It’s rare for a backing vocalist to step out of the shadow of their superstar counterpart, but that’s exactly what happened at Vince Gill’s Ryman Auditorium residence in Nashville earlier this month, when his backup singer-turned- special guest Wendy Moten took the spotlight for a mini-set mid-show.
Moten’s revamped billing wasn’t unique to the Ryman: The singer, who has been touring with Gill since 2016, has been growing on his show over the past two years, with setlists that reinvent the hierarchy of stardom on stage, and allow moments of scenario reversal where Moten takes the microphone and Gill steps back from the public to accompany him on the guitar.
When it comes to her growing role on the Gill show, Moten’s career path has common DNA with Joanna Cotten, backing vocalist and close collaborator of Eric Church, whose raw talent and stage presence have earned her a base. of fans among the spectators of his shows. Cotten recently left Church’s touring band to resume a solo music career she first pursued in the mid-2000s, and Moten’s roots as a multi-genre solo artist go back even further: to In the early 1990s, she signed a deal with EMI and released a solo album, the biggest hit of which – “Come in Out of the Rain” – reached number five on the Adult Contemporary chart.
“I was a recording artist in the ’90s, and that ended, and I became a background singer for the stars,” Moten told Taste of Country. His career path has been long and winding. She took a job as a touring musician with Julio Iglesias, a gig that lasted 15 years and required her to sing in four different languages.
“I only speak English,” she clarifies, “But we had to sing in four languages, and it changed my life. I felt like I was being paid to learn how to be a better singer and a better communicator through song, because he’s one of those living legends – and he was teaching me.”
Her association with the Iglesias tour soon began to raise her profile as a backing vocalist to be booked. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill hired her for their Soul2Soul Tour in 2006; this engagement would eventually last well over a decade. She also toured with Martina McBride for a few years and sang backing vocals in studio sessions for artists like Bonnie Tyler.
In 2016, she signed on as a backing vocalist for Gill, a gig that would also prove fatal to her work as an artist. Moten had never lost sight of her original purpose: Every time she stood on stage, 15 feet from stardom, she carefully studied Iglesias, McGraw, Hill and the rest of her famous bosses.
“I wanted to know, ‘What are they doing that’s different that I’m not doing?'” recalls Moten. “And it was nothing. So it lets me know that even at the highest level, if you’ve done the job and you’re qualified, go for it.”
When she started working with Gill, that’s exactly what she did. Moten prepared for the Country Music Hall of Famer tour by studying women in late ’60s and early ’70s country music and, at the suggestion of touring guitarist Paul Franklin, pitched the idea of an album filled with traditional country covers. to Gil. He was enthusiastic about the idea, so much so that he signed on to produce it for her.
“And he was like, ‘I’m not going to tell you how to sing anything. I want you to use your own interpretation.’ I thought it was really great,” she recalls. The result was I got you covereda 2020 album full of the singer’s take on classics from artists like Linda Ronstadt, Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton.
Moten is quick to clarify that she’s not a country artist per se – “I sing [everything from] from psalms to traditional country to Elvis and Paul Simon, ”she says – and many artists whose songs she has recorded for I got you covered are just as gender chameleonic and omnivorous as her. But for her, one of the most important things about the project was that it gave her a window into a new career chapter as a lead actor.
“I was ready to be a solo artist again and I didn’t know how to get back to it,” she says. “After making this record, I felt like an artist again.”
She also credits I got you covered giving him the courage to try The voice several years later. “If I hadn’t done this Vince Gill project and felt like an artist again, I don’t think I would have had what it takes to be a competitor in front of billions of people,” she admits.
Her decision to audition for the show also came at a crossroads that was imposed on her — and the rest of the world — when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. His touring gigs stalled; she wasn’t sure if they would come back or not. At this time, Moten was in his 50s.
“The music business is a game for young people. You might be great in your 50s, but no one really cares,” she points out. “So I thought I needed television.”
Moten prepared an audition tape at home, thinking that if the show said no, she would never have to tell anyone she had even tried. But they didn’t say no: In fact, she made it all the way to the show’s Season 21 finale, landing second place under the auspices of Team Blake Shelton. She reminds her Voice as a fundamental change, a push towards reviving her solo career at a time when she thought her days as a background singer might be over for good.
“It felt like you could either try to rekindle your love for music and be a solo artist – which I really wanted – or you could go and work at the post office or something. Because that’s everything I’ve ever known. I don’t have any skills,” she explains. “I asked myself, ‘Do you have the courage to at least try this before you have to completely change your life?'”
Once on the show, she knew that being three decades older than most of her contestants made her an inspiration to anyone who worried they were too old to pursue their dreams.
“That was one of the goals of the show. To prove that people over 50 have value. We still have value. I just Great. It took all these years,” Moten claims. “Every time the camera was in my face, I made sure to tell the real story. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. It’s older than some producers.”
Yet over her long and varied tenure in music, one of the most important and difficult lessons she’s learned is also one of the simplest. Moten’s four-night Ryman residency with Gill was only the second time she performed the Ryman as a featured artist, although she performed in the Hallowed Hall several times as a backing vocalist. Ahead of her four early August dates there, Moten said she was determined to soak up every second on stage.
“I treat every moment like it’s gold,” she says, when asked what she looks forward to most or what worries her the most. “Just the fact that I’ll be in the Ryman with Vince Gill…that’s already a miracle in itself. I won’t think about it until it’s over.”
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