Alannah Myles (born Byles), singer, songwriter (born 25 December 1958 in Toronto, Ontario). Alannah Myles cut an aggressive and confident, leather-clad figure in Canadian pop.
Alannah Myles (born Byles), singer, songwriter (born 25 December 1958 in Toronto, Ontario). Alannah Myles cut an aggressive and confident, leather-clad figure in Canadian pop. A Juno and Grammy Award winner, she had the best-selling debut album in Canadian history and was the first female artist to sell more than one million album copies in Canada.
The daughter of Canadian broadcasting pioneer William Byles, she began playing guitar at age 11, writing songs at 15, and singing professionally in Southern-Ontario clubs at 19, when she changed her surname to Myles. Her influences included Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, and the Rolling Stones. Blessed with a strong rock voice and natural stage presence, she formed a creative partnership with boyfriend/musician Christopher Ward (who soon thereafter became a MuchMusic VJ), and worked as a model, backup singer, and actress (she appeared in a 1984 episode of “The Kids of Degrassi Street”) while developing her musical identity with Ward and songwriter/producer David Tyson.
After being rejected by Canadian record companies for years, Myles was signed by New York-based Atlantic Records in 1988 on the strength of a three-song demo tape. She released her self-titled debut album in 1989. It sold more than one million copies in Canada — the only debut Canadian record to do so — and over 6 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful Canadian albums of all time. The album’s Elvis Presley homage, “Black Velvet,” was a No. 1 hit in many countries, including the US, where Myles won a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. Other singles from the album — “Love Is,” “Still Got This Thing,” and her own “Lover of Mine” — were major hits in Canada. She received Juno Awards in 1990 for Most Promising Female Vocalist, Single of the Year, and Album of the Year.
Although sales dipped dramatically for Myles’s second album, Rockinghorse (1992), it went double platinum in Canada. The album featured the No. 1 hit “Song Instead of a Kiss” and earned her Juno nominations for Single, Female Vocalist, and Album of the Year, as well as a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance. She signed with Sting’s manager Miles Copeland III, focused more heavily on her songwriting and released the Led Zeppelin-influenced A-lan-nah in 1995. In 1997 she released A Rival through Copeland’s Ark 21 Records. Neither album fared well commercially.
Myles had signed a contract with Atlantic Records that obligated her to repay millions in expenses. As a result, she profited very little financially from her early success. She was released from the contract when it expired in 1997, but claimed she only received her first royalty cheque (for $1,900 US) in April 2008, and reported having difficulty at times even paying her rent.
A greatest hits album, Alannah Myles: The Very Best Of, was released in 1999, and in 2004 “Black Velvet” and “Lover of Mine” were both awarded the SOCAN Classics award for exceeding 100,000 plays on Canadian radio. In 2008 Myles released Black Velvet, which included a re-release of her signature single along with new material. Despite suffering impaired mobility due to a spinal cord injury caused by excessive chiropractic treatment, she continued to perform regularly in the early 2010s.
Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year, Juno Awards (1990)
Single of the Year (“Black Velvet”), Juno Awards (1990)
Album of the Year (Alannah Myles), Juno Awards (1990)
Best Rock Vocal Performance, Female (“Black Velvet”), Grammy Awards (1990)
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
“Alannah Myles Reclaims ‘Black Velvet’ with Modern Reworking,” The Canadian Press, April 19, 2008.
“A Cautionary Rock ‘n’ Roll Tale: Q&A with Alannah Myles,” Post City Magazine, June 2011.