Born on January 28, 1968, in Halifax, Nova Scotia and adopted by the McLachlan family, Sarah Ann McLachlan began taking lessons for voice, classical piano, and guitar as a child. In high school, she fronted a new wave band called the October Game, who opened a local show for Moev. McLachlan was then approached by Nettwerk Records and offered a solo deal, but her parents insisted she continue her studies. Following her final year of high school and a year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and of Design, she reconsidered and accepted the offer in late 1987. Relocating to Vancouver soon after, she started recording her first album. Released in 1988, Touch went to number 61 in Canada and the bottom half of the U.S.'s Billboard 200 on its way to eventual platinum and gold sales, respectively, following an international reissue in 1989 with distribution by Arista.
The singer contributed backing vocals to Moev's 1990 album Head Down and opened a national tour for the Grapes of Wrath before landing her first hit single in Canada with 1991's "The Path of Thorns (Terms)." Peaking at 24, that song and another Top 30 hit, "Into the Fire," appeared on that year's Solace, with the sophomore album cracking the Canadian Top 20. It marked the first of many recordings with producer Pierre Marchand.
In September 1992, following a 14-month promotional tour, McLachlan traveled to Cambodia and Thailand to work on World Vision, a Canadian-sponsored documentary on poverty and child prostitution. Inspired by her experiences, she retreated to a secluded house outside of Montreal to write material for her next album. After six months in a Montreal studio with Marchand, she released Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, her most personal effort to that point, in late 1993. The album peaked in the U.S. at number 50, although by the end of 1994, it reached platinum status after spending 62 weeks on the Billboard 200 chart. "Possession," an atmospheric single that mixed electronica influences with lyrics inspired by a stalker, broke the Top 100 and received considerable airplay, especially on alternative radio, where it peaked at number 4. "Good Enough" also found a home in that format, reaching number 16. The Freedom Sessions, consisting mainly of alternate versions of tracks from Fumbling, arrived in 1995; that year also saw the release of "I Will Remember You," which McLachlan wrote as the movie theme for Brothers McMullen. It hit the Top Ten in Canada. Rarities, B-Sides Other Stuff, a collection of non-LP tracks and remixes, was issued in her home country in 1996.
In 1997, McLachlan began work on her fourth album, the enormously successful Surfacing, which debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and topped Canada's album chart. With assistance from Nettwerk's Dan Fraser and Terry McBride, she also organized Lilith Fair, a touring summer festival focusing on emerging female artists. With multiple stages running concurrently and lineups fluctuating between dates, the first incarnation of Lilith Fair featured over 70 acts, ranging from the Cardigans, Dido, and Juliana Hatfield to India.Arie, Cassandra Wilson, and Patty Griffin. In its annual run from 1997 to 1999, Lilith Fair helped prove the drawing power of women while topping festival grosses and raising ten million dollars for charity in the process. During that period, McLachlan had four Canadian Top Ten singles – "Building a Mystery, (number one in Canada), "Sweet Surrender," "Adia" (Top Three, U.S. and Canada), and multi-continental hit "Angel" -- all from Surfacing. After winning her first Grammy Award for that album's "Last Dance" (Best Pop Instrumental Performance), "Building a Mystery" collected the Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Surfacing won no less than four Juno Awards: Best Female Vocalist, Best Album, Single of the Year ("Building a Mystery"), and Songwriter of the Year ("Building a Mystery," with Pierre Marchand). Released in 1999, the multi-platinum Mirrorball chronicled McLachlan's performances on the Lilith Fair tour and served as her first live release. Her live version of "I Will Remember You" hit the Top Ten in Canada and number 14 in the United States, where it won a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2000.
In 2003, after a short hiatus from the business, she put out the successful Afterglow, followed by another concert release, Afterglow Live. Both sets eventually went multi-platinum, and the studio version went to number one in Canada and number two in the U.S. while collecting Juno Awards for Pop Album and Songwriter of the Year. McLachlan continued to tour through 2005. In June of that year, she performed on the Philadelphia stage of Live 8, the multi-city anniversary celebration of Live Aid and G8 summit protest coordinated by Live Aid founder Bob Geldof. She released Bloom, her second remix collection, several months later. While most of its material was drawn from Afterglow, it also included a version of the 1989 McLachlan track "Vox" and a previously unreleased collaboration with DMC and Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am.
McLachlan released two albums in 2006: Mirrorball: The Complete Concert, which captured the entirety of the last date on her 1998 tour, and Wintersong, a collection of traditional and modern Christmas covers (plus one new song, the title cut). With help from a cover of Joni Mitchell's "River" that went to number two in Canada and the Top Ten of the adult contemporary chart in the States, Wintersong topped the album chart in Canada and went on to multi-platinum sales. She then hit the Top Three in both countries with 2010's Laws of Illusion, her first studio album of original material in nearly seven years. Featuring "One Dream," which she wrote for the 2009 Vancouver Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, the album was released several weeks before the start of Lilith Fair 2010, the festival's return after more than a decade.
McLachlan spent the next couple of years focusing on her charitable endeavor The Sarah McLachlan School of Music, which provided free music lessons to at-risk kids in Vancouver. She returned to the studio in 2013 to record an album with longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand that was inspired by the recent death of her father. Parting ways with Nettwerk/Arista, her label home for more than 20 years, she signed to Verve to release Shine On in May 2014. Shine On debuted at number one in Canada and number four in the U.S., and went on to win the Juno for Best Adult Contemporary Album. In late 2016, McLachlan released Wonderland, her second Christmas album. It went to number 12 in Canada and garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, taking home the Juno for Best Adult Contemporary Album. The following year, Sarah McLachlan was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. She hosted the Juno Awards in 2019. ~ Chris Woodstra & Marcy Donelson, Rovi
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