Bittersweet homecoming

Trisha Yearwood's time of reckoning

This year has been an emotional roller coaster for Monticello native and country music superstar Trisha Yearwood. The highs include her engagement to longtime friend and musical partner Garth Brooks, and the incredibly successful release of Jasper County following a four-year hiatus. But the recent loss of her beloved father, Jack Yearwood, casts a pall over the joyfulness of her achievements. Despite that, Yearwood is a consummate professional with a strong sense of personal responsibility and an unwavering work ethic, and knows that her father would want her to soldier on.

In 2001, Yearwood took some time off to recharge her batteries, enjoy her privacy, and live a normal life once again. During that time, she reconnected with the values and joy found in the small town where she grew up. As she decided to return to work, the grounding had planted a seed of gratitude, and Yearwood decided to make Jasper County, a musical tribute to her home and her roots. Now it stands as a tribute to her father, who unconditionally supported Yearwood's aspirations from an early age.

"My parents always encouraged my sister and I to be musical, and they helped us be part of all the music activities in Monticello," she recalls. "Even though they emphasized education — my mom was a teacher — they were very logical in their support of my approach to the music industry. In Monticello, it was always assumed that I would come home after college and lead the choir, or teach music lessons. But if you had asked me at 5 years old what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would have said I wanted to be a singer on the radio."

Yearwood's eventual success is a testament to her talent and perseverance. The multiple platinum sales and numerous awards she has garnered over the years are evidence that she has connected with her audience in a big way, and she is one of the most respected contemporary artists in the business. But maintaining that level of success and visibility in such a competitive field is hard work, and after 13 years of it, Yearwood needed a break. "There's a lot about the music industry that has nothing to do with the actual performing, and that's the hard part. I didn't realize how tough it was until I stopped for a while."

One of the true measures of an artist's abilities is how well their fans retain the affection during a hiatus. Yearwood saw how the industry was changing over the four years that she laid low, and knew it would be a different game when she returned. "When I released my first single, 'She's in Love with the Boy,' singles could move up the charts in 12 to 14 weeks. Nowadays, it can take up to six months. But at the 2004 Country Radio Seminar, I got a lot of positive feedback from the disc jockeys, so I was pretty comfortable [with] what I was doing."

Jasper County finds Yearwood collaborating once again with her favorite producer, Garth Fundis. "Garth is a good song man, he can pick out what works best for me. We say that we need to both agree on everything I cut, which is great. I wanted this record to be country, not too slick. There was a conscious effort to do that." Yearwood's newest single, "Georgia Rain," is a homage to her roots, and she even asked the writers for permission to add the reference to Jasper County. "Once we got the song done, we decided to do the album cover down there, then the video, and it has turned into a tribute to Georgia."

If there is any consolation in the loss of a family member, it is found in having a sense that the person knew just how important and how loved they were in life. Without a doubt, Jack Yearwood knew that his daughter was proud of the person she had become, and that he had guided her to a place in life where the things that should matter the most actually do. Her success is part of his legacy.