Although prodigiously talented as a singer, songwriter, actress and producer, Lari White never achieved stardom. But her impact on the entertainment business was substantial and still evident when she died of cancer on Jan. 23, 2018 at the age of 52. Her 53rd birthday is Monday (May 13).
The Florida-born singer performed in local and family bands and studied voice and sound engineering at the University of Miami before coming to Nashville to compete in the You Can Be a Star talent series, which she won. Her victory netted her a recording contract with Capitol Records but yielded her no chart success.
While searching for another label and writing songs for Ronnie Milsap’s publishing company, White sang backup for Rodney Crowell. After she signed with RCA in 1992, White used Crowell as one of her co-producers on her first album, Lead Me Not. “What A Woman Wants,” the lead single from that album climbed only to No. 44 on the charts, and the two that followed it fared even less well. However, it established White’s stature as a songwriter, with seven of the 10 cuts written or co-written by her.
The second album, Wishes, served her considerably better, spinning off two Top 10 singles — “That’s My Baby” and “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love),” both of which she co-wrote — and a Top 5 –“Now I Know” — which was destined to be her highest-charting song.
Her tenure at RCA resulted in four albums (including a “best of” collection) between 1993 and 1997. From RCA she moved to Lyric Street Records. Her lone album for that label, Stepping Stone, charted three more singles, only the title track of which broke into the Top 20. “Helping Me Get Over You,” her 1997 duet with Travis Tritt on his Warner label, rose to No. 18. Between 2004 and 2017, White released four albums on her own Skinny White Girl label.
Concurrent with her recording and performing, White was also engaged in acting. She had a small but memorable role in the 2000 Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away. In 2006, she was an original cast member of the Broadway musical, Ring of Fire. She also appeared with Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw in the 2010 film, Country Strong.
Toby Keith hired her as his co-producer for the first album on his own Show Dog Records label. That album, White Trash with Money, was released in 2006 and certified “platinum” (for a million sales) within a month. It established White as one of the most successful women producers in country music.