This week I heard from listener Kim asking about the singer who sang Daddy's Hands as it was her favorite growing up. That was Holly Dunn.
I remember meeting Holly Dunn a couple times and wishing we had more voices like hers in Country Music. And even though her career was short, she did about all you could do in that tiny piece of time. Her big break came when she co-wrote I'm Not Through Loving You Yet, with Louise Mandrell, a top 10 hit in 1984 for Mandrell, a song I loved.
As a result she signed with a new Nashville record label, MTM, (Yes, Mary Tyler Moore Records) and her first big success came in 1986. The thing that grabbed me, and I think a lot of us then, was the emotion in her voice. It was palpable. On certain songs, you could feel her conviction, or pain. That was what she did best, the very emotive stuff.
She had a couple songs that didn't fare well, but then Daddy' Hands hit the radio, we all knew it was a big hit. Funny thing is, it peaked at #7 on the charts, but the charts got it way wrong. It was a tribute to her dad, and 35 years later is still requested as much as any older song we play. Daddy's Hands was a huge favorite. She wrote it, sang it, and owned it. It was a #1 if I ever heard one. She was a traditionalist, and she fit right in as the movement was starting to take off.
If I had to pick one person in the history of our format to sing a "hurtin' song," my choice would be Holly Dunn by a mile. Her song, (It's Always Gonna Be) Someday is more than heartbreaking. It rattled me the first time I heard it. Incredible performance. And Strangers Again, (very powerful) is not far behind. I LOVE hearing Holly Dunn sing a hurtin' song, which is a skill mainly lost right now. Today, the format is more into "revenge songs" of anger and extreme payback and they don't resonate with many long term for various reasons. BUT before you get to revenge, you have to hurt first, and those songs really hit home.
(It's Always Gonna Be) Someday - You can feel this one, what a performance!
She won the Best New Female Artist from the ACM in 1986, and the Horizon Award from the CMA in 1987. She had two number one songs, Are You Ever Gonna Love Me, and You Really Had Me Goin'. She charted a bunch of top ten songs including duets with Micheal Martin Murphy, and then Kenny Rogers, and most all of this was done between 1986 and 1990. When MTM Records closed down, in many ways things for her were never quite the same. She did go on to record a few more hit songs, including There Goes My Heart Again, which was written by an unknown named Joe Diffie, and it really got him noticed.
Holly Dunn was a rare talent, and the flash of her lightning bolt run was over way too soon. She dove head first into every song she sang and that's a rare quality from any singer in any format. Greatest hits albums, and other projects and compilations came out later, but the big five year run of Holly Dunn sealed her place in Country music history. 2-time National Award Winner, #1 songs, recorded with big stars, helped up and comers, and recorded and wrote a classic career record that will be played for years to come. She did it all.
Holly Dunn died in 2016 of ovarian cancer at 59.