Vanessa Carlton

On this date in 1980, musician Vanessa Lee Carlton was born in Milford, Pennsylvania, the oldest in a family of three with a Russian-Jewish heritage. Her father is a pilot and her mother is a pianist and teacher who taught Carlton how to play the piano.

Carlton started ballet at age 9 and was later accepted to study at the prestigious School of American Ballet in New York City. She became discouraged by ballet’s high-pressure environment and found solace in music and writing lyrics. She started playing at gigs in Manhattan clubs while working as a waitress. This led to a deal with A&M Records in 2001.

Her first album, “Be Not Nobody,” launched her into the spotlight at age 21 with the pop anthem “A Thousand Miles.” The album achieved monumental success, selling over 100,000 copies in the first week and earning Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s). Carlton’s second and third albums, “Harmonium” (2004) and “Heroes & Thieves” (2007), did not match the commercial success of the first and she left the major label system in 2008.

Carlton has said that she “self-destructed” before transforming her career by taking a more organic approach to music making. Her fourth album, “Rabbits on the Run” (2011), is where Carlton mastered her creative aesthetic. It was partially inspired by Stephen Hawking’s 1988 book on cosmology A Brief History of Time. The album’s exploration of cosmology, neurology, physics and a sense of reverence toward the Earth carried over to her fifth album,” Liberman” (2015).

In 2011, when asked what role faith plays in her music, she replied “I’m an atheist.” Carlton married John McCauley of the band Deer Tick in 2013 in a ceremony officiated by Stevie Nicks. Carlton and McCauley live in Nashville with a daughter, Sidney, born in 2015. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation