This feature was originally posted on Nov. 30, 2016.
Country singer Mindy McCready would be 41 years old on Nov. 30. The talented McCready served as a powerful female voice in the 1990s. Not without her demons, McCready’s fame dwindled into tabloid fodder in the 2000s, sometimes dubbed the “Amy Winehouse of country music.”
After suffering from prescription drug abuse, toxic personal relationships and constant media scrutiny, McCready tragically took her own life in 2013, but that’s not how you should remember McCready.
A Driven Floridian
Growing up in Southwest Florida, Melinda Gayle McCready had the opportunity to train professionally as an opera singer. But her true love landed in the country music of the era. Acts like Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood and Martina McBride dominated the landscape.
McCready graduated early from high school and made the move to Nashville at the ripe young age of 17. She wasted no time landing a record deal with her confident, powerful voice. She managed to make all the right decisions in song selections.
Her label could have easily taken advantage of a young out-of-towner with big dreams. But McCready knew from the start that she wasn’t the “Stand By Your Man” kind of girl. Instead, she brought a powerful female voice to country at a time when new women weren’t expected to be outspoken and powerful.
“All my songs are tunes that women will want to listen to and say, ‘Yes, sister!'” McCready once said. “They’re not traditionally country, in the sense that they have images of dogs in trucks or submissive women. If the women aren’t equal to the men, the songs aren’t there for me.”
A Remarkable Debut
McCready’s 1996 debut album Ten Thousand Angels established her as a female force in country music. Though only 10 songs, nearly half the record made it onto the country charts. Her debut single “Ten Thousand Angels” set the tone for the kind of positive, reaffirming songs that struck a chord with fans.
From there, McCready’s star continued to rise. She had her one and only No. 1 single with follow-up hit “Guys Do It All The Time”, a proper kiss-off to the double standards of being a woman.
The infectious groove and attitude cemented McCready as the voice of strong women who don’t need to let men tell them how to live. The music video, in which she dons boxing gloves and shaving cream, gambles, drinks and parties, sets the tone. She’s not messing around.
And though she was operating in the hooky, pop-heavy world of ’90s country, McCready shared a lot of similarities with other country music feminists like Loretta Lynn. She sang songs that, though a bit cheeky, firmly rooted themselves in the belief that women can and should demand better from society.
Two more singles, including a duet with Lonestar’s Richie McDonald, helped push Ten Thousand Angels into more than 2 million CD players. That’s an amazing feat for a debut artist, never mind a female country artist. Even Shania Twain’s early ’90s debut only gained popularity after the massive success of her later albums.
An Unwavering Message
McCready’s sophomore effort didn’t receive near the commercial success of her first, but still hit the “gold record” milestone, eventually selling more than 800,000 copies despite not having a top-10 radio hit. Critically, she maintained her “lane” as a woman’s woman.
There’s no real identifiable reason why McCready didn’t have the same success with her follow-up. Perhaps her label didn’t pour as many resources into promoting it, or perhaps radio didn’t get on board because they realized her style wasn’t simply a novelty. Maybe the boy’s club even felt threatened by McCready’s unwavering message.
Her third album sold even fewer copies despite songs that tried to soften the image a bit. Tunes like “I’m Not So Tough” let the world know that women like McCready still need a shoulder to cry on every now and then. In retrospect, the tune almost seems like McCready reaching out for help.
McCready left BNA Records before releasing her fourth (and only) album on Capitol Records. At that point, she really only sought to maintain her loyal and faithful audience. But that wasn’t enough for Capitol, which she departed after what they considered disappointing sales.
McCready made one more record for her fans, 2010’s I’m Still Here. Right in the thick of her personal struggles, the record laid bare a sensitive vocal style and received praise from critics for her resilience.
Unfortunately, Mindy McCready’s declining mental health and near-constant personal struggles appearing in very public circumstances made sure she would never record again.
And while Mindy McCready’s story came to an end of tragic Shakespearean proportions, it’s important to remember her successes. She laid another important stepping stone for the empowered mainstream female artists of today, from Miranda Lambert to Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris.