The second eldest in a blended family of five children, Eilleen Edwards was raised in poverty in Timmins, Ontario, by her mother, Sharon, and her Ojibwa stepfather, Jerry Twain, a forestry worker, who adopted Eilleen and her two sisters as children; their surnames were changed to Twain and they were legally registered as “Status Indian.” She was an official band member of the Temagami First Nation, and her family spent weekends and summers at the nearby Mattagami reserve, where she lived a rugged lifestyle, learning to hunt, chop wood, and track and snare rabbits.
Her parents introduced her to such country music artists as Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Tammy Wynette, and nurtured her early interest in singing and performing. In 1973, the family moved to Sudbury, where the eight-year-old Twain sang in her school choir, at community centres, senior citizens’ homes and late nights at a local bar once alcohol was no longer served. She began writing songs at age 10, entered talent contests and performed on local radio. Her mother arranged several television appearances on such Canadian shows as Opry North, Easy Country and The Mercey Brothers Show. In 1978, at age 13, she appeared on CBC TV’s The Tommy Hunter Show.
In 1980, the family moved back to Timmins, where her parents started a reforestation company, and her performance opportunities became more limited. In high school she played trumpet in her school band, worked part-time at McDonald’s and sang in a Top 40 rock band called Longshot. Throughout the early 1980s she spent summers working as a tree-planting supervisor in her father’s reforestation company.
After graduating from high school in 1983, Twain moved to Toronto to pursue a career in music. She took voice lessons with classical singer Ian Garrett, whom she credits as her only voice teacher, and caught the attention of Toronto DJ and record producer Stan Campbell, who landed her gigs as a backup vocalist and took her to Nashville to record some demos. She also joined a country cover band and toured throughout Ontario. During a performance in Sudbury, she crossed paths with Ontario country singer Mary Bailey, for whom Twain had opened in 1978. Bailey became Twain’s manager and also took her to Nashville, where she sang as a backup singer and recorded more demos. Through Bailey, Twain met John Kim Bell, who arranged for Twain to appear in a fundraiser for the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (now Indspire) at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in February 1987.
On 1 November 1987, Twain’s mother and stepfather were killed in a car accident near Wawa, Ontario, when they were hit head-on by a logging truck. Twain became the guardian of her two younger brothers. With Bailey’s help, she got a job performing in a Vegas-style revue and as a solo lounge act at the Deerhurst Resort near Huntsville, Ontario. She moved there with her siblings and supported them until 1990, when the youngest graduated from high school.
Shania Twain (1993)
In 1990, Bailey convinced Nashville music attorney Dick Frank (Everly Brothers, Patsy Kline) to come to Huntsville to see Twain perform. In 1991, Frank invited her to Nashville, where she signed with the US country division of Mercury Records. Encouraged to change her last name, she instead took the first name Shania (the name of an Ojibwa co-worker at the Deerhurst Resort) to honour her stepfather’s Ojibwa heritage. Twain has claimed that Shania means “I’m on my way” in Ojibwa.
Her debut release, Shania Twain (1993), was produced by veteran songwriter and producer Norro Wilson (Charley Pride, George Jones, Reba McEntire) and contained only one song co-written by Twain. The album performed moderately well, selling about 100,000 copies and peaking at No. 67 on the Billboard country chart, mainly on the strength of the music videos for two minor hits: "What Made You Say That " and "Dance With the One That Brought You. " The former caught the attention of actor-director Sean Penn (who directed the latter) and legendary rock producer Robert John "Mutt " Lange (AC/DC, Def Leppard, Bryan Adams). The reclusive, London-based Lange introduced himself to Twain over the phone, striking up a friendship that evolved into a songwriting collaboration. After meeting in person at the Fan Fair music convention in Nashville in June 1993, they travelled through Europe together writing songs, and were married on 28 December 1993 at the Deerhurst Resort.
The Woman in Me (1995)
Lange brought his studio production mastery and radio-friendly pop sound to The Woman in Me (1995), Twain’s second album. Recorded at a cost of $700,000, largely financed by Lange, it was reportedly the most expensive country album ever produced. The slick country-pop crossover songs featured Twain’s strong, charismatic vocals, catchy melodic and rhythmic hooks, and sassy, pun-filled lyrics that spoke to women while winking slyly at men. Maclean’s magazine’s Brian D. Johnson described Twain’s songs as a mix of “domestic-bliss ballads” and “sexy rockers that taunt and tease,” and her overall image as possessing “a playful sexuality, an allure that is part come-on, part come-off-it.” (See also: Shania Twain (Profile).)
