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Lori McKenna, a Yankee at home in country music’s capital

Among the nominees at the Grammy Awards is a singer-songwriter, born and raised far from the Grand Ole Opry. With Mark Strassmann we TAKE NOTE:

Like most country songs, “Humble and Kind” tells a story from the heart:

When the dreams you’re dreamin’ come to you
When the work you put in is realized
Let yourself feel the pride
But always stay humble and kind.

Don’t expect a free ride from no one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why:
Bitterness keeps you from flyin’
Always stay humble and kind.  

Tim McGraw - Humble And Kind (Official Video) by TimMcGrawVEVO on YouTube

Tim McGraw’s hit last year is about life lessons shared from parent to child.

Don’t take for granted the love this life gives you
When you get where you’re going don’t forget turn back around
And help the next one in line
Always stay humble and kind.

Songwriter Lori McKenna knows a lot about that. The 48-year-old’s inspiration was her five (yes, five) kids.

“Honestly, I was thinking that they don’t listen to a word I say,” McKenna said. “I just wanted to make a list of things that I wanted them to know, that I didn’t want to be accused of not telling them. There’s lines in there for each of the kids.”

“Do each of your five kids know which line is intended for them?” Strassmann asked.

“No,” she smiled.

McKenna writes for Nashville’s biggest stars, including Reba McEntire and Keith Urban.

“I want to make people feel something that they didn’t know they felt or didn’t want to spend the time feeling that at that moment, but there it is,” she said. “I can’t make you dance, so I’ve got to try to make you cry.”

What’s unique about McKenna’s voice is her accent. She is a Yankee. Born, raised and still living in Stoughton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, and a long way from the Grand Ole Opry.

Strassmann asked, “So in your life, you’ve never lived more than, what, a mile from here?”

“Yeah. I lived about another half-mile up the street; we lived there for about 17 years.”

She went to junior prom with Gene McKenna, and married him at 19. Their first child came a year later. As the family grew, she wrote songs to put the kids to sleep at night.

“It just gave me more time to be home and alone with these little babies that needed to go to asleep,” she said. .

“They were your first audience, and fans?”

“Yeah,” she laughed. “Captive. I prefer a captive audience!”

Today, McKenna owns the stage, but she says back in 1996 it was her brother who dragged her to an open mic night. She soon got a following in Boston’s folk scene, and a few years later Nashville came calling.

She first started to hear country music when she played at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. “Somehow I got a gig at the Bluebird. And I flew down, and stayed in the hotel beside the Waffle House, and that was really when I started listening.”

“So the first time you really heard country music was playing in one of the most famous country venues, the Bluebird Café?”

“Yeah. I have these weird things that happen to me sometimes,” McKenna laughed. “That might be one of them!”

In 2005 came McKenna’s big break: Country superstar Faith Hill recorded four of her songs, including “Stealing Kisses,” “Fireflies” and “If You Ask.”

Faith Hill - Stealing Kisses (Official Video) by Faith Hill on YouTube

Strassmann asked Lori’s husband, Gene, “She writes songs about women trapped in relationships. Do you think to yourself, ‘Is she trying to tell me something here?”

“Well -- “

“He’s stepping away again,” Lori interjected.

“No. I mean, as a writer, you know, you’re very observant, you know? And she says, ‘I’m picking things up as we’re walking down the street. I don’t take it personally, no,” he laughed.

“Thank God,” Lori added. “If he did, I wouldn’t be able to do this for a living, maybe, you know?”

“She knows enough about me where I don’t have to worry about me, you know?”

At her dining room table in Stoughton is where McKenna worked on her 10th album, “The Bird & the Rifle.” It’s up for three Grammys tonight.

To hear Lori McKenna perform “The Bird & the Rifle,” click on the video player below.

Lori Mckenna - The Bird & The Rifle by Lori McKenna on YouTube

Once a month she goes to Nashville to collaborate with co-writers Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsay. They call themselves the Love Junkies.

“Girl Crush,” their provocative song for Little Big Town about a jealous ex, won last year’s Grammy (McKenna’s first) for Best Country Song, giving this New Englander a permanent place in Nashville.

CN Records

And when her Boston accent comes out, “That’s awesome,” said Lindsay.

Or as Rose demonstrated, “Get in the cah. Lori, get in the cah. Let’s go to the bah. We’re gonna go down to the bah and get some bee-ahs.”

“Can you just say, ‘Let’s go down to the bar and get some beers’?” Lindsay asked.

Lori tried: “Let’s go to the bah and get some bee-ahs. Y’all leave me alone!”

Come tonight, Lori McKenna could win four Grammys, including one for writing “Humble and Kind.”  The song’s title could also describe McKenna -- still in disbelief, she straddles the suburbs of Boston and the capital of country music.

“I won the lottery, but didn’t even play the number,” Strassmann laughed. “Like somebody called me and they just said, ‘We think you should win the lottery, here it is!’ you know?”

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