LeAnn Rimes was just 13 years old when she first stormed the country music world in 1996 with “Blue,” a song that drew her instant comparisons to the legendary singer Patsy Cline. The tune propelled her same-titled debut CD to the top of the Billboard country albums chart for more than three months, and she became the youngest Grammy Award winner in history when she won Best New Artist and Best Female Country Vocal Performance a year later.
Two decades later, Rimes is still in demand, with a crossover pop music career that has brought her surprising success on the dance charts and a devoted LGBTQ audience that turned out in droves to see her June 25 performance at the NYC Pride Festival. She has also become a mainstay on the holiday tour circuit in support of her two CDs of classic Christmas songs, and on Saturday she will perform a career-spaning set of her songs with her band at the with the Pasadena POPS’ annual Live at the Arboretum performance, presented by Kathryn Barger, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation.
“Working with an orchestra is always a great time,” says Rimes. “Not only does it bring a different energy and feel to the entire show, it brings an elegance to the evening. I always get excited anytime there is an opportunity to perform with an orchestra, especially POPS.”
Growing up in the Dallas suburb of Garland, Rimes started performing in talent shows at the age of 5 and nearly landed the lead role in a Broadway production of “Annie.” She decided to pursue country music after becoming a one-week champion on the popular talent competition “Star Search” at 8 years old and started releasing independent albums when she was just 11 years old.
A Dallas disc jockey and record promoter named Bill Mack was soon impressed with her vocals and felt that his song “Blue” could make her a star. He had actually written the song for Cline nearly 30 years before, but the legend died in a plane crash before having the chance to record it.
Yet despite her instant success on the country charts, Rimes quickly displayed her knack for tackling multiple music genres. Across her 16 albums, she has not only recorded pop, dance and Christmas music but also collections of patriotic and inspirational songs in addition to a full-on rock CD, “Twisted Angel,” in 2005, and those choices reflect her own eclectic favorites among vocalists.
“There are so many, with Janis Joplin and Patsy Cline for sure, Aretha Franklin and Streisand,” says Rimes. “There are so many talented artists out there, that it is hard to just pick a few who are my favorites. My influences always evolve. There was a lot of country and blues music in my life growing up, and pop, dance music and Broadway have all influenced me. I made a pop album with ‘Remnants,’ which expresses a lot of my Mississippi soulful roots.”
Released in February, “Remnants” marked the second straight album in which Rimes had a strong hand in writing all the songs. Featuring reflections on love and survival from the different stages of her life to her status as a daughter, wife and stepmom, its lyrics drew praise for their emotional directness.
Rimes had plenty of relationship material to draw from, having endured tabloid headlines in 2009 when her affair with actor Eddie Cibrian ended both their marriages. She and Cibrian married in 2011, and two years later, she was inspired to open up about her life.
“On my last record ‘Spitfire,’ my producer and songwriter Darrell Brown really pushed me to write from my gut, it was a hard and sometimes painful place to get to, but at the same time exhilarating to finally tap into that place,” says Rimes. “Now that is the only way I can write now. My new album, “Remnants,” was inspired by love. We cover every aspect of it —from making it, receiving it, standing up for it, breaking it. I think there is a song everyone can relate to.
“Musically, I tapped into my mother’s Mississippi roots with a lot of gospel and soul influence,” she continues. “I think it is a sound that I have grown up with and has always been in me, so it is great to finally let that out and come to life on this record.”
For someone rooted in the normally conservative country music world, Rimes has long been unusually open about her support for the LGBTQ community. In March, the LGBTQ civil rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) awarded her the Ally for Equality Award in March due to her frequent assistance in anti-bullying campaigns directed at that community’s youth.
“I have been a huge supporter of equality, my whole life,” says Rimes. “When I was 11, my uncle died of AIDS, and he was gay, and my father was the only one who went to his funeral. That really stuck with me. I just couldn’t understand why people could hate or judge someone for being who they are. So I started speaking out at a young age, and sure it may not always have been smooth sailing, but nothing in life is and equality is something I will never be quiet about.”
With her recently launched blog, “Soul of EverLe,” aiming to “spread love and positivity and a healthy and fun way of living,” as well as a full slate of summer shows on the horizon, Rimes took a moment to consider how she has managed to survive for two decades in an industry packed with one-hit wonders.
“It has been a whirlwind. That is for sure. I started so young so I was able to experience a lot of wonderful opportunities that I am incredibly grateful for and I’m thankful I am still here,” she says. “Singing has always been a part of me so I never thought about it as a career, I mean I was so young when I started. I just knew I loved singing and performing, so working hard never was a problem for me. Add in a lot of luck and great songs, a career happened.”
LeAnn Rimes will perform with the Pasadena POPS at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Tickets are $10 to $35. Call (626) 793-7172 or visit pasadenasymphony-pops.org.