Breaking the traditional country mold, Twain elected not to tour in support of The Woman in Me, choosing instead to focus on music videos, extensive publicity and interview tours, and carefully selected television performances. The album’s first single, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under,” rocketed to No. 1 on the Canadian country chart, No. 11 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and No. 31 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was followed by four songs — "Any Man of Mine,""(If You're Not in It For Love) I'm Outta Here!,” “You Win My Love” and "No One Needs to Know" — that hit No. 1 on the country charts in both Canada and the US. Four of the album’s songs cracked the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and "No One Needs to Know" was featured in the movie Twister (1996).
Fuelled by videos that emphasized Twain’s bombshell looks and slinky sensuality, by 1996 The Woman in Me had sold more than six million copies worldwide, attaining multi-platinum status in the US, the UK and Australia and diamond status in Canada. It set a record for spending the most weeks (29) on the Billboard country chart, and surpassed Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits (1967) as the best-selling album by a female country artist. The Woman in Me won dozens of awards, including the Grammy Award and the Billboard Music Award for Country Album of the Year, the Juno Award and the Billboard Music Award for Female Country Artist of the Year, and the 1996 Juno Award for Entertainer of the Year. Twain also received the World Music Award for World’s Best Selling Female Country Artist. The Woman in Me has gone on to sell more than 12 million copies worldwide.
Come on Over (1997)
Adored by millions around the world and disparaged by others (such as American singer-songwriter Steve Earle, who called her “the highest-paid lap dancer in Nashville”), Twain became the female equivalent of Garth Brooks, melding country music with a rock sensibility to create a powerful new commercial phenomenon. In 1996, she replaced Mary Bailey with manager Jon Landau, best known for steering Bruce Springsteen’s career. Landau's international experience was brought to bear on Twain’s next album, Come on Over (1997), which was an even more successful crossover hit than The Woman in Me.
Marketed aggressively in North America, the album received generally positive reviews and was an immediate success, debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart and selling 4.2 million copies in four months, again without any initial tour support. Twain’s lack of touring and her reliance on the promotional power of music videos led to accusations that she was merely a studio product who couldn’t actually sing, and that Lange was a Svengali figure who controlled every aspect of her songwriting and career. When Twain did embark on her 19-month world tour, kicking it off in Sudbury on 29 May 1998, she consistently sold out entire arenas and performed for more than 2.5 million fans. It became the highest-grossing tour in country music history.
Twain and Lange co-wrote all 16 songs on Come on Over, which bore the trademarks of Lange’s patented arena-rock sound to an even greater degree. Twelve songs were released as singles between September 1997 and July 2000; of those, 11 were Top 5 hits on the Canadian country chart and seven hit No. 1, including "Don't Be Stupid (You Know I Love You)," "Come on Over," “From This Moment On,” and the wedding and anniversary staple “You’re Still the One.” Six of the album’s singles also charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, including three (“You’re Still the One,” “From This Moment On” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much”) in the Top 10. The hit single “You’ve Got A Way” was remixed and featured in the film Notting Hill (1999).
Come on Over spent 151 weeks on the Billboard 200 album chart and proved to be Twain’s worldwide breakthrough. An international version of the album, remixed with a more pop-oriented sound, topped the charts in 13 countries when it was released in 1998, largely on the strength of the international smash hits “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” The album earned Twain Juno Awards for Best Country Female Artist (1997–2000), International Achievement (1997) and Best Songwriter (2000), as well as 10 Canadian Country Music Association Awards and four Grammy Awards, among many others. In 2000, she became the first non-American to be named Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Come on Over became the biggest-selling album of all time by a female artist, surpassing Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (1995). With over 39 million copies sold, it is also the best-selling country album of all time, the biggest-selling album of the 1990s and the sixth best-selling album in US history.
The massive success of The Woman in Me and Come on Over resulted in the release of three collections of Twain’s early demos and other tracks recorded before her record deal with Mercury: On the Way (1999); Beginnings: 1989–90 (1999); and The Limelight Sessions (2001). The latter two were billed under the name Eilleen Shania Twain. The Limelight Sessions was released in Europe as Wild and Wicked (2000). Sales of her debut album were also boosted; it was certified double platinum in Canada in 1997 and platinum in the US in 1999.
