Lari White, a soulful singer who made her presence known in the Country Music industry as a singer, songwriter – and also as a producer, passed away Tuesday (Jan. 23) after a brief battle with cancer. She was 52 years old.
Born May 13, 1965 in Dunedin, Florida. She began her musical journey performing in her family’s Gospel band, and eventually studied vocals and music engineering at the University of Miami. White first made waves in Music City as a contestant on the Jim Ed Brown-hosted You Can Be A Star talent show on The Nashville Network. She won the competition, gaining a recording contract with Capitol Nashville. She released one single, “Flying Above the Rain,” for the label, but it failed to hit the charts -- and she was soon dropped from the roster.
White continued to grow her talents, signing a publishing deal with a company owned by Hall of Famer Ronnie Milsap, taking acting lessons, and becoming a back-up singer for the highly-esteemed Rodney Crowell. That exposure she garnered led to a recording contract with RCA, with Crowell producing her debut project, 1993’s Lead Me Not. Three singles were released from the album – including the jaw-dropping title cut – but none reached higher than No. 44 on the Country Songs chart (“What A Woman Wants”). However, label head Thom Schulyler believed in White and her talents, and gave the green-light to another album.
The next disc, 1994’s Wishes, would see her break through on country radio. The set’s first single, “That’s My Baby,” hit No. 10 on Country Songs, with two more singles following it to the top 10 -- “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love),” and “Now I Know.” Wishes would also be certified Gold by the RIAA, for sales of 500,000 copies. She would release one more album for RCA, but sales of her 1996 album Don’t Fence Me In were not as plentiful as Wishes, and she was dropped from the label.
Being released from a recording contract is never an easy thing for an artist, and White losing her deal with RCA was no different. She began to put her feelings on paper, and came up with a song that would lead to her next hit. “At the time, I just felt like it was so much of a stumbling block,” she admitted in 1998 about the inspiration behind her single “Stepping Stone,” which was her first release on Lyric Street Records. The song would return her to the top 20 on the Country Songs chart, eventually peaking at No. 16.
“That’s what the song came out of," White would explain. "The song was about that period of time of going through that grieving of breaking up with my old label, really being lost for awhile, and coming through the other side. It’s so gratifying to have people connecting with it. It made that year and a half of a broken heart worth every minute.”
Two more singles were released from the album, but White didn’t record another album for the Disney-owned imprint. She would release music on her own Skinny White Girl label, and would pop up in a few unique spots throughout her career. As an actress she appeared in the 2000 film Cast Away, and starred in the 2007 cabaret production My First Affair. She also continued to write, scoring cuts by artists such as Sarah Buxton (“Space”) and Danny Gokey (“I Will Not Say Goodbye”).
But, perhaps the most interesting career twist was a successful stint in the producer's chair -- helping to helm Billy Dean’s Let Them Be Little project, and co-producing the entirety of Toby Keith’s million-selling 2006 album White Trash With Money, along with Keith. Music -- whether she was performing, writing, or helping others to do so -- was all she ever wanted as a career. “I love music,” she once said. “It’s not to be famous. It’s not to make a lot of money. There’s so much joy I have in making music.”
White released a pair of EP’s in 2017 -- New Loves and Old Friends, and announced via the ArtistsBlog website that she had been diagnosed with advanced peritoneal cancer in November. On Jan. 19, her mother revealed on the Caring Bridge website that the prognosis was bleak:
"Last night Lari was admitted to a wonderful Hospice facility in Nashville, where she has all the Care she needs to make her comfortable and quiet for this part of the Journey, and where she is completely surrounded by loving family… Chuck, the children, her sister and brother, nephew and sisters-in-law, Mother and Father. The staff is excellent: kind, caring and competent. We are thankful, and grateful to God for the miracle of Hospice Care. Because of the way this superb program is designed, we have been able to Be There for her…to pray, to sing, to read to her, to love on her…and each other. Her sister (an experienced Hospice Chaplain from Seattle) was able to spend the night with her. Thank you, Hospice!
There is so much I could say about Lari, but multitudes of you have said it already. God gave us a very special gift when he sent this incredible baby to a young, inexperienced…and frightened!…couple …But in spite of this, we loved her with all our hearts. From the beginning, we knew that she was 'something else'...wise and funny, intelligent and super-talented…so loving, kind and compassionate…with a heart as big as all of Heaven. I have never known a person who did not love her and respect her, as evidenced by the great outpouring of love and concern of so many people. Every role she has played in Life has been superb, and most of all, her role as Mother. We are blessed to be her Family. Chuck and their three children are blessed to have her as Wife and Mother. Thank you, God, for Lari!”
White is survived by her husband, Nashville songwriter Chuck Cannon, and three children. Funeral arrangements are pending.