) The Time of My Life both also went onto become No. 1 singles with mega platinum sales and winning her two Grammy Awards.
Her unusual success in the art of the duet enhanced Warnes' reputation as one of the most sensitive and selfless vocalists in modern song. Over the years, she has recorded with Harry Belafonte, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Sam & Dave, James Taylor, Tina Turner, Bobby Womack, Warren Zevon, Alejandro Escovedo, John Prine, Rita Coolidge, Van Dyke Parks and countless others.
Warnes calls The Well, her most recent album, the most honest recording of her career. Inspired by a visit to a natural spring - Jacob's Well - in Central Texas, The Well is both a work of melancholy and hope, rich with natural metaphor, The Well is the latest offering from a music artist who remains deeply committed to the power of connection through music.
As of this writing, Ms. Warnes and Mr. Beck are in the beginning stages of recording a brand new album in Austin, Texas.
March 1 2015
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