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Classic Americana: Kathy Mattea

Kathy Mattea performing at Villa Montalvo on July 1, 1995, in Saratoga, California.
Kathy Mattea performing at Villa Montalvo on July 1, 1995, in Saratoga, California.Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

by Mike Pengra and Luke Taylor

June 21, 2024

Every Friday around 11 a.m. Central, it’s time for Classic Americana on Radio Heartland. We pull a special track from the archives or from deep in the shelves to spotlight a particular artist or song.

This week’s Classic Americana pick focuses on an artist you hear as both a musician and as a program host on Radio Heartland: Kathy Mattea.

Born June 21 and raised in West Virginia, Kathy Mattea got involved in music as a child through piano lessons and through singing in church. As a teen, she discovered folk music, and that inspired her to learn to play the guitar. Mattea attended West Virigina University for a couple years, and she played in a bluegrass band as a student, but ultimately she was compelled to follow her dreams to Nashville where she hoped to forge a career as a musician. After a few years of being a singer on demo recordings and supplementing her income with odd jobs, Mattea’s efforts got her discovered by producer and songwriter Byron Hill, and Mattea was signed to Mercury Records in 1983.

Kathy Mattea released her self-titled debut album in 1984 — the budget was small, and Mattea tells the story that she wore an outfit she purchased at Kmart for the album-cover photo. From 1984 to 1987, Mattea released an album a year, each of them charting at least three hit singles apiece. Her breakthrough album was the fourth in that string of releases, Untasted Honey. It included the hit song “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses,” which is our Classic Americana track this week.

Mattea’s success continued far beyond Untasted Honey. In 1989, she released Willow In The Wind, an album that led to Mattea’s first Grammy Award with the track “Where've You Been” earning Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1990. In 1993, Mattea released the Christmas album Good News, which won a Grammy for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album in 1994. A hard-working, prolific musician, Mattea has, to date, released 17 studio albums as well as four compilation albums, plus dozens of singles.

In 2021, Mattea’s music career took on a new dimension when she accepted the role of host on Mountain Stage, a live-music program that is recorded in Mattea’s home state of West Virginia — a program that airs Sundays at 10 a.m. on Radio Heartland. “One of the reasons I love this job so much is that it’s not about me,” Mattea says about her role as host on Mountain Stage. “There’s something so rewarding about being able to take whatever success I’ve had in my career and pass that on to the next person, to be able to shine a light on these amazing artists and this wonderful state and this incredibly important institution.”

A woman sings into a microphone onstage
Kathy Mattea is a musician and the host of Mountain Stage from NPR.
Jason Adams

Classic Americana Playlist

Kathy Mattea – official site

Mountain Stage – official site