When the Highwomen “supergroup” formed it originally consisted of Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, and Maren Morris. Their plan, at the time, was to have a fourth member but to change that member on a regular basis, a guest member, so to speak – then they announced that the fourth permanent member of the band would be Natalie Hemby, and many people’s reaction was “who?”. What those people failed to realise was that this was a particularly astute move by the band because, while Hemby didn’t have much of a profile as a performer at that time, they had recruited one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville. A woman with eight number 1 Billboard singles and two Grammy awards to her name, in a 25+ year (to date) professional writing career, and someone specialising in writing songs from a modern female perspective.
Hemby was born in Bloomington, Illinois in 1977, daughter to Nashville studio guitarist Tom Hemby and his wife, Deanna, and signed her first publishing deal at just 19 years of age. Since then, the list of artists she has written for has become extensive and includes the likes of Lady Gaga, Rag’n’Bone Man, Sheryl Crow, Dierks Bentley, Kelly Clarkson, Little Big Town, and many more.
Hemby is a natural collaborator and most of her songs are co-writes. She had some early success with songs for Lee Ann Womack in 2006 (‘Call Me Crazy’, written with Daniel Tashian) and for the Eli Young band in 2008 (‘Jet Black & Jealous’, written with Mike Ely & James Young) but it was her writing with Miranda Lambert that would become her most successful writing partnership and give her the breakthrough song with 2009’s ‘White Liar’, from Lambert’s “Revolution” album, becoming her first Top 10 composition. In 2012 she scored a big, summer number 1 hit for the band Little Big Town, with her song ‘Pontoon’, co-written with Luke Laird and Barry Dean. The song came about because a publisher misheard the title of ‘Fine Tune’, written by Hemby and Laird for Miranda Lambert’s “Four the Record” album. They decided to have a bit of fun and actually write a song called ‘Pontoon’, which went on to win the band a 2013 Grammy award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance!
From 2009 onwards, Hemby’s star as a songwriter was very much in the ascendant, but she would have to wait another eight years before she would get the opportunity to release an album of her own. That would be 2017’s “Puxico”, which was well received critically and made it into the Billboard Country Top 40 and, perhaps more importantly, into the Americana/Folk Top Ten. The following year, Hollywood came calling and she would be asked to contribute to the soundtrack for the Lady Gaga remake of “A Star Is Born”. She contributed two songs, one of which, ‘Always Remember Us This Way’, co-written with Gaga, Hillary Lindsey and Lori McKenna, would give her a first Grammy Award for her writing (Best Song Written for Visual Media). From that point on there appears to have been no stopping her transition to successful performer in her own right. She was invited to join the Highwomen in 2019 and would win her second Grammy award for the band’s recording of ‘Crowded Table’, a song written by Hemby and bandmate Brandi Carlile along with frequent Hemby collaborator, Lori McKenna. The song, about the importance of inclusion and working together, would win the award for Best Country Song at the 63rd Grammy Awards.
Following on from this impressive flurry of activity and success, Hemby released her second solo album, “Pins and Needles”, produced by successful Nashville producer, and Hemby’s husband, Mike Wrucke. She’s still writing for other artists and recent songs have seen success for Jon Pardi (‘Heartache Medication’) and Kelly Clarkson (‘I Dare You’) but Hemby’s focus would now seem to be on writing more for the Highwomen and for her own solo work. What does seem certain is that there’ll be many more successful songs from the pen of one of the great americana songwriters of modern times.
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