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Shania's story may well be the great American dream, that is, the great North American dream since Shania was born in Canada on August 28, 1965 as Eilleen Twain, the second oldest of five siblings. Shania was raised in Timmins, Ontario (about 500 miles due north of Toronto), where Shania's stepfather, an Ojibway Indian and mother had both been raised. It was a proud but, at times, impoverished existence. There may have been a struggle to keep enough food in the cupboards but there was always an abundance of music in the household.
As a child, Shania Twain had big dreams and a lot of support at home. But what she didn't always have was a lot of money. "There were plenty of mornings when I took only a mustard sandwich to school", she recalls. "For me it wasn't a sad situation. I just didn't want to go to school one more day and have to make an excuse for why I didn't have a lunch. It taught me a lot of good things in life." "One of those things was a determination to help other children avoid this problem." Since the start of her career, Shania has been involved in two innovative charities that are dedicated to helping children in need. The first is Kids Café, a Chicago-based program that provides free meals and a safe environment to play and do homework to some of the estimated 12 million children in North America who are at risk. The second is Breakfast for Learning, a Canadian program that helps provide nutrition support for thousands of children either before, during, or after school. "The biggest challenge that I find", says Shania, "and the biggest role I can play, is awareness. A lot of people don't want to acknowledge that hunger is happening right in our own backyards. But it is." During her tour, Shania plans to visit many of these sites and invite these children to her shows. "But the most important thing is for people to look at me and realize I came from a similar background. I went without meals at times too. I think it not only inspires people to give to these charities, but also inspires people who might be in that situation. I was there. I know how you feel. But look at me now. It can happen to you, too!"
Shania often grabbed a guitar and retreated to the solitude of her bedroom, singing and writing until her fingers ached. "But I loved it! I grew up listening to Waylon, Willie, Dolly, Tammy, all of them", she recalls. "But we also listened to The Mamas and the Papas, the Carpenters, the Supremes, and Stevie Wonder. The many different styles of music I was exposed to as a child not only influenced my vocal style, but even more so my writing style". Mom noticed her daughter's talents, and Shania was soon being shuttled to radio and TV studios, community centers, senior citizen homes, "everywhere they could get me booked."
Part of the legend has eight-year-old Shania being dragged out of bed at midnight, to sing with the house band at local club after the nightly liquor curfew went into effect. "The opportunities I got from local bands and artists who allowed me to share their stage is what gave me the experience and the training to become a professional", she says. "It's not like being a child athlete where you can go to a local gym and get a coach. It doesn't work like that. Where do you get your experience if you want to become a singer?" The answer, of course, is local outlets. As a young professional, Eilleen Twain received encouragement from artists like Myrna Lorrie, who invited her onstage at age 9; soon she was invited to appear on a number of television shows across Canada. She performed an original song on the Canadian Country Music Awards at age 11.
Later, she spent summers working with her father as a foreman of a dozen-man reforestation crew in the Canadian bush, where she learned to wield an axe and handle a chainsaw as well as any manjack. In the winter season, she would sing in clubs and do as many television and radio performances as often as her schooling would allow.
At age 21, Shania lost her parents to an automobile accident. She then took on the task of raising her three younger siblings. She managed to keep the household going with a job at Ontario's Deerhurst Resort, which not only provided for her new family responsibilities but also gave her an education in every aspect of theatrical performance, from musical comedy to Andrew Lloyd Webber to Gershwin, an experience quite different from the bar gigs she grew up doing. After a couple years the kids came into their own, lightening the load of her responsibilities.
It was 1990, and she was on her own. Shedding her real name, Eilleen, she adopted the Ojibway name of Shania, meaning "On my way". Shania's way resulted in a demo tape of original music and a road map to Nashville. Although Shania was signed on the basis of her original material, her self-titled debut album of 1993 featured only one of her songs, the feisty "God Ain't Gonna Getcha For That".
Shania and Mutt met face to face in 1993, and were wed in December, by which time they'd written half an album's worth of tunes together. As the following year unfolded, they traveled (and wrote) their way across the U.S., Canada, England, Spain, Italy, and the Caribbean. They began to lay down basic tracks for the new album in Nashville, later recording overdubs and mixing in Québec.
Her self-titled debut album appeared in 1993. It was followed by "The Woman In Me", released in 1995, in which Shania found her true voice as a writer and performer. By then she had met and married Mutt Lange, famed producer of such rock acts as The Cars, Def Leppard, and Bryan Adams, and the two collaborated on all the songs on "The Woman In Me," which won a Grammy for Best Country Album and would become the best-selling album by a female artist in country history. Shania struck gold (and platinum) again on her third album, "Come On Over", released in 1997, which again launched numerous international hits, including "Don't Be Stupid", "Love Gets Me Every Time", and "You're Still The One".
Source: Shania's '98 & '99 tour programs