Shania Twain does impress us much. On February 3, she released Queen of Me, her sixth studio album and first full-length record in more than seven years. Currently, it’s at number 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Music Charts, giving the singer her seventh top five title since the 1990s. In April, she’ll embark on her Queen of Me tour, which will be the first time fans have seen her live since her wildly successful Las Vegas residency.
But it hasn’t always been rainbows and roses for Shania. The 57 year-old beauty has had more than her share of challenges. In advance of what might be her best year yet, here is the journey that brought her here.
A Star Is Born
On Aug. 28, 1965, a future superstar was born to Sharon Morrison and her husband Clarence Edwards in a small town in Canada. She was named Eilleen Regina Edwards — but the world knows her as Shania Twain.
Her birth, as Shania wrote in her memoir, From This Moment On, was “long and complicated.” She was a breech baby, and doctors initially feared she was stillborn due to having been stuck in the birth canal without oxygen during delivery. “Looking back,” she writes, “sometimes I can’t help but think to myself, ‘So that’s what happened to me.’ Ha! It explains a lot.”
Shania was the second of four children born to Sharon: Shania’s sister Jill preceded her, and Carrie and Mark came after her. Shania’s childhood was unsettled, as her parents divorced when she was a toddler, and her father disappeared from her life thereafter. The split left the family with little financial means, forcing them to move into Shania’s grandmother’s house outside Timmins, Ontario. It was a tiny home, but Shania remembers that period fondly, noting that she felt “cared for and content when [her] grandma…was there.”
Turbulence In Childhood
Years later, Sharon married Jerry Twain, a member of the Ojibwe, one of the largest First Nations groups in Canada. Their relationship was tumultuous, comprising equal parts affection and discontent. As Shania recalls, the couple struggled financially from the beginning and Jerry switched jobs often. Bills and back rent piled up, and the family often lacked sufficient money to pay for groceries and other necessities. The stress of this sparked verbal disagreements between Sharon and Jerry that would quickly escalate to violence. In her memoir, Shania recounted a particularly frightening fight wherein her stepfather grabbed her mother’s hair, slamming her into the side of the toilet with such force that Sharon was rendered unconscious.
It was a volatile cycle that continued throughout the Twains’ marriage. But, writes Shania, “As confusing and painful as it was to witness these battles between my parents, I was comforted knowing that I was not alone, that my sisters were there, too. We were all going through it together.”
Staying Afloat with Music
During these times, Shania’s love of music kept her afloat. As early as age 3, she found joy in singing, and she displayed a natural ability to harmonize with the pop hits she heard on the radio. One of her earliest influences was the sister-brother duo the Carpenters. “I was in awe of the smooth, silky depth of Karen Carpenter’s voice,” Shania wrote in her autobiography. “Hearing Karen sing always gave me chills.”
Inspired, Shania learned to play the keyboards and guitar, and she began writing her own songs. Shania’s mother was awed by her daughter’s talent and did everything she could to cultivate it, booking performances for Shania at house parties and spending hours making phone calls in hopes of finding gigs for her. Soon, Shania was performing at bars and clubs around Ontario, crossing paths with colorful characters while helping to provide income for her struggling family.
At 15, Shania scored a guest spot to sing Leroy Van Dyke’s “Walk On By” on The Tommy Hunter Show, a long-running variety program hosted by the titular Canadian country legend. “I felt like a music princess,” she recalled. “It was daunting… but I was excited by the buzz of the live television experience, and the adrenaline was pumping.”
That episode set the stage for Shania’s ascent to the top of country and pop music charts. It also helped see Shania through the devastating loss of her mother and stepfather in a car accident.
A Devastating Tragedy
On Nov. 1, 1987, Shania received news that would alter her life forever: Her mother, Sharon Morrison, stepdad, Jerry Twain, and half-brother, Mark, were traveling outside of Wawa, a town in southern Ontario, when their truck was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle. Sharon was killed instantly. Jerry later succumbed to his injuries. Mark, who was in the backseat, was the only passenger to survive the crash.
“It was as if something burst inside of me, like an emotional explosion,” Shania wrote in her memoir. “My insides were rushing to empty out. Pain, rage, fear, confusion and a crushing sadness deflated me.” At the time, she was in her early 20s, living and performing in Toronto while also working a day job. Her parents’ deaths forced her to pause her career and return to Timmins to help raise her younger siblings.
It wasn’t a role she was prepared for, but she knew she had to keep her sisters and brothers together. She insists, however, that even though she was legally her siblings’ guardian, they all supported one another. “It obviously was a very, very difficult time,” Shania told CBC in 1995. “But it was also a turning point in my life that, I think, matured me.”
The Path That Followed
Shania has overcome numerous obstacles since her family’s tragedy. Among them, contracting Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick while horseback riding. In addition to the its traditional symptoms — including fatigue, aches, and chills — the disease paralyzed her vocal chords, forcing her to take a nearly 15-year musical hiatus.
“I never thought I’d sing again,” she said in an interview with The Guardian.
She was also thrown into the limelight in 2008 amidst her highly scrutinized divorce from Robert “Mutt” Lange, her husband of 15 years, after he had an affair with one of her closest friends.
And yet, despite the tragedies of her childhood and upbringing, the difficulties of her career, and the highly publicized aspects of her personal life over the years, Shania continues to bounce back.
Her most recent album Queen of Me, is currently number 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums Chart, marking her seventh top five title, with entries in every decade since the 1990s. Tickets are currently on sale for her Queen of Me concert tour, which kicks off April 15 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.