Country singer Janie Fricke still entertaining and enjoying her life in southern Dallas County

By Patty Hullett
For the Daily Light

Janie Fricke hit the country and western music scene in the 1970s and was highly noted and extremely popular, particularly during the decade of the 1980s. Now, at age 73, she continues to carry her torch of singing and sharing her musical talents with folks all over the country.

Janie defiantly says, “I am certainly not retired. I still tour and enjoy sharing my music wherever the road may lead me.”

Janie Fricke

Growing up in Indiana, her schooling, and early years of singing

It was probably inevitable that Janie Fricke would become a singer, but she took a somewhat unusual route to get there. Despite growing up in a musical family and spending much of her childhood singing at home, school, and in a “little church up the road”, it did not occur to Janie that music might be a profession. While studying for her bachelor's degree in elementary education at Indiana University, she kept active musically. It remained more of a hobby, though, and not a serious career choice at the time. It was only when she started earning extra money by singing commercial jingles that she began to see that music could actually earn her a living.

This naturally gifted singer was born Jane Marie Fricke on December 19, 1947, in South Whitley, Indiana, the daughter of a guitar-playing father and a mother who taught piano lessons and played the organ in their local church. Growing up on her family's 400-acre farm in northern Indiana, she was surrounded by music almost from birth. While still quite young, she learned to play the guitar from her father and the piano from her mother. By the time she was 10, Janie was singing regularly in church and school.

Janie Fricke performing on stage.

Janie recalls, "Music was in our family ever since I was a little girl, so I enjoyed music and the art of making music since the age of seven or eight years old. I didn't think I was going to make it a profession. It was just what I enjoyed and it was fun. It didn't even occur to me that it might become a profession for me on down the line."

Although she grew up in rural Indiana and later won her greatest fame as a country singer, Janie showed little interest in country music as a child. She relays, "My family was always encouraging me to sing all of the pop songs of the time, so we were buying sheet music and I was singing Dusty Springfield and Rita Coolidge – anything that was a strong pop song at the time. So I was not your average country singer growing up on the farm and just singing country music. Musically, I was technically trained to read music and play the piano."

After graduating from high school, Fricke headed to Indiana University at Bloomington to study for her bachelor's degree in elementary education. She had long set her sights on a career as a grade school teacher. Given her musical childhood, it was not particularly surprising that she got involved with the school's famous Singing Hoosiers, a chorale ensemble that has toured widely in the United States and abroad. But music remained just a pleasant way to spend some free time for Janie. It was only when she started earning money singing commercials that she began to see music in a whole new light. She realized that she could indeed earn a living with her music and became so excited at the possibility that she was seriously tempted to quit college and devote all her time to singing jingles.

However, her mother insisted that she continue her studies at Indiana, so Janie put her dreams on hold while she finished work on her bachelor's degree. She did manage to keep active musically during the remainder of her college career by "singing in little clubs and singing for any event I could because I loved to sing...," Janie recalls. In fact, Janie shares, “I dropped out of college two different times – all in the name of music. Thus, it took me six years to complete my degree. Music came along and saved me, so I never really had to use my degree, but I’m so happy that I listened to my mother’s advice and completed my college education.”

Janie becomes a studio singer

After her college years had ended in 1972, Janie also developed an interest in studio work and some of the behind-the-scenes elements involved in recording. She headed to Los Angeles, California, to see if she could make a living as a studio singer. Finding it hard to break into the business on the West Coast, she didn't stay long. In 1975, she first transitioned to Memphis, Tennessee, where she would perform for advertising agents and their various products that they were pedaling. She found some good success there, but then turned her attention to move on to Nashville, Tennessee, where she joined the Lea Jane Singers, a group specializing in background vocals. The group often recorded as many as three sessions a day, five days a week. In her several years doing studio work, both with the group and solo, she sang background on hundreds of albums. She also continued to work as a jingle singer, recording commercials for such corporate giants as United Airlines, Coca-Cola, 7-Up, and Red Lobster. She also spent some time working as a studio singer in Dallas, Texas.

However, after a few years in Nashville, Fricke became one of the city's most sought-after studio singers, supplying background vocals for such stars as Elvis Presley (on his final album), Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty, Tanya Tucker, Al Green, Eddie Rabbit, and Barbara Mandrell.

From left, Larnelle Harris, Dolly Parton and Janie Fricke.

