Alison Krauss - Biography
Alison Krauss is one of the most commercially successful bluegrass singers, producers, and musicians of all time. With her stellar backing band, Union Station, she pioneered an innovative blend of bluegrass, country, and pop that has earned her the most Grammy wins of any female musician in history. As of 2008, she has won 26 Grammy Awards for work in the pop, bluegrass, country, and gospel fields, as well as sharing an Album of the Year Grammy for her part in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (2000 Mercury). Fiercely independent, she remains on her first label, Rounder Records, despite her multi-platinum success and the courting of the majors. Her collaboration with Robert Plant on Raising Sand (2007 Rounder) has made her an international star and has also introduced bluegrass to new generations.
Krauss was born in Illinois in 1971. She started playing fiddle when she was five, and by the time she was 13 she was already juggling being a professional musician with keeping up good grades in school. In the early 1980s, with the help of her parents who drove her to gigs and contests, she became nationally known after winning the fiddle prize at the National Flatpicking Championship. She also took home first prize at state fiddling championships in Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Wisconsin. In 1985, Krauss appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and blew people away with her effortless improvisations. At 14 she made her recording debut with Different Strokes (1985 Fiddle Tunes), a traditional collection of fiddle tunes on a small independent label aptly named Fiddle Tunes.
Rounder Records signed Krauss and in 1987 and she released Too Late to Cry (1987 Rounder), her first nationally distributed album and also the first recording to feature her warm alto vocals. In 1988, the National Council for the Traditional Arts named Krauss as one of six fiddlers representing unique American folk styles. She was chosen to represent western fiddling, known for its improvisational flair and melodic invention. In 1989, at just 18 years of age, Krauss put together the first line up of her band Union Station and proved herself a capable bandleader and arranger. Two Highways (1989 Rounder), her first album with the backing band, is a solid collection but only hints at the explosion that was to follow.
1990’s I’ve Got That Old Feeling (1990 Rounder) catapulted Krauss to the top of the bluegrass charts. She took home the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award, a Country Music Association Best Bluegrass Album Award, and her first Grammy. The album crossed over to the country charts and Krauss became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Her winning streak continued to pick up steam with the release of Every Time You Say Goodbye (1992 Rounder) in 1992. The band’s rapid fire picking ability, eclectic mix of tunes, and Krauss’s amazingly emotive vocals made them the most influential band in modern bluegrass and a major draw with country music fans as well. She took home another Grammy and the album slowly went gold, as did the rest of her then small catalog.
In 1994, Krauss made a slight diversion by recording I Know Who Holds Tomorrow (1994 Rounder) with the Cox Family, a group that blends country, bluegrass, and gospel. The album took home a Best Southern Gospel, Country Gospel, or Bluegrass Gospel Album Grammy and went gold, making the Cox Family stars in the process. The following year, Kraus won two more Grammy Awards — Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for her guest vocal on Shenandoah’s Vicinity of the Heart (1995 Capitol) and Best Female Country Vocal Performance for “Now That I’ve Found You,” which was a bonus track on her double platinum best of compilation Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection (1995 Rounder). In 1996, Krauss picked up another Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for her duet with Vince Gill on the title track of his album High Lonesome Sound (1996 MCA).
1997’s So Long So Wrong (1997 Rounder) earned another gold album and three Grammys — Best Bluegrass Album, Best Country Instrumental Performance for “Little Liza Jane,” and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for “Looking in the Eyes of Love.” In 1998, Krauss took part in the star-studded A Tribute to Tradition (1998 Sony), a collection of country standards, and won another Best Country Collaboration with Vocals Grammy for the track “Same Old Train.” On 1999’s Forget About It (1999 Rounder), Krauss went into the studio without her band to produce a more mainstream country album that quickly went gold.
2001 was the year that placed bluegrass and old-time music back in the hearts of America. The soundtrack for the Coen Brothers’ 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? went multi-platinum and stayed on the pop charts for almost a year, but most commercial country stations shunned it. Nonetheless, the album won a Grammy for Album of the Year. Her next album with Union Station, New Favorite (2001 Rounder), went gold and won Grammys for both Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
In 2002, Krauss stepped behind the boards and produced Nickel Creek’s This Side (2002 Sugar Hill), which nabbed a Best Contemporary Folk Album Grammy. That same year she released Live (2002 Rounder), which went double platinum and won Grammys for Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental Performance. She won yet another Grammy for her duet with James Taylor on “How’s the World Treating You” from the all-star tribute album Livin’, Lovin’ Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers (2003 Universal South). In 2004, two tracks she cut for the soundtrack to Anthony Minghella’s film Cold Mountain (2003 Columbia), “The Scarlet Tide” and “You Will Be My Ain True Love,” were nominated for Oscars. The following year’s Lonely Runs Both Ways (2005 Rounder) added to her gold collection and scored three more Grammys.
In 2006, with Union Station taking a break, Krauss collaborated with Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant for Raising Sand (2007 Rounder). T-Bone Burnett’s production gave the album a timeless feel and Plant toned down his style to accommodate the material, which included contemporary reworkings of pop, blues, rock, and bluegrass standards. Their duet on the Everly Brothers’ classic “Gone, Gone, Gone” won Krauss her first Pop Vocal Grammy. She also found time to produce Alan Jackson’s Grammy-nominated Like Red on a Rose (2006 Arista). In 2011 she released a solo record called Paper Airplane.