A singer and songwriter whose work is both literate and easily relatable, Gretchen Peters has enjoyed a successful career as a recording artist, releasing a series of albums that have made her a cult heroine thanks to her clear, expressive voice and way with a melody. Her recordings have earned her a devoted following, but there are plenty of folks who are fans of her work and don't even know it — Peters is a go-to songwriter for many of the biggest names in country and pop. In 1991, Peters' "The Chill of an Early Fall" was recorded by George Strait and became her first hit as a tunesmith, while Martina McBride's 1993 recording of "Independence Day" was not only a major success, but was voted Song of the Year by the Country Music Association. Since then, she's penned hits for Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Bonnie Raitt, and Neil Diamond, among many others, and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2014. Peters' first album, The Secret of Life, was released in 1996, the first in a series of LPs that demonstrated she is one of the finest interpreters of her own songs, with 2007's Burnt Toast & Offerings and 2015's Blackbirds finding particular favor with critics.
Gretchen Peters was born in Bronxville, New York on November 14, 1957. She wrote her first song with her sister at the age of five, and soon picked up the guitar. Her father enjoyed folk music, often singing favorite tunes with her, and she was influenced by singer/songwriters such as Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Gram Parsons, and Leonard Cohen. In 1970, her parents broke up, and Peters moved with her mother to Boulder, Colorado. There, she discovered a lively music scene, and began playing at local clubs at the age of 15. At 19, she recorded a demo tape that earned her first prize in a local songwriting competition, and after years of playing in Colorado, she relocated to Nashville, Tennessee in 1988, hoping to break into country music. She quickly made an impression in the local songwriting community, and co-wrote "The Chill of an Early Fall," which became a hit for George Strait in 1991. Peters received a solo writing credit for "Let That Pony Run," which became a Top 10 Country hit for Pam Tillis in 1993.
Peters received her first Grammy nomination for Song of the Year in 1995 for "Independence Day," recorded by Martina McBride, a powerful anthem about a woman who fights back against an abusive husband. At the Country Music Awards that year, the song took home the same award, as well as a CMA Video of the Year in 1994. She was nominated again for a Song of the Year Grammy in 1996 with the Patty Loveless chart-topper "You Don't Even Know Who I Am." Having established herself as a writer, Peters next stepped forward as a vocalist, releasing her debut album, The Secret of Life, on Imprint Records in 1996. Valley Entertainment issued her self-titled sophomore effort in 2001. By this time, her status as one of Nashville's most successful songwriters led to her signing a multi-million-dollar publishing deal with Sony/ATV Tree Music. She next struck a deal with one of Nashville's most powerful labels, Curb Records, who released 2004's Halcyon and 2007's Burnt Toast and Offerings. Curb also released a 2004 live album, Trio, in the U.K., while it was later released in the United States by Scarlet Letter Records, a label founded by Peters and her management.
Scarlet Letter would become Peters' recording home from this point on in the United States, allowing her to fully control her work without the interference of a record label. While she enjoyed greater public recognition for her writing than for her own albums, Peters was philosophical, telling reporter Jasper Rees, "I prefer to be in the group not being played on the radio, because those are to me the people that are making really meaningful music." Peters' first studio album for Scarlet Letter was 2008's One to the Heart, One to the Head, a set of duets with fellow songwriter Tom Russell; she issued a holiday album, Northern Lights, the same year. The year 2011 saw the release of the live CD and DVD Wine, Women and Song, recorded with pals Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg. A studio album of fresh material, Hello Cruel World, arrived in 2012, while an album documenting her subsequent concert tour, Woman on the Wheel, followed in 2013. In 2014, Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter's Hall of Fame. In February of 2015, she released Blackbirds, an album co-produced with guitarist Doug Lancio and keyboardist Barry Walsh; it featured guest appearances from Jerry Douglas, Jason Isbell, Kim Richey, Jimmy LaFave, and Suzy Bogguss. Peters next returned to the recording studio in 2018 for the album Dancing with the Beast, a set of songs informed by the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election and Peters' thoughts about women's place in American society. ~ Mark Deming & Jack Leaver