Born in 1961 in Chatham, Ontario, Michelle Wright’s childhood was filled with rural life, growing up into a musical family in the nearby town of Merlin. She actually began playing drums, not the guitar, although she picked that up early on, too. Her parents were both regular country performers around the area, and performed with her in the school talent show when she was in Grade 7.
Soaking in her parents’ influences, as well as her stepbrother’s love for The Beatles, and whatever was being played on the pop and Motown radio stations in Detroit, she began playing at dances and fairs, and at 17 was in her first band, The Marquees. By the age of 19, she was sidelining in different bands for a few extra dollars while living in Toronto and working towards being a counsellor for the mentally and physically challenged. But in 1983, she decided to put the studies on hold while pursuing her other passion. She cut a few demos over the next few years of hard work on the road, leading to a deal with Savannah Records in 1985. Less than a year later her debut single, “I Want To Count On You” peaked on the wrong side of the top 40 country chart.
Still, execs were encouraged enough to hook her up with producers and songwriters Steve Bogard and Rick Giles. While working on her album, she guested on Terry Carisse’s single, “None of the Feeling Is Gone.” Her own debut album came in the summer of 1988. DO RIGHT BY ME was a gold hit (50,000 copies) and climbed to #38 on the chart. The producers were generally the songwriters, and six singles ensued, starting with “New Fool At An Old Game” and “The Rhythm of Romance,” prior to the album’s release.
“I Wish I Were Only Lonely” and her cover of Andy Kim‘s “Rock Me Gently” both peaked at #7 on the country chart, and were also cross-over hits on the AC side. Her success helped lead her to getting a deal in the US with Arista Nashville. The songs “Do Right By Me,” “Wish I Were Only Lonely,” and “New Fool At An Old Game” were also covered that same year by Reba McEntire. She spent the next year on the road throughout North America, and landed the opening slots on Randy Travis’ and Kenny Rogers’ tours.
After she picked up a pair of Juno nominations for most promising female vocalist of the year and country female vocalist of the year in ’89, Bogard and Giles returned to produce her 1990 self-titled sophomore album, which churned out five more singles. Of them, “New Kind of Love” (#4) and “All You Really Wanna Do” (#9) found their way into the top 10. Along with “Woman’s Intuition,” “A Heartbeat Away,” and “Not Enough Love To Go ‘Round,” she was on the chart for the next year and a half. “New Kind of Love” also became her first hit south of the border, when it peaked at #32. The three videos that the label also insisted on helped propel Wright into the stratosphere, and got good rotation on CMT on both sides of the border.
She started out 1991 accepting three CCMAs (Canadian Country Music Awards) – for album of the year, single of the year for “New Kind of Love,” and her second award in as many years for female artist of the year. Her first album after moving to Nashville was 1992’s NOW AND THEN, whose lead-off single, “Take It Like A Man,” became her highest charter in the US, peaking at #10, and she became the first Canadian female artist of the modern age to hit that mark. The song topped the country chart in Canada, as did “Guitar Talk” and “One Time Around.” In all, seven singles were released and all made the top 40, and several crossed over to the AC chart, including “He Would Be Sixteen,” the tale of a mother having given her child up for adoption. Once again Giles and Bogard were behind the controls, and were also responsible for the bulk of the writing.
The album would go on to sell over 200,000 copies in Canada for her first double platinum record, and 100,000 copies in the US (gold), and also took home the ACMA (Academy of Country Music Awards) for top new female vocalist. “Take It Like A Man” also earned her a CCMA for single of the year award, and although the song didn’t win that category at the Junos, she did pick up her first one for country female vocalist of the year.
Steve Bogard made his fourth straight appearance behind the controls, when Wright released her fourth album, THE REASONS WHY in September, 1994. It eventually became her second straight double platinum album, and “One Good Man” became her fourth number one single in Canada two months prior. But when it failed to reach the top 40 in the US, the album was only released in Canada, but also became a hit in several European markets. Only two other singles were released, but “The Wall” and “Safe In The Arms of Love” (also recorded by Martina McBride a year later) both peaked at #4 in Canada and made it her fourth straight record to at least sell gold.
