Born to a modest, working class family in Anchorage, near Louisville, Kentucky on July 8th, 1962, Joan Elizabeth Osborne was not set on a career in music from the start. Excelling in school, her parents figured she would become a professional of some sort, despite displaying a taste for punk rock and musical theater as a teen.
Thinking any sort of life as a musician was unrealistic and only a pipe dream, Osborne gravitated toward film instead. She spent a year and a half at the University of Louisville studying theater arts, after which she got involved in the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater acting school in Florida. She finally settled in New York, studying at NYU’s film school thanks to a small scholarship.
Fortunately for lovers of Osborne’s music, a career in documentary film didn’t pan out. She ran out of money while studying and felt lost; it took a while for her to find a comfort zone and in the end, music was the greatest arena in which to vent. On a dare by a friend one night, Osborne went up on the stage of an open mic club and performed Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child.” It awakened a deep passion for music and started the ball rolling on a wonderful career.
Osborne recruited a band and starting playing anywhere that would accept her blues and soul tunes. In 1992, she had earned enough money to start her own label, calling it Womanly Hips. That year, she also recorded and released 5,000 copies of Soul Show, a live album. Critics who got a hold of it enjoyed her raw voice, and encouraged her to do a three-track EP called Blue Million Miles and shop it around.
Mercury Records were the ones to see something great in Osborne, and they signed her up. In 1995, she made her major-label debut with Relish. Album sales were slow-going until “One Of Us” was released, a New Age religious song dealing with open-ended questions about God.
Despite a societal split about the morals this song embraced, the single was absolutely huge and skyrocketed Osborne to fame. Rolling Stone put her on the cover of their magazine as Relish was on its way to selling three million units. The Grammys recognized her talent as well and nominated her for five awards, though she did not take home a single one.
On the heels of Relish, Osborne joined the Lilith Fair tour in 1997 and ’98. She then reverted to producing an album for the Holmes Brothers and working with big names like Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, Isaac Hayes, and Wyclef Jean. Despite this impressive work, Mercury dropped Osborne from their roster in 1999, without allowing her to finish a second album she had been working on.
Determined not to be shot down, Osborne self-financed Righteous Love, which was then picked up by Interscope and released in 2000. Two years later, she covered soul songs and released them as well, calling the album How Sweet It Is. With Compendia Music Group, she has gotten help revitalizing Womanly Hips, and has plans to start her own annual music festival of the same name. Her involvement in several women’s charities keeps her busy as well.
In 2003, Osborne has been involved in an AIDS benefit CD and is among a long list of top-tier performers doing a tribute album for gospel star Sister Rosetta Tharpe called Shout, Sister, Shout. With these projects, it is evident Osborne is ready for another try at the big time — she surely deserves it.