Fans of Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White have been asking about a possible duets record about as soon as the couple were married in 1981. Both of their stars were on the rise at the time — he as a solo act, and Sharon as a member of The Whites with sister Cheryl and father Buck. 1987’s top 10 single “Love Can’t Ever Get Better Than This” whetted fans’ appetites even more for a duets project. Skaggs tells Billboard the fans weren’t alone.
“When the single came out and did so well, we thought about doing an album then,” he said, allowing that the fact that they recorded for different labels would not allow that to happen at the time. All of these years later, Skaggs is philosophical about that, saying that the couple has more to sing about now than they did then. “We took that as a missed opportunity. But, looking back at it, we were married six years at that point. Now, to have been married 33 years, and what we’ve been through together with children and each other, as well as the way we’ve grown as people and as Christians, our faith has grown, I feel like we really have something to sing about.”
The couple released their first duets project, Hearts Like Ours, this week. If you’re looking for songs about unrequited love or heartbreak, Skaggs said this album might not be for you. “The kind of songs we wanted to do as duets were really based on love and commitment. We wanted to celebrate the commitment we’ve had to each other,” he said.
Sharon White said there is something special that occurs when she sings with her husband. “We both are as known for being harmony singers as we are for being lead vocalists. I enjoy singing harmony. Ricky does too, and he blends with everybody he sings with. That’s why they ask him. They know that his voice is going to add something special to the mix. Not everybody has that kind of voice that is distinctive but also adds to whoever they are singing with. I think it gives you an appreciation. I can hear a difference in people who have not sung with other people. It’s almost like you have to learn singing another way. You’re listening to each other. That’s a huge part of being a harmony singer. There’s a real art to it. I’ve never really thought about it. It’s just what we do. I’ve always sung with a group and really enjoyed it.”
Sharon particularly shines on the moving “When I’m Good and Gone,” which she says she identified with very strongly. “That song is written by one of my favorite songwriters and people, Leslie Satcher — along with Buddy Jewell. She sent us about 11 songs, and every one of them could have been our first choice. I think that everyone can relate to this. You want your life to count for something. When it’s over and done, you want people to say, ‘She was a good girl, or he was a kind person,'” she said, alluding to the legacy left by fellow Grand Ole Opry star George Hamilton IV, who died last month. “He was the kindest, most gentle man at the Opry. He was always so positive and so gracious. That’s the kind of legacy every person wants to leave. Nobody wants to be a scoundrel that everyone talks bad about after the fact. The song moved me, and I think it will move other people too.”
A track that has a special place in the Skaggs’ hearts is Townes Van Zandt‘s “If I Needed You,” which Sharon says takes them back to Aug. 4, 1981 — when they sang the song to each other on their wedding day. “Our pastor said, ‘What if you did your unity candle symbol in songs rather than candles? He sings one to you, you to him, and you sing together.’ We liked that idea, and this was the one we sang together. We had no idea how hard it was going to be to do. We were both very emotional.”
Several of the songs on Hearts Like Ours feature Skaggs in a traditional country setting — something fans haven’t heard since his decision to devote himself to bluegrass in the late 1990s. He says he enjoyed that opportunity. “I’ve never stopped loving country music or being appreciative of the 1980s and 1990s. Those years afforded me to carry on the legacy of [Bill] Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, and Flatt & Scruggs. I loved getting to sing and play the electric guitar on that one. It was fun revisiting that part of my heart.”