Some of the better known singles on which she sang background include Presley's "My Way," Conway Twitty's "I'd Love to Lay You Down," Crystal Gayle's "I'll Get Over You," and Tanya Tucker's "Here's Some Love."

However, it was her work as background vocalist on several recordings by Johnny Duncan that first brought Janie to national attention. After supplying uncredited background vocals for such Duncan hits such as "Jo and the Cowboy," "Thinkin' of a Rendezvous," "It Couldn't Have Been Any Better," and "Stranger," she was finally rewarded when she was given equal billing with Duncan on a single titled "Come a Little Bit Closer." It was likely her contribution to Duncan's number one hit "Stranger" in 1977 that generated the most interest. In that song, Janie sang the line, "Shut out the light  and lead me...." Thousands of listeners wanted to know the identity of the "mystery singer."

Janie recalls how she came to sing the line that was to take her into the limelight: Janie says, "I was a backup singer in the studio at the time, and during a session they needed a girl to sing a couple of lines, so I happened to get the job of singing the line on that record. There again, fate had it lined up for me."

Janie Fricke with the late Charley Pride.

A solo career of her own

The country music industry finally took notice as Janie’s voice was heard on duets with big name artists like Merle Haggard and Moe Bandy, leading her to her first major recording contract. Before long she had recorded duets with some of country music's other top male singers including Charlie Rich, George Jones, Ray Charles, and Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers. According to Janie Fricke's website, Fricke soon began to dominate the country charts with smash hits such as Don’t Worry ‘ Bout Me Baby, He’s a Heartache and You’re Heart’s Not In It. It was only a matter of time before she started winning awards such as: Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year (for 1982 and 1983), Music City News Female Vocalist of the Year, “Billboard” Top Country Female Vocalist, “Cash Bed’ Top Country Female Vocalist, Academy of Country Music Female Vocalist of the Year, British-based Country Music Round Up Most Popular International Female Solo Act, and she was chosen to the Country Music Hall of Fame Walkway of Stars. Twice she has been nominated for the coveted Grammy Award, (once for her It ain’t Easy Being Easy). In her recording career, Janie has released 23 albums and 36 hit singles – and she has had 18 #1 hit singles during her lifetime.

Janie Fricke

Janie admits, “One of her highest honors for me was being able to sing for four different presidents: #38 – Gerald Ford; #40 – Ronald Reagan; #41 George H.W. Bush; and #43 - George W. Bush.”

Personal info regarding her private life

When she has time to relax, she loves to spend time at home with her husband Jeff Steele and her animals. She has lived on a small ranch in southern Dallas County for 40 years. She and Jeff have been married for 26 years. She often attends church near her home, as she continues to acknowledge her Christian roots from when she was growing up in Indiana. Thankful for her many blessings, Janie feels these values have helped her become the woman she is today. From an Indiana farm girl to an internationally acclaimed recording artist, she has never lost the pure heart and love of music that launched her career so many years ago. And today, Janie Fricke continues to love music and enjoys touring around the country sharing her craft.

Some of her upcoming concerts are listed as: Hiawassee, Georgia on September 4; New Braunfels, Texas on September 17; Mountain Home, Texas on September 18; Centerville, Texas on September 25 (private event); and Huntsville, Alabama on October 12.

Janie relays, “I am very excited about a large private event where I will be headlining in New York City in December at the American History Museum. It should be great fun, and what a wonderful time to be in NYC during the holidays.”

Some of Janie’s favorite past times include working with different fabrics, trims, and she loves to design home décor, as well as ladies fashion items. For more information on some of her homemade goods that she sells to the public, one can find women’s fashion merchandise such as handbags, ponchos / long shawls, and long dusters. She also fashions home décor pieces like pillows, decorative throws, table runners, and she also sells fabrics of all kinds. Simply find her on her website: www.janiefricke.com and look for the category labeled “Collections” down page. At the same site, you can also (1) locate her available music to buy; (2) find her touring schedule; (3) review important data and facts about Janie in her “About” section; enjoy special News and Photos categories; and feel free to contact her through the website.

Janie confides, “I have thoroughly enjoyed my singing career. It has been a wonderful experience and it has been very rewarding, but the hardest part of it are the sacrifices that have had to be made along the way.”

Her most recent CD release was from last September, a 2020 Christmas collection of songs with the CD title of “A Cowgirl Country Christmas”. She also recommends her August 2019 release called “Janie Fricke’s It Ain’t Easy – The Complete Hits” - a collection of 40 award-winning songs, including several memorable duets.