After more than a decade of relentless touring, country singer Trisha Yearwood left her bus behind and began a four-year period of self-reflection. That philosophical sojourn brought her back to what she learned while growing up in Monticello, Ga., the town that shaped so much of who she is today.
In 2001, she decided to take a year off to catch up on the life that she missed while on the road. That year eventually stretched into four. “When I was really busy and going 90 miles an hour, I thought I was having a life, but looking back, it’s impossible to think you can have any sort of relationship—not just a marriage, but a relationship with your family and friends—if you are gone all the time,” she says.
“Some of it wasn’t a huge epiphany; it was just growing up: What is really important? Some of that happened for me, like everybody, after Sept. 11. Do I really want to be touring 300 days a year? If it all ends tomorrow, is this where I want to be? Maybe this is the midlife crisis, but you start re-evaluating what really matters.”
After re-evaluating her life and priorities, she says, “Instead of my life having to accommodate my career, my career has to accommodate my life. I enjoy everything more.”
So she took a relaxed approach to creating her 11th album, Jasper County, which hits stores this week. She gave the album a title that honors the county where she was born and raised. “I really wanted to find a song about Georgia,” she says of Georgia Rain, the album’s debut single. “I wanted to pay homage to home. They are truly supportive. There are about 2,500 people in the city limits, and I really truly do know most of them. If I don’t know them, I know their families. I think moving away from there is one of the things that gives you perspective, and you realize how lucky you were to grow up there.”
Yearwood and her older sister, Beth, were raised by Jack Yearwood, an outgoing person and retired banker, and Gwen, an elementary school teacher who later ran her youngest daughter’s fan club. “Monticello is still the same as it was, except we have a Hardee’s now, which is big,” says Yearwood, who was born in Jasper Memorial Hospital. “It is really kind of a Norman Rockwell painting.
“It was a small enough town where you weren’t just raised by your parents; you were raised by the community and friends’ parents. There was a lot of accountability, which was a bummer as a kid.”
But as an adult, she appreciates the strong sense of community that was instilled in her as a child. “I really believe that you are supposed to help out when needed and give back to your community, no matter what your financial status is,” she says. “My dad has been sick, so my parents haven’t been home. You come home, and somebody has mowed your grass and watered your plants.”
While some people didn’t understand why she wanted to leave Monticello after high school to become a singer, most were supportive of her dreams. “It wasn’t a town that had a lot of opportunities for an aspiring singer; you sang in church and sang in school,” she says. “There was no local bar—it was a dry county—so there was no place to play, except a few local talent shows. Anytime somebody would hear me sing, they would encourage me.
“Most people thought I would teach music in school or end up leading the church choir, because that is what the musically inclined people in my town did. Nobody had gone to Nashville and gotten a record deal. Because I was an A student, a lot of people thought, ‘It is such a shame that she’s going to Nashville. She had such potential.’ But my parents were not those people.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Yearwood missed the familiarity of a small town when she moved to Nashville, Tenn., to study music business at Belmont College in 1985. “I went to the Kroger, and nobody asked how my parents were,” she says. “At first it was cool—nobody will see if I buy a whole box of Little Debbies (snacks)—but there was a sense of missing that somebody cared about you.”
After working as a receptionist and singer of songwriters’ demo tapes, she signed a record deal with MCA Records. Success came quickly in 1991 with the release of her debut single, She’s in Love with the Boy, which hit No. 1. She ultimately delivered 20 Top 10 hits, including The Song Remembers When and How Do I Live. The three-time Grammy winner was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year in 1997 and 1998 and released 10 albums, including her 4 million-selling greatest hits CD.
Dubbed “one of the finest interpretive singers ever” by Entertainment Weekly, she’s performed with artists ranging from rock singer Don Henley to opera sensation Luciano Pavarotti and appeared in the TV show JAG.
In 2003, she moved outside of Tulsa, Okla., to be near her boyfriend, singer Garth Brooks, who proposed to her in May. “I was like, ‘Absolutely. This is exactly right.’ I just knew that it felt like nothing I have ever felt before,” she says. “It finally hit me, ‘Oh, this is what it is supposed to be like.’ I have never felt such peace and just no fear. We are so happy. I am the person I always hated: a sappy, happy person.”
No wedding date has been set, and she hasn’t begun looking for a dress. “When we do get married, we are not going to do something big that involves a ton of planning,” says Yearwood, who is twice divorced. “We want it to be a family thing. We want it as stress-free as possible.”
After living in Nashville, she welcomes the close-knit community offered by a small town. “It was really good to get back to some normalcy and everyday life,” says Yearwood, who has no children but will become stepmother to Brooks’ daughters, Taylor, 13, August, 11, and Allie, 9.
But she’s not ready to retire yet. She’ll do a 30-city tour this fall, followed by a similar tour next summer. She would like to make a live album and a pop standards recording and has aspirations to eventually perform on Broadway. Her fantasy is to record with her idol, singer Linda Ronstadt.
“I was raised with a certain set of values, that even when I don’t do the right thing, I know what the right thing is because of how I was raised.
“I am so glad I was raised how I was and where I was,” she says. “I’m so glad I am 40 and have figured out what is important and didn’t wait until I was 80 to learn that lesson. I’m looking forward to the next 40 years to see what is in store.”