She was one of the hottest tickets in Canadian country music, and was on the road for over a year. She toured throughout the US, into Europe for the first time, and embarked on one of the longest Canadian tours of any artist, playing in 40 cities, not including the festival circuit.
After winning the Juno for country female vocalist of the year for the second time, her next album, 1996’s FOR ME IT’S YOU, featured a pair of #1 singles (“Nobody’s Girl” and “Crank My Tractor”) and two that peaked at #4 (“The Answer Is Yes” and “What Love Looks Like”). It marked the first time neither Steve Bogard or Rick Giles was behind the mixing board, and Wright also expanded her collection of outside writers, including Gretchen Peters, Rodney Crowell, Bob DiPiero, and Pam Tillis, among others. Although the label released it Stateside, no singles charted, and the album was considered a disappointment, due in part to the reception it got from American radio. It reached #6 on the albums chart in Canada, but barely made the radar in the US, only reaching #76.
Wright’s philanthropic efforts were recognized by the CCMA in 1997, when she received the CF Martin Humanitarian Award, for her international work with the Special Olympics, her successful fundraising efforts for St. Joseph’s Hospital in her hometown of Chatham, Ontario, and for her support for the Manitoba flood relief fund. That same year, her duet with pianist Jim Brickman, “Your Love,” did nothing on the country charts, but managed to peak at #19 on the American AC chart, marking the last time she would see chart action of any kind in the US.
The acting bug bit her in ’98, when she played a country singer being stalked by a fan in an episode of “Due South.” After four more Juno nominations, a pair of greatest hits compilations at the turn of the millennium (one for Canada and a shorter version for the US market), and the SOCAN winning single of the year, “I Surrender,” she returned in 2002 with what critics hailed as one of her most complete albums ever. Now on RCA, SHUT UP AND KISS ME marked a turn towards writing her own material, although several songwriters helped out. The music was generally more pop-oriented, and four singles were released – the title track, “Broken, “I Will Be There,” and “Every Time You Come Around,” although none of them made the top 20. A newer ‘countrified’ version of “I Surrender” was also included .
After signing with Icon Records, A WRIGHT CHRISTMAS in 2004 included one new song, “I Know Santa’s Been Here,” written by Patricia Conroy, to compliment the standard assortment of holiday and Gospel offerings. The single became a hit on the radio, and over the next few years, led to the album being released in the US and in Europe. It also spawned a holiday video, as did her rendition of “Joy To The World.”
The song, “Everything and More” was released to radio in late 2005, and early the next spring, an album of the same name followed. It produced five more singles – “Love Me Anyway,” “I’ve Forgotten You,” (previously taken to the American charts by bluegrass singer Rhonda Vincent), “Dance in the Boat,” “Riding Around the Sun,” and “I Don’t Wanna Be That Strong.” The album also featured several more songs co-written by Conroy and her husband Gerald O’Brien, as well as her version of Jo Dee Messina’s hit a year earlier, “My Give A Damn’s Busted.”
She again retreated out of the limelight, preferring domestic life with the odd show or special appearance sprinkled in for the next few years. She re-signed with Savannah in 2010, who re-released her debut album to an international audience, with a new jacket and her 1987 duet with Terry Carisse, “None of the Feeling Is Gone.”
Her first ever live album, THE WRIGHT SONGS: AN ACOUSTIC EVENING WITH MICHELLE WRIGHT followed in 2011. Recorded throughout Alberta over the last previous couple of years, the album was a stripped-down personal engagement with her fans that included some of her biggest hits, as well as a few tracks that weren’t originally released.
Still in 2011, Michelle Wright was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Hamilton.That same.features sparkling acoustic arrangements of many of Wrights biggest hits, including her career-making smash, Take It Like A Man, the SOCANaward winning I Surrender, her ground-breaking look at adoption, He Would Be Sixteen, her successful collaboration with pianist Jim Brickman, Your Love, and thirteen other fan favourites recorded at theatres in Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Olds, Alberta, at various times during 2009 and 2010.
With the turn of the new decade, she started releasing Internet-only singles, with radio stations slowly but surely picking them up – with “Another Good Day” in 2012, and “Strong” in early ’13.