;Dawn of a New Day' dedicated to those in need of hope.
By Vincent Schilling, Today correspondent
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - RCA Nashville country artist Crystal Shawanda is celebrating the release of her debut album ''Dawn of a New Day.''
Shawanda's new album is true to her namesake. She is an Ojibwe that grew up on the Wikwemikong reservation on Canada's Manitoulin Island. In her native language, Shawanda literally means what her album proclaims: ''Dawn of a New Day.''
The album has debuted at No. 2 on the Soundscan Top Country Albums chart in Canada and went on sale in the U.S. Aug. 19. Her debut single, ''You Can Let Go'' is already raising eyebrows as it climbs country music radio charts.
Music has always been a way of life for Shawanda. Living on the reservation, she wrote her first song at nine years old.
''Songwriting would become my way of coping with the hopelessness. Growing up, I watched too many people lose hope and leave this earth ... including cousins and many friends of mine. I watched as my brothers lost almost every childhood friend before they were 16. But music was my hope. It saved me, and it became a doorway for me to find freedom from the hopelessness that we all felt on the reservation.''
Shawanda grew up with the influences introduced to her by her mother and father. Her mother was a huge fan of Loretta Lynn.
''Loretta Lynn was my childhood hero ... and she continues to be that for me today. I grew up watching her be a friend to my mom through her music. Mom would sing along with those records like someone understood her. I was born a country music singer. I was driven to sing, and I drove my parents nuts about it.''
Shawanda continued to drive her parents crazy with her drive to sing. Her father drove a truck route from Michigan straight through to Nashville and it wasn't long until she was hitching a ride to the capital of country music in Tennessee.
At age 13, She found herself in Nashville standing outside of Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. Tootsie's has been the starting point for many country artists.
Shawanda took a chance. She walked into Tootsie's and asked to sing and belted out ''Two More Bottles of Wine.'' The drummer was impressed and asked her to sing another song. As it turns out, the drummer went by the nickname ''Sticks.'' He had been the drummer for Loretta Lynn for years.
The crowd at Tootsie's gave Shawanda an ovation. Sticks had remarked, ''I never heard a girl sing a song like that.'' According to Shawanda, ''After that ovation, I was hooked for life. I knew right then and there I would be back.''
Shawanda made several more trips to Nashville with her mother and father. Times were tough and the family often had to spend the night in her father's truck because they could not afford a hotel.
Shawanda returned home obsessed with a mission. There was no music school on her reservation, so she researched and found funding through grants to attend a music program that was five hours from home.
Leaving home was not easy; she loved her family and community, but viewed the move a necessary evil. ''It was the ultimate sacrifice but I knew in my heart that at that young age it was for the best and I wanted to be prepared for my future.''
At age 16, she dropped out of high school and left Canada to pursue her singing career. She admits that it was a mistake to quit school so early because of the lack of job opportunities for high school drop outs. But Shawanda persevered and managed to work and sing regularly at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. But the gigs were few and far between. ''You can't get a job if you don't have an education.''
She continued to work hard in spite of her difficulties and her persistence paid off. Ultimately she was heard by Scott Hendricks from RCA Records.
The rest is history.
The Country Music world is embracing the incredible talent of Crystal Shawanda.
According to RCA Records, Shawanda co-penned several songs on Dawn of a New Day, produced by Scott Hendricks, including the title track as well as ''You Can't Take It Back,'' about second chances, and the vulnerable ''Tender Side.''
The album also features tracks by songwriters including Brett James, Hillary Lindsey, Aimee Mayo, John Rich and Gretchen Wilson, among others.
For more information on Crystal Shawanda, check out: www.myspace.com/crystalshawanda.