It comes as no surprise that JEWEL, an acclaimed American singer, songwriter, actress, poet, painter, philanthropist, and daughter to an Alaskan cowboy singer-songwriter, found herself in the embrace of country music for the release of her seventh career album, Perfectly Clear. Jewel’s personal odyssey, partly chronicled on one of the best-selling debut albums of all time, the twelve-time platinum Pieces of You, came full circle with Perfectly Clear. (Her most recent album, Lullaby, was released in May.)
Her family were pioneers of Alaska who settled there when it was still a territory. Her grandfather, Yule, drafted the Alaskan constitution and served as the state’s senator. Both of her parents, Atz and Nedra, enjoyed making local records and performing; along with her brothers, Jewel (her given name) accompanied her parents on tours through native villages.
When her parents divorced, she spent more than a half-dozen years with her father touring as a duet act, starting at the age of eight. At 15 she went her own way, performing solo for the first time and earning a vocal scholarship to Interlochen, a private arts school in Michigan, where she also majored in visual art. It was here she learned guitar and began writing songs, inspired by a love of reading at a young age.
Heartfelt songwriting became not only an emotional outlet, but a means of survival. During spring break one year she took a train and hitchhiked in Mexico, earning money as a street-corner minstrel. “I made up lyrics everywhere I went and eventually it turned into a very long song about what I saw around me,” she recalls. “I made it back to school two weeks later with an unformed song called ‘Who Will Save Your Soul’.” She was 16 at the time and had no idea that song would, three years later, become the first single from her first album, offering not just a day’s meal ticket, but meteoric success.
After she moved to San Diego, a series of unfortunate events led to living in her car and, after it was stolen, borrowing $1,000 from a friend to buy a van to live in. She got her first regular gig at a coffeehouse in Pacific Beach, where fans soon multiplied like rabbits, building a local cult following. Label A&R guys started coming as well, and Jewel was signed to Atlantic Records close to her 19th birthday. Her first record, a deeply introspective, live, voice-and-acoustic-guitar modern folk collection called Pieces of You, sold about 3000 copies, nearly all in San Diego, in the nine months after its February 1995 debut. So, Jewel hit the road with a vengeance, playing four shows a day in 40 cities. After a year on the road, “Who Will Save Your Soul” became a major hit. And, with the release of two other hit singles, “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games,” album sales went through the roof, as Blender magazine writes: “With considerably less fuss, [Pieces of You] went on to exceed the sales of Nirvana’s Nevermind, moving a phenomenal 11 million units.”
Hailed by The Times of London as the most sparkling female singer-songwriter since Joni Mitchell, Jewel steadily built her reputation and fan base through her subsequent albums. Among her many accolades are three Grammy nominations, an American Music Award, and an MTV Video Music Award. In 1999, she was presented the Governors Award from the Los Angeles chapter of the Recording Academy (NARAS).
Her debut poetry collection in 1998, A Night Without Armor, quickly became a mainstay of The New York Times bestseller list, with 29 printings. The audiobook version received the 1999 Audie Award from the Audio Publishers Association. The following year saw the publication of her second book, the intimate journal Chasing Down the Dawn.
Jewel’s full-length home video, Jewel: A Life Uncommon, offered an autobiographical documentary rife with live performances, archival footage of her upbringing, and interviews with the people closest to her. In 2004 came her first live DVD, Live at Humphreys, shot three years previously in San Diego, showcasing her boundary-crossing style in an intimate concert setting.
Her songs and ethereal voice have also accompanied several motion pictures, including Ang Lee’s Civil War drama Ride with the Devil, where she earned critical praise for her acting debut alongside stars Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich. Becoming a staple on television, from talk shows to Saturday Night Live and Mad TV, Jewel also guest-starred on the NBC drama The Lyons Den, playing a lawyer opposite series star Rob Lowe.
With the wisdom that deeds mean as much as words, Jewel founded Project Clean Water, an organization that organizes teams of scientists and engineers to bring safe, clean drinking water to impoverished communities worldwide. As an ambassador to Virgin Unite, Jewel has teamed up with Richard Branson’s charity to bring more awareness and funding to Project Clean Water, as well as many other notable causes, such as youth homelessness.
Jewel currently lives on a working ranch in Stephenville, Texas with her husband, World Champion bull-riding superstar Ty Murray.