Looking for something to listen to while I cooked dinner last night, I went through my music library and selected a CD that I hadn't heard in ages: a three track promo by then-fifteen year old singer/songwriter Shelby Starner. It served to plug her upcoming 1998 album From in the Shadows and I most likely got it during my stint as music director of my college's radio station. After dinner I hit my absolute favorite internet time waster - the All Music Guide - to see what she's been up to lately. My jaw dropped when I read the following:
Starner's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and Starner decided to retreat from music to refocus her life around her family. Not long after, she entered treatment for bulimia. Starner continued treatment over the next two years, but tragically Starner's body gave in to the detriments of her long bout with bulimia and she died on June 22, 2003 only two months before she was to begin her freshman year at the University of Pittsburgh.
I wasn't in a "glass case of emotion" (as I am EVERY time I watch Big Fish), but I did get a little lump in my throat. It's a weird feeling to get emotional over the death of someone you don't even know. It rarely happens to me. The deaths of Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Stewart, Bradley Nowell (of Sublime), Jam Master Jay (of Run-DMC) - these are all people that I admired and/or enjoyed their works, but their deaths elicited little more than a "that's a real shame" from me. So, I can't explain why I felt this way last night. Strange.
A google search for Starner brought up 50 pages of results and I went through them all. There was no real substantive information about her. A fansite that hadn't been updated since 1999 here. A brief mention of her passing by a friend there. That's about it. So, I figured I'd use this post as a tribute to a talented life cut too short. Her songwriting and voice belied her young age.
I will send an mp3 of her song "You" to anyone that wants it - just leave your e-mail address in a comment to this post. It's a sad, but pretty song with just some strings and her on piano.
I'm game. firstname.lastname@example.org Never heard of her... but you've piqued my interest.
I wouldn't expect many people to have heard of her. She put out only one album (which I don't even have). From what I hear, it was one of those critical fave/commercial failure deals. Her second album was shelved by Warner Bros.
Anyway, you've got mail.
I'd like to hear it too. email@example.com
It's a shame that she died, bulemia has got to be a hard way to go too.
Sliver, check your inbox.
Send it my way, too...
From the PoconoRecord Newspaper (www.poconorecord.com. Article appeared June 24, 2003.
Music prodigy loses life to eating disorder
By KEVIN AMERMAN
Pocono Record Writer
Shelby Starner had put her music career on the back burner and was preparing to start college in August.
The 19-year-old, who recorded an album for Warner Brothers Records at age 14, will not get the opportunity to shine at the University of Pittsburgh, as she has on so many stages.
Starner died Sunday night after years of battling an eating disorder.
Monroe County Coroner Dave Thomas said Starner was pronounced dead at 11:58 p.m. at Pocono Medical Center in East Stroudsburg.
The exact cause of death is pending. Test results won't be known for about eight weeks.
"She's been treated for eating disorders for the past two years," said Starner's mother, Katherine Benn of Bartonsville, as she struggled not to sob. "The symptoms contributed, but they're not necessarily the only cause."
Benn said eating disorders can create electrolyte disturbances inside the body and can eventually "cause your brain to cease."
"That seems to be what happened," Benn said.
Benn said Starner was scheduled to begin classes at the University of Pittsburgh on Aug. 20, with an interest in Latin-American studies and writing.
Benn said her daughter had been struggling with her eating disorder lately, but she seemed to be making progress.
"We started shopping for things in her dorm room, and now she's not going to go," Benn said, weeping. "Maybe her little body just gave out."
Starner wanted her first published essay to be the one she wrote about bulimia, Benn said.
Star shone early
Starner's music career began in her early teens.
"When she was 12 years old, she'd sing Alanis Morissette and I'd play guitar," said Starner's father, Ray Starner of Stroudsburg. "I got her three hours at a recording studio and the guy (who owned the studio) said, 'This girl's awesome.'"