In 1998, Twain and Lange relocated to an 18th-century chateau on the shores of Switzerland's Lake Geneva near Montreux. She gave birth to a son in 2001 and resumed her career the following year.
In August 2002, Twain parted ways with manager Jon Landau and signed with Peter Mensch of Q Prime Management, best known for handling rock bands such as Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Shereleased her fourth album, the double-CD Up!, on 19 November 2002. It was again co-produced and co-written with Lange. From the midriff-baring cover photo to the ubiquitous use of exclamation points in the song titles, Up! stuck closely to Twain’s successful formula. A generous package of 19 songs, the album was released in three different mixes: the so-called "red version" for the pop-rock market; a "green version" for the country market; and an Indian-influenced "blue version" for European and Asian countries.
Up! topped the US and Canadian album charts in its first week of release. It was certified diamond in Canada for sales of over 1 million copies on 6 December 2002, and double diamond on 21 December (Music Canada counts each of the two discs separately for certification purposes). The album's run of hit singles included the multi-format radio hits "I'm Gonna Getcha Good," “Up!” and "Forever and for Always," all of which hit the Top 5 on the Canadian singles chart and the Top 20 on the Billboard country chart. In total, four songs from the album were country hits in the US, which was less than half the number achieved by each of her previous two albums.
Some country music fans criticized the album’s slick pop production values and heavy rock instrumentation. Although the album received significantly less airplay on US country radio, it was a bigger hit in overseas markets, landing in the Top 5 in album charts in 13 countries. A new world tour began with open-air concerts in Ireland and at London's Hyde Park in July 2003. She also played the half-time show at the 2002 Grey Cup Game in Edmonton, performed in front of No Doubt and Sting at the Super Bowl XXXVII halftime show in San Diego, California, and hosted the 2003 Juno Awards at Ottawa’s Corel Centre. She won Junos that night for Country Recording of the Year, Artist of the Year and the Fan Choice Award. Up! also received the 2004 Juno for Country Recording of the Year, as well as five CCMA Awards and three Billboard Music Awards, among many others.
Greatest Hits (2004)
Twain followed the success of Up! with her Greatest Hits in 2004, which was released in two different versions for North American and international markets. The compilation’s 21 tracks included the new singles “Don’t,” “I Ain’t No Quitter” and the duet “Party for Two.” The latter was recorded in a country version with Mercury label-mate Billy Currington and a pop version with Sugar Ray vocalist Mark McGrath; the respective versions hit the Top 10 on the country and singles charts in both Canada and the US. “Don’t” and “I Ain’t No Quitter” were Top 10 country hits in Canada, but were less successful elsewhere. Greatest Hits won the CCMA Award for Top Selling Album and the Billboard Music Award for Country Album of the Year. It was certified six-times platinum in Canada and double platinum in the US, and has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.
Album Hiatus and Personal Life
While Twain’s recording career had been productive, with regular album releases, there followed a lengthy hiatus in both album production and concert appearances. She did, however, remain in the public eye. She recorded a cover of “Coat of Many Colors” for a Dolly Parton tribute album in 2003, contributed the song “Shoes” to the soundtrack of the ABC TV show Desperate Housewives in 2005 and sang “You Needed Me” with Anne Murray for her album Anne Murray Duets: Friends & Legends (2007).
In May 2008, Twain separated from Lange after discovering his alleged affair with her longtime friend, Marie-Anne Thiebaud, who managed Twain and Lange’s chateau in Switzerland (Lange and Thiebaud both publicly denied the affair). On 5 June 2008, Twain posted a letter titled “A Personal Message from Shania” on her website, apologizing for “the delay in releasing new music” and speaking candidly about the challenges in her personal life. Around this time, she also suffered from dysphonia, an ailment whereby muscular tension around the vocal chords hinders one’s ability to sing, which she eventually overcame through therapy.
Twain divorced Lange in 2009 and became romantically involved with Marie-Anne Thiebaud’s husband, Frederic Thiebaud; they were married in Puerto Rico on 1 January 2011. She made appearances as a guest judge (2009) and guest mentor (2010) on FOX TV’s American Idol, and carried the Olympic torch in Timmins on 1 January 2010 as part of the 2010 Winter Olympics torch relay leading up to the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. Her six-episode reality TV docudrama series, Why Not? With Shania Twain, premiered on the OWN Network on 8 May 2011. It was accompanied by the promotional single “Today is Your Day,” written by Twain, and co-produced with David Foster and Nathan Chapman (producer of Taylor Swift). The series’ final episode featured her recording the duet “Endless Love” with Lionel Richie, which became a Top 20 hit on the Billboard adult contemporary chart.
