Kathy Mattea (born Kathleen Alice Mattea, June 21, 1959) is an American country music and bluegrass performer who often brings folk, Celtic and traditional country sounds to her music. Mattea was born in South Charleston, West Virginia, because it had the nearest hospital to her parents' home in Cross Lanes, where she grew up, graduating from nearby Nitro High School. She discovered her love of singing at Girl Scout camp.
In 1976, while attending West Virginia University, she joined the bluegrass band Pennsboro, and two years later dropped out of school to move to Nashville. She worked as a tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, did backup vocal work for Bobby Goldsboro, and sang demos for several Nashville songwriters and publishers including Nashville songwriter/producer Byron Hill who brought her to the attention of Frank Jones (then head of Mercury Records), who signed her to her first record deal in 1983.
Mattea's third album, 1986's folksy, “Walk the Way the Wind Blows,” proved to be her breakthrough both critically and commercially. Her cover of Nanci Griffith's “Love at the Five and Dime” was her first major hit, reaching #3 on the Billboard Country Songs chart and the album produced three other Top 10 songs, “Walk the Way the Wind Blows,” “You're the Power” and “Train of Memories.” “Love at the Five and Dime” also drew attention because well-known country singer Don Williams sang harmony vocals on the track.
Further hit songs include her first #1, “Goin' Gone,” the truck-driving song, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” from 1988, “Come From the Heart” and “Burnin' Old Memories” both #1 hits in 1989, “She Came From Fort Worth” from 1990, “Lonesome Standard Time” from 1992, “Walking Away a Winner,” “Nobody's Gonna Rain on Our Parade” and “Maybe She's Human” from 1994and “455 Rocket” from 1997, written by Gillian Welch.
Her single, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” released in late May 1988, became the first single by a solo female to spend multiple weeks at #1 on the Billboard Country Songs chart since Dolly Parton's “You're the Only One,” in August 1979 with both singles topping the chart for two weeks.
The heartrending, “Where've You Been,” which Mattea's husband Jon Vezner co-wrote with singer/songwriter Don Henry, reached #10 on the Billboard Country Songs chart and won her a 1990 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal. Mattea was also a repeat winner of the County Music Associations Female Vocalist of the Year, which she won on the success of, “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” and “Where've You Been.”
Mattea won another Grammy Award in 1993 for her gospel-oriented Christmas album, “Good News.” Her first single from the album, “Mary, Did You Know?,” went on to be covered by Kenny Rogers with Wynonna Judd, as well as Reba McEntire.
In 1994, Mattea collaborated with Suzy Bogguss, Alison Krauss, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash to contribute, “Teach Your Children,” to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Country produced by the Red Hot Organization. Also on that album, Mattea teamed up with Jackson Browne to contribute, “Rock Me on the Water.” Also through the 1990s, she often collaborated with Scottish folksinger songwriter Dougie MacLean.
Mattea subsequently moved to MCA Nashville and in 2000 released the ballad-heavy, “The Innocent Years,” as a heartfelt tribute to her ailing father. Wanting to explore her taste for Celtic folk, Mattea hopped labels to Narada, with which she debuted in 2002 with the eclectic, “Roses.”
Her 2008 release, “Coal,” combined her social activism with songs about coal-mining. It was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Traditional Folk category. Mattea was honored as a member of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame 2011 class of inductees. In 2012 she issued her 14th studio album, “Calling Me Home,” on the Sugar Hill Records label.