Fricke: reluctant superstar
It’s boggling to think that the difference between being a backup singer and becoming a country music superstar was one lyric in one song. Yet seven words pulled one Nashville studio musician out of the backline and into the spotlight.
It was 1977. Johnny Duncan had a number-one hit song “Stranger.” In the chorus, fans heard a female backup singing one line —“Shut out the light and lead me” — and wanted to know who sang it.
The singer was Janie Fricke.
The buzz was so big, Columbia Records offered Fricke her own recording contract. Amazingly, she was not sure she was ready for it.
“The label ‘reluctant superstar’ was used about me,” Fricke said during a phone interview. “It was scary when they offered me a contract. I loved doing studio work and singing harmony in backup vocal groups.”
She talked it over with her friends and fellow musicians. It was the president of the musician’s union who gave her “great advice.”
“He told me, this is your one shot,” she said. “You should do it because you may never get another one.”
So she did, although she was “afraid the whole time.”
“I was so thankful to have had the opportunity to do it. I think it’s a great blessing. I’d never say I wish I weren’t doing what I am supposed to be doing. Now, it’s just my life, like any other job. God decided this is what I was supposed to be doing.”
And she did it with a vengeance. In addition to Duncan, Fricke sang on recordings by every major country singer at the time, including Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty, and Eddie Rabbitt.
On her own, she had a string of hits in the 1970s-80s including “Please Help Me I'm Falling,” “Don't Worry ‘Bout Me Baby,” “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy,” “Tell Me a Lie” and “Let's Stop Talkin’ About It.”
She was voted Top Female Vocalist/Artist by the Country Music Association, Academy of Country Music, and Music City News.
Fittingly, Fricke became such a superstar as a soloist, she was asked to sing a duet with Merle Haggard on his 1985 hit “Natural High.”
Fricke strikes fans as one of those stars you believe could be the fourth grade teacher across the hall. Actually, she could have been. She earned a degree in elementary education, after growing up on a farm in Indiana. There, she honed her harmony chops by singing along with Motown songs she heard on the Detroit radio station as well as singing church hymns with her sisters every Sunday.
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