Also in 2011, she sang the opening number at the CMT Music Awards, published her autobiography, From This Moment On, and recorded a duet of “White Christmas” with Michael Bublé for his album Christmas. It was not until 2012 that she began giving concerts again, with a sold-out run at a 4,300-seat concert hall at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas beginning in December that year, and continuing with separate runs in the spring and fall of 2013. During her hiatus from recording and after her split from Lange, Twain continued songwriting on her own. As of May 2014, she was reportedly still working on material for her fifth studio album.
She was scheduled to perform her first Canadian concert dates in more than a decade with two shows at the Scotiabank Saddledome (both of which sold out in minutes) during the 2014 Calgary Stampede, as well as a Labour Day weekend concert in Charlottetown, PEI, during Founders Week, which commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.
It is unclear whether Twain has any Indigenous ancestry in her bloodline. She has said that, according to her mother, her biological father was part Indigenous, but his family has disputed this claim. In April 1996, shortly after Twain received the Outstanding Musical Achievement Award from First Americans in the Arts amid her rise to superstardom, her paternal grandmother was interviewed in the Timmins newspaper the Daily Press accusing Twain of lying about her Indigenous ancestry.
Twain responded to the controversy with a statement saying, “I don't know how much Indian blood I actually have in me, but as the adopted daughter of my father Jerry, I became legally registered as 50 per cent North American Indian. Being raised by a full-blooded Indian and being a part of his family and their culture from such a young age is all I've ever known. That heritage is in my heart and my soul, and I'm proud of it.” Jerry Twain’s cousin, Willis McKay, was also interviewed saying of Twain, “Speaking as a Native person, we treated her as Native, raised her as Native. We accepted her as part of our family, no questions asked.”
Twain is legally registered as a Status Indian. When she moved to Nashville in 1991, she was not required to obtain a work visa or a green card, but entered the US under the auspices of the Jay Treaty of 1794, which allows Indigenous peoples to travel freely across the US-Canada border. As of 1996, she still held a status card and was an official band member of the Temagami First Nation.
Citing her experience growing up in an impoverished household where food was often scarce, Twain has been an outspoken advocate for issues faced by underprivileged children. She donated all Canadian profits from the single “God Bless the Child,” which spent eight weeks at No. 1 on the Canadian singles chart in 1996, to Canadian Living Foundation’s Breakfast for Learning program, which establishes café programs in schools. All US profits from the single were donated to the US-based food bank Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest). Twain also participated in other events and fundraising efforts for both groups.
In 2010, she founded the organization Shania Kids Can, which provides schools with food, nutritional supplies and recreational equipment, as well as giving underprivileged children access to music lessons. On 8 January 2010, she promoted the charity and its cause by hosting a special episode of CBC Radio’s current affairs program The Current, during which she interviewed Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan about her charity 1Goal, which aims to provide millions of children worldwide with access to education. Twain has also been involved over the years with such charities as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Amnesty International and the Red Cross, among others.
Endorsements and Business Ventures
In the late 1990s, Twain appeared in advertisements for Candie’s shoes and Gitano Jeans, both of which sponsored her Come on Over Tour (1998–99). In 1999, Twain and her song “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” were featured in a series of advertisements for Revlon Cosmetics. In 2005, she endorsed the air-freshener Scentstories by Febreze, with proceeds going to America’s Second Harvest. Also that year, she partnered with the Coty cosmetics company, which produced the fragrance “Shania” by Stetson. It released a second fragrance, “Shania Starlight,” in 2007.
The city of Timmins named a street Shania Twain Way in her honour, and opened a tourist attraction, the Shania Twain Centre in 2001 (it closed in 2013). Twain was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005. In 2011, she was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Canada Post issued a postage stamp in her honour in 2014.
A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.
