Sylvia Jane Kirby (born December 9, 1956, Kokomo, Indiana, United States), known simply by her first name Sylvia during the 1980s, is an American country music and country pop singer and songwriter. Some original source books have her birth name as Sylvia Kirby Allen; however, Allen was her first husband's last name. She consequently used only her first name. There was also a point in time that she used Sylvia Rutledge. She is currently using her married name and is promoted as Sylvia Hutton.
She enjoyed crossover music success with the song "Nobody" in 1982. It reached No. 15 Pop and No. 1 Country. The song earned her a gold record certification and a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Country Vocal Performance (the Grammy went to Juice Newton for her hit "Break It to Me Gently"). Although "Nobody" was Sylvia's only single to reach the Billboard pop charts, her other big country hits include "Drifter" (#1 Country, 1981), "Fallin' in Love", "Tumbleweed" and "Snapshot". In 1982, she was named Female Vocalist of the Year by the Academy of Country Music. She is also credited with making the first "concept" music video clip to air on Country Music Television (CMT), with "The Matador".
Sylvia's musical journey began at age three when she was asked to sing at a small church near her hometown of Kokomo, Indiana. This set Sylvia on a course that eventually led her to Nashville on December 26, 1976. With a burning desire to become a recording artist like her idols Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, Sylvia packed her bags and a demo tape and headed for Music City, where she ultimately landed a job as a secretary for producer/publisher Tom Collins, who produced records for both Barbara Mandrell and Ronnie Milsap.
After auditioning for Dave & Sugar, Sylvia was signed as a solo artist by RCA Records in 1979. Her first RCA single was called "You Don't Miss a Thing". The song reached the Country Top 40, which got her name noticed. In 1980 she released another single, "It Don't Hurt to Dream". The record was slightly more successful than the previous title, going to No. 35. That same year, she finally made it to the Top 10 with "Tumbleweed". In 1981 her song "Drifter" hit No. 1 on the country charts, and two other songs, "The Matador" and "Heart on the Mend" landed in the Top 10. "The Matador" was country music's first conceptual music video to air on CMT. Drifter was the title of her 1981 RCA debut album. The album contained several top-ten songs, including "Tumbleweed" and "Heart On The Mend". Some critics called its sound "prairie disco."
Career heights in the 1980s:
In 1982, from her Just Sylvia album, the singer released the single "Nobody", which reached No. 1 on the country music charts, hit No. 15 on Billboard's Hot 100, and sold more than a million copies. The song was also an Adult Contemporary hit, making the Top 5. "Nobody" became Sylvia's signature song and made her a success on both the Country and Pop music charts, which was what many of her contemporaries, such as Barbara Mandrell, Juice Newton, Dolly Parton, Anne Murray, Ronnie Milsap and Kenny Rogers were doing at the time.
"Nobody" and the album Just Sylvia were certified gold in the United States and Canada. "Nobody" was the 1982 BMI Song of the Year, awarded for receiving more radio airplay than any other single that year. Sylvia's bouncy and youthful style made her popular among teenagers, making her a teen idol briefly, which foreshadowed the female pop teen idols of the late 1980s, such as Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. In 1982, Sylvia was the Academy of Country Music's "Female Vocalist of the Year" and a Grammy nominee for "Best Female Vocalist".
In 1983 Sylvia's album Snapshot was released; its title song climbed to No. 5 on the Country charts and became her second-highest selling single release. She had two other songs in the Top 20 that year, "I Never Quite Got Back " and "The Boy Gets Around" (which she described in the notes of her 1998 anthology album as being "pretty forgettable").
In 1985, the momentum continued with such smash hits as "Fallin' in Love", "Cry Just a Little Bit", and "I Love You by Heart" (a duet with Michael Johnson). By 1986 though, Sylvia's chart success was fading as more traditionally styled country singers, such as Randy Travis, dominated the charts.
Sylvia continued to record for RCA until the end of 1987, charting 13 Top Ten and No. 1 songs, and sold more than four million records.
Surprises, country roots and retirement:
The release of her fourth album, Surprise, marked her second foray into the Adult Contemporary charts, but neither its sound, nor her new, shorn locks courtesy Francesco Scavullo, were well received in country music. All four of Sylvia's first albums were produced by Tom Collins, who also produced Mandrell, Charley Pride, and Ronnie Milsap. They have been described by critics as too slick for country music.
Her following album, One Step Closer, produced by The Judds' producer Brent Maher, had a slightly more "earthy" feel to it and was more acoustic as opposed to her previous slick countrified pop oriented music. Sylvia's final top 40 country hit was "Nothin' Ventured, Nothin' Gained", from the unreleased album "Knockin Around". The shelving of this album marked the end of Sylvia's tenure with RCA Records. The label did release a greatest hits compilation and a single from it titled "Straight from my Heart". The record received no promotion from RCA and the single charted in the low 60s. In the late 1980s, RCA began streamlining its roster of country-pop artists and the casualties included Sylvia, Dolly Parton, Louise Mandrell, Deborah Allen, Juice Newton, John Denver and Kenny Rogers.
Over an eight-year period, Sylvia crisscrossed America many times with her popular concert performances (over 200 per year), and she was a frequent guest on network television talk shows and specials -- from The Today Show and Good Morning, America to Dick Clark's American Bandstand and the Country Music Awards.
Her decision to stop touring and recording at the end of the 1980s was not fueled by the grueling schedule, as some might guess, but by her desire to bring more of herself to the music. So, she turned her energies to songwriting and began a new phase of her journey.
A few years after Sylvia's retirement from the music industry, she guest-hosted TNN's Crook and Chase show and also hosted her own Holiday Gourmet cooking special. After selling over four million records and touring extensively for eight years, Sylvia pulled back from the spotlight to write and record music for her own record label, Red Pony Records.
Sylvia's first independent album, The Real Story, was released from Red Pony Records. The Real Story was described as a "transition this multi-talented singer/songwriter has gone through over the past few years. Sylvia's re-emergence as a recording artist comes after a period of personal growth that has brought her into contact with some of Nashville's finest songwriters and musicians, as well as her own deeper well. With guitarist/co-producer John Mock lending his exquisite hand and ear, she delves into diverse musical terrain. The album has an acoustic, genuine feel, highlighting Sylvia's warm and clear voice. The songs range from intimate ballads to the up-tempo title song, "The Real Story". She co-writes with well-known tunesmiths Verlon Thompson, Craig Bickhardt, and Kent Robbins."
In 2002, she followed with Where in the World, which marked the culmination of an 11-year musical collaboration between Sylvia and John Mock. Another shaping force is songwriter Craig Bickhardt, who penned four of the eleven songs, including the title cut. Craig has recorded, co-written and performed with Sylvia since 1984.
In 2002 Sylvia also released A Cradle in Bethlehem, her first Christmas album.
Since 2002, Sylvia has been a life coach where she helps individuals working in the music industry - singers, songwriters, musicians, recording artists, and music industry professionals. She also coaches people who work at non-profit agencies. She is currently married with the name Sylvia Hutton and lives in the Nashville, Tennessee, area.
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