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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Lari White--An appreciation

Lari White's "That's How You Know (When You're in Love)"

Country music songstress Lari White’s heyday was in the 1990s, but the fact that she remained in the hearts of her peers, not to mention artistically active, was evident from the outpouring of grief and love that was manifest on social media following her death, after a short battle with cancer, Tuesday at 52. The vivacious singer-songwriter had just last year released a two-disc EP set (Old Friends and New Loves), marking her 25th anniversary as a recording artist.

“Such a sad day... ‘Saying Goodbye To A Friend,’” Instagrammed Suzzy Bogguss, who joined White on the Old Friends EP track “Wishes,” a remake of the title song of her 1994 album. “She was a tremendous talent and such a bright spirit. I am grateful to have had her friendship. She fought cancer like a warrior. Lari, I will hold the memory of your shining green eyes always and the sound of your beautiful voice bluesy and soulful!”

Other artists also took to Twitter to express their condolences, Crystal Gayle calling White “a wonderful talent and beautiful person!” Echoed Maura O’Connell: “A lovely lady, and a true talent,” and from the Grand Ole Opry came “It was an honor each time you stepped into the Opry Circle.”

Travis Tritt, who duetted with White on his 1997 single “Helping Me Get Over You,” tweeted, “I’m extremely saddened by the passing of my friend Lari White. She was so talented and a joy to write and record with.”

Likewise “deeply saddened,” Bryan White tweeted that White “was a mountain of talent. Artist, writer, producer--the whole package. 1 of the best singing voices ever 2 grace Country Music and a good soul.” Rascal Flats lead singer Gary Levox ‏tweeted, “Country music has lost a pioneer and a dear friend.”

Several country artist comments were compiled on The Country Note website, including Tanya Tucker’s: “What a talent. What a shock. She was the true meaning of an ARTIST. So young and so damn good. A painter of songs--from writing, to singing, to producing, and not to mention what a special caring human she was. Heaven has a very special angel in the choir.”

“What an authentically gifted creature,” marveled Wynonna Judd. “Delightful, quirky--a unique soul who loved her family and her music. It’s just hard for me to understand why. A reminder today of how sacred life is.”

Shenandoah’s Marty Raybon said that White was “one of the most pleasant people I have ever met. She not only had a beautiful way about herself, but she made those around her feel the same way. She will be missed deeply and the world is less talented today.”

Bill Anderson recalled that White’s first national appearance was in 1988 on the then Nashville Network’s You Can Be a Star talent show, which she won.

“We were in the studio producing her grand prize recording session for Capitol records,” said Anderson. “Nashville won’t be as perky, as classy, or as talented a city without her.”

On its Facebook page, Nashville’s legendary Bluebird Café posted, “There are just no words to describe how we here at The Bluebird feel about the loss of Lari White Cannon [White was married to country music songwriter Chuck Cannon]. She was a member of our Bluebird family--a force of nature with a heart that surrounded all of us--all the time. An active and energetic supporter of creativity--not only through our established songwriting community but as a mentor, teacher, friend to rising artists and songwriters as well.”

The Bluebird went on to note how White’s “strength and spirit projected through her amazing voice.”

“No one left a Lari White show unmoved,” observed The Bluebird. “Her Wild Women of Song [songwriters in-the-round] series reflected her connection to women in music, and the annual Valentine’s Day show here, featuring her and Chuck, allowed the audience to see and hear the beautiful love they shared. Love was Lari’s M.O.--freely expressed to her family, her friends, fans and strangers. May we all love a little harder and stronger as we celebrate her life and her legacy.”

Music journalist Brian Mansfield suggested that country fans take time to “reacquaint” themselves with White’s great '90s recordings and provided a worthy playlist on Spotify. But it’s important to note that White was more than a country music singer-songwriter. Via Twitter Michael Feinstein said he was “heartbroken” by the news of her passing, and remembered having her perform with him and the Pasadena Symphony on behalf of his Songbook Foundation at an event honoring Barry Manilow.

White also had noteworthy acting credits including a brief but memorable appearance with Tom Hanks in his 2000 film Cast Away. She was an original cast member of the 2006 Broadway Johnny Cash jukebox musical Ring of Fire, and in 2007 debuted a New York cabaret show, My First Affair. While in New York she frequently sang at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar’s famed Thursday Night Open Mic events.

White’s playful personality was evident in her Twitter handle (skinnywhitegirl, also the name of her label) and profile: “Enters crying, sings songs, plays piano, writes songs, acts, dances, engineers, wanders, produces records [among them Toby Keith’s 2005 album White Trash with Money, making her the first female producer of a male superstar’s album], produces babies, cooks, prays, poses, giggles.”

The mother of three left out that she taught country vocal techniques, too, online at ArtistWorks, where she posted in November her cancer diagnosis and her inability to teach for the foreseeable future: “All I ask is that you keep singing!“ she wrote her students. “Make a joyful noise, because I believe Our Creator loves the sound!“

“Lari you are already missed,” tweeted Jamie O’Neal Tuesday, “but your legend lives on forever.”



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