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Cole, Paula

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Cole, Paula, Grammy-winning singer who combines confessional lyrics with a slightly jazz-flavored delivery; b. Rockport, Mass., April 5, 1968. Paula Cole’s somewhat bohemian parents didn’t have a radio and rarely turned on the TV. Instead, her father, an entomologist who taught biology at Salem State Coll. and played bass in a polka band, and her mother, a visual artist, would sing and make music together.

Through high school, Cole was class president, a straight A student, and even prom queen. She enrolled in Berklee Coll. in Boston, studying voice. She also began writing songs at this time. When she graduated, she moved to San Francisco, holing up like a hermit and working on the songs that would become her debut album, Harbinger . She played a special showcase for Terry Ellis, president of Imago Records, who quickly signed her. She passed an advance copy of the record to a member of Peter Gabriel’s band, and Gabriel asked her to tour with him. With this exposure, Harbinger was set up for great things. Unfortunately, just as Harbinger came out, Imago lost its distribution and eventually went out of business.

Cole signed with Warners Bros. They reissued Harbinger in 1995, but it received little attention. While working on her next album, she convinced the label to let her scrap $80, 000 worth of work with a producer, and make the album herself. The record, This Fire, came out in 1996. The song “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” became a hit, becoming the first video to be heavily promoted on VHl’s “inside track.” The song reached #8 on the charts. Although Cole meant it to be bitingly sarcastic, many interpreted the song as a nostalgic anthem to the barefoot-and-pregnant housewife. The producers of the TV show Dawson’s Creek chose her song “I Don’t Want to Wait” as its theme song, making the song ubiquitous during the show’s high-profile launch, and it rose to #11. This Fire topped out at #20 and went double platinum. Cole also performed as part of the first Lillith Fair tour, which helps promote female singer / songwriters.

Cole earned seven 1998 Grammy nominations, becoming the first woman to be nominated as best producer. Performing on the awards program, more notice got paid to the fact that she didn’t shave her armpits than to her performance. She took home the Award for Best New Artist, ironic as she had released her major label debut recording four years before.

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