Thursday, January 12, 2017

Holly Dunn



The year 2016 was a sad year for celebrity deaths. If you Google “2016 celebrity deaths” the numbers are staggering. One of those deaths truly broke my heart though. She was a singer from the 80s and 90s and one of my all-time favorite country singers. Holly Dunn, a country singer who wrote the hit “Daddy’s Hands” as a Father’s Day gift for her preacher father, died on Monday, November 14, 2016 in Albuquerque. She was 59. The cause was ovarian cancer, said her nephew, Daniel Dunn, the mayor of Temple, Tex.
 
Ms. Dunn’s wistful “Daddy’s Hands” won two Grammy nominations (best female country vocal performance and best country song) in 1987, and her “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” and “You Really Had Me Going” (both written with her brother Chris Waters Dunn and Tom Shapiro) reached No. 1 on the country charts, in 1989 and 1990.
 
Those three also wrote “I’m Not Through Loving You Yet,” a Top 10 country hit for Louise Mandrell in 1984. Ms. Dunn recorded the duet “Maybe” with Kenny Rogers and sang on records with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. She was named the Academy of Country Music’s top female vocalist in 1986 and the most promising newcomer by the Country Music Association a year later.
 
She also described herself as a pioneer in a mostly male-dominated recording industry because she wrote (often with her brother), produced and performed her own material. “I think this gives me a real legitimacy, a genuineness,” she told The Associated Press in 1990. “I’m not just up there standing where they tell me to stand, singing what they tell me to sing.”
 
Holly Suzette Dunn was born on Aug. 22, 1957, in San Antonio, the daughter of Frank Dunn, a Church of Christ minister, and the former Yvonne Campbell, a Texas Hill Country landscape artist. Reading her obituary in the New York Times, I was amazed to find out that “She is survived by her wife, Melissa Taylor, and her three brothers, Chris, Jerry and Rodney.” I had never known she was a lesbian. She was a very private person and had retired from music in when she released her final album, Full Circle, which was her first gospel album, in 2003. Her paintings deal primarily with subjects from the Southwestern United States, and are available through the Peña+Dunn Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
 
Though she had not produced any more songs since 2003, she was always a favorite of mine. I never got to see her in concert and I had always hoped to visit her studio in Santa Fe to one day meet this hero of mine. Sadly, I will never have that change. Maybe someday, I will have a chance to own a piece of her art.

1 comment:

leconte9293 said...

Imagine my shock while listening to my local country-oldies station. The host was doing a 'Day In Country Music' segment, and just before he played "Daddy's Hands" he said, "by the late Holly Dunn." I was dumbfounded, Holly Dunn died?! This was August 2017 and I had never heard a THING in the media about her passing---last November. I don't find this to be merely by accident either. The modern Country Music Industry (or what's left of it) doesn't honor its ancestors in a meaningful way, in my opinion. Even less its black sheep like Dunn who dared to stray from the fold.

I often thought that the late-1980s young-traditionalist pack: Reba McEntire, Patty Loveless, Kathy Mattea, Dunn and Lorrie Morgan had ably stepped into the really big cowgirl boots of 1960s legends: Patsy, Loretta, Tammy, Dottie and Dolly. Holly's sweet, homespun songs were a big part of my formative years from age 10 to 16---then it seemed she dropped off the face of the earth. Eclipsed by flashier newcomers: Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, Shania Twain and Faith Hill. Suddenly, big stars from the '70s and '80s couldn't airplay anymore. Yesterday's news. Dunn and her contemporaries are forgotten by today's Millennial bro-country fans.

With her death came confirmation of what was long rumored---the REAL reason Dunn "retired" from the business. Like Chely Wright, Holly needed to finally put herself first and pursue a romantic relationship that would have outraged her conservative country fans. A revelation that, had it come in 1986, no doubt would have gotten her songs banned outright by country radio and her record contract terminated. And so it seems, not much had changed by 2016. Country media, possibly at the request of Dunn's family, has been largely silent on her life and legacy. A sad passing, and an even sadder reflection on fickle, conservative Nashville.