- Entertainer of the Year (1996)
- Country Female Vocalist of the Year (1996)
- Country Female Vocalist of the Year (1997)
- International Achievement Award (1997)
- Country Female Vocalist of the Year (1998)
- Best Country Female Vocalist (1999)
- Best Songwriter, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” / “You’ve Got a Way” / “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (2000)
- Best Country Female Artist (2000)
- Juno Fan Choice Award (2003)
- Country Recording of the Year, I’m Gonna Getcha Good (2003)
- Artist of the Year (2003)
- Country Recording of the Year, Up! (2004)
- Inductee, Canadian Music Hall of Fame (2011)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1995)
- Album of the Year, The Woman in Me (1995)
- Single of the Year, “Any Man of Mine” (1995)
- SOCAN Song of the Year, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” (1995)
- SOCAN Songwriter(s) of the Year, “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?” (1995)
- Video of the Year, “Any Man of Mine” (1995)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1996)
- Video of the Year, “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here” (1996)
- Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year (1996)
- Top Selling Album (Foreign or Domestic), The Woman in Me (1997)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1998)
- Album of the Year, Come on Over (1998)
- Single of the Year, “You’re Still the One” (1998)
- Top Selling Album (Foreign or Domestic), Come on Over (1998)
- Video of the Year, “Don’t Be Stupid” (1998)
- Fans’ Choice Award (1998)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1999)
- Video of the Year, “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (1999)
- Vocal Collaboration of the Year, with Bryan White (1999)
- Fans’ Choice Award (1999)
- Album of the Year, Up! (2003)
- Top Selling Album, Up! (2003)
- Female Artist of the Year (2003)
- Video of the Year, “I’m Gonna Getcha Good!” (2003)
- Country Music Program or Special of the Year, CBC TV’s Shania Twain Up! Close and Personal (2004)
- Top Selling Album, Greatest Hits (2005)
SOCAN Award, One of the Most Performed Songs of the Year
- “Any Man of Mine” (1996)
- “Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” (1996)
- “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here!” (1997)
- “No One Needs to Know” (1997)
- “Don’t be Stupid (You Know I Love You)” (1999)
- “You’re Still the One” (1999 and 2000)
- “From This Moment On” (1999 and 2000)
- “You’ve Got a Way” (2000)
- “That Don’t Impress Me Much” (2000)
- “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” (2000)
- Best New Artist of the Year (1995)
- Songwriter of the Year (1996)
- Song of the Year, “Any Man of Mine” (1996)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1996)
- Country Artist of the Year (1996)
- Album of the Year, The Woman in Me (1996)
- Country Artist of the Year (1998)
- Best Album, Come on Over (1998)
- Best Canadian Country Artist (1999)
- Female Vocalist of the Year (1999)
Much Music Video Awards
- MuchMoreMusic Award, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” (2000)
- MuchMoreMusic Award, “Up!” (2005)
- MuchMoreMusic Award, “Party for Two” with Mark McGrath (2005)
- Best Country Album, The Woman in Me (1995)
- Best Country Song, “You’re Still the One” (1998)
- Best Female Country Vocal Performance, “You’re Still the One” (1998)
- Best Country Song, “Come on Over” (1999)
- Best Female Country Vocal Performance, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” (1999)
Billboard Music Awards
- Country Album of the Year, The Woman in Me (1996)
- Female Country Artist of the Year (1996)
- Best Selling Country Single, “You’re Still the One” (1998)
- Hot 100 Singles Female Artist (1998)
- Female Artist of the Year (1998)
- Country Albums Artist of the Year (2003)
- Country Album of the Year, Up! (2003)
- Country Artist of the Year (2003)
- Country Album of the Year, Greatest Hits (2005)
American Music Awards
- Favorite New Country Artist Performer (1996)
- Favorite Country Female Performer (1997)
- Favorite Country Female Performer (1999)
- Favorite Pop/Rock Female Artist (2000)
- Favorite Country Female Artist (2000)
Academy of Country Music Awards
- Top New Female Vocalist (1995)
- Album of the Year, The Woman in Me (1995)
- Entertainer of the Year (1999)
Country Music Association Awards
- Entertainer of the Year (1999)
- CMA International Artist Achievement Award (1999)
World Music Awards
- World’s Best Selling Female Country Artist (1996)
- World’s Best Selling Canadian Artist (2001)
- Outstanding Musical Achievement Award, First Americans in the Arts (1996)
- Officer, Order of Canada (2005)
- Star, Hollywood Walk of Fame (2011)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Government of Canada (2012)
Shania Twain, From This Moment On (Atria Books, 2011).