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Childhood and early career
Colvin was born in Vermillion, South Dakota. Her formative years were spent in the town of Carbondale, Illinois, where she attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She learned to play guitar at the age of 10. Her first public concert was at age 15 at the Southern Illinois University campus. Colvin cites Joni Mitchell as a primary influence on her music, and her initial performances reflected that.
Colvin began working in the music scene in earnest in the late 1970s, first in Austin, Texas and then nationally. She moved to New York City in 1980, where she became involved with the Fast Folk cooperative in Greenwich Village.
She met music partner John Leventhal during this time; Leventhal became Colvin's producer on several albums. Colvin often lends her talent to contemporaries in the music business; she can be heard singing the backing vocals on the Suzanne Vega hit, "Luka". Vega returned the favor, singing backup on Colvin's "Diamond In The Rough", from her debut album, Steady On. Early in their careers, Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter formed a friendship that led to their frequently guesting on one-another's recordings: Colvin lent her vocals to Carpenter's 1992 recordings "The Hard Way" and "Come On Come On", and Mary Chapin returned the favor on Colvin's "Climb On a Back That's Strong", from Colvin's Fat City album. She also contributed in the studio and onstage to several Bruce Hornsby songs.
Colvin spent a short time in 1987-1988 with the North Carolina-based experimental string band the Red Clay Ramblers.
In 1988, Colvin was asked to perform a "trio" concert with fellow folk singer/songwriters Cheryl Wheeler and Mary Chapin Carpenter. The three performed two consecutive nights to critical acclaim at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. During these performances, Colvin performed several songs which appeared on her first two albums. The performances were recorded at the soundboard, but they were never released officially.
Colvin also has connections with singer/songwriters Julie Miller and Buddy Miller. Shawn became involved musically with the Millers when all three were working in Austin in the late 1970s/early '80s. Shawn provided backing vocals on Julie's first three solo albums (now out of print) released in 1990, 1991 and 1993.
Colvin's first several albums did not sell in substantial numbers, although she won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Recording for her debut album, Steady On (1990). After several albums of original work, Colvin released Cover Girl, a collection of cover versions. During this period, she also toured as Richard Thompson's opening act and back-up singer. She also sang "I Don't Want to Live on The Moon" with Ernie on Sesame Street, Ernie sang when Colvin said "hi" to him.
Colvin experienced breakthrough success with A Few Small Repairs in October 1996. The single "Sunny Came Home" reached the US Top Ten, and won Grammy Awards for Song and Record of the Year. She has released several subsequent albums which were nominated for Grammys, and she has also released a greatest hits album and a collection of Christmas music.
Colvin was the guest vocal artist on the Lisa Loeb single "Falling in Love". She performed at various Lilith Fair music festivals. Colvin's song "Nothin' on Me" served as the theme song to the Brooke Shields situation comedy Suddenly Susan. She also has been featured on the live music show Austin City Limits and played at the 2003 Austin City Limits Music Festival. She appeared in a 2001 tribute to Joni Mitchell that was broadcast on TNT.
Colvin appeared on The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (Bobfest) - October 16, 1992 at the Madison Square Garden, NYC. She performed "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" with Roseanne Cash and Mary-Chapin Carpenter. She shared the group of artists who performed "Knockin'On Heaven's Door". Both performances (including a picture of her)can be found on "Bob Dylan The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration" (Columbia 4740000 2)
Colvin appeared on Live from Abbey Road, which aired on Channel 4 in the UK and the Sundance Channel in the USA. Her live session recorded at Abbey Road Studios was shown on an episode with Nerina Pallot, The Zutons and Ray LaMontagne.
In 2007, Colvin released a single titled "Crazy", a cover of the Gnarls Barkley song.
Colvin released a 15-song Live collection on June 23, 2009 on Nonesuch . The album was recorded live in San Francisco during a three-night stint at Yoshi's in July 2008.
Television and film
Colvin made a few appearances on the comedy series The Larry Sanders Show, in the episodes "The Young Intern" (where she performed an acoustic version of "Polaroids") and "The New Writer" (where she performed an acoustic version of "Get Out of This House"). Colvin also ended the final episode of The Larry Sanders Show with an acoustic cover of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?".
She has made two guest appearances on animated comedy series The Simpsons as Rachel Jordan, lead singer for Christian rock band Kovenant (not related to the Norwegian black metal rock band The Kovenant). She first appeared in "Alone Again, Natura-Diddily", where Rachel wins widower Ned Flanders' heart. Later, in the episode "I'm Goin' to Praiseland", Ned dates Rachel, only to scare her off when he tries to turn her into a version of his deceased wife Maude. The two promptly get back together at the end of the same episode. She has not been mentioned in the series since then.
Colvin played country music legend Kitty Wells in a role in Crazy, a film that features a number of contemporary artists as music stars of the past.
Colvin's rendition of "Viva Las Vegas" can be heard during the closing credits of the Coen Brothers film, The Big Lebowski.
Colvin appeared in a Season 2 episode of The L Word, "Land Ahoy," as herself.
Colvin lives in Austin, Texas, and still participates in the Austin music scene. She has a daughter named Caledonia Jean-Marie Erwin, born on July 24, 1998. She was married to Simon Tassano from 1993-1995 (divorced) and to Mario Erwin from 1997 until their divorce, sometime prior to "These Four Walls". She wrote the song "Orion in the Sky" about Tassano and "Object of My Affection" about Erwin.
Awards and recognition