The studio's owner, Sonny Murray, had connections at Warner Brothers Records, and Starner eventually took a flight to Los Angeles to talk to representatives from the company.
Starner recorded an album when she was 14; it was released when she was 15.The album was produced by local musician Eric Doney.
"She was shockingly mature for her age," Doney said. "The songs she wrote seemed like they were written by someone who lived many lifetimes. Her first attempts at songwriting were priceless gems."
The album sold out of Main Street Jukebox the first day. Starner's first single, "Don't Let Them," was played frequently by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh radio stations.
Starner, whose music had elements of rock, jazz, blues and folk, went to England, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada and other places around the world to promote the album. Starner was homeschooled after getting the recording contract.
Thomas said her album was "played very much" on WSBG, a radio station based in Stroudsburg.
"She had a beautiful voice," Thomas said.
Starner has been written about in various publications across the country, including USA Today, BC magazine and Popstar.
According to a USA Today article, Starner's "folky debut album 'From the Shadows' got good notices last year (1999), but made little commercial headway."
The article said Starner entered the studio in 2000 with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and wanted to go in more of a rock 'n' roll direction.
A second album was never released, and Starner and her family wanted to get out of the Warner Brothers contract.
"Warner Brothers wasn't creative enough to find a niche for her," Benn said. "She was a little mellow and thought of things a little too deeply compared to kids her age that listened to the radio."
The family decided to get out of the recording contract and tried to pick another company with which to start over.
"That's about the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer," Benn said. "She didn't want to leave. She wanted to be here with her little sister."
While battling her own disease, Starner took interest in a group called Doctors Without Borders, in which volunteer doctors offer medical help in less fortunate countries.
"They helped people that had no options," Benn said. "Maybe she identified with them more than I realized."
Thanks for posting that.
I was a good friend of Shelby's and her family. She was an incredibly talented musician and person we lost way too soon. She had a way of making you feel like you knew her your whole life, even if only meeting her for the first time. An incredibly genuine person.
If you have the chance to hear/buy her first album, pick it up. You will not be dissapointed.
Micah, you are correct that she had much critical acclaim with little to no comercial success.She unfortunately came out at the hight of the teenny pop garbage that was flooding the market in the late 90's. There just wasn't an audience for a soulfull, introspective 15 year old at that time.
The producer of her album (Craig Street), and many of the musicans, helped create the recent grammy wining Norah Jones album.
I am in the process of creating a documentary about her life and tragic death. Please spread the word about Shelby's music and her story to as many people as you can. I'd love to build a grassroots following/demand to push her name into the mainstream once again.
There is a second album, a harder, edgy, more rock influenced peice that really should be out there for the world to hear. It's really a completely different, yet equally amazing album when compared to her first WB album, "From in the Shadows." Hopefully my Doc can help springboard a demand for it.
If anyone would like info about the documentary or where to hopefully see it when it's finished. Send an email to Short_Bus_Entertainment@yahoo.com
I came across Shelby's albumn at a used cd store over 5 years ago. I had never heard of her, nor aware of the sound of her music....but I took a chance. It became one of my very favorites. I remember wishing that she would release another albumn, but presumed she had stopped recording due to the lack of success of her first albumn (which, by the way, is such a shame. Her albumn is amazing! She was beyond her years, vocally and lyrically.) Anyway, this was before I privy to the wonderful world of the internet. Until tonight, I had never thought to search for more information about Shelby Starner. I was shocked to learn of her death, and quite suprised by the emotions that I am feeling. It seems almost eerie to me, and I can't explain it. I'm not in the habit of replying to blogs, but when I read your tribute, something struck inside. I thought you might appreciate knowing that I felt something too.
i love the song 'You' but I can't find it anywhere.
if you could send it this way!
Best wishes x
I heard one of her songs and feel in love. I was having difficulty finding "you".
i would really appreciate it/ thank you
I don't know if you are still using this blog account or not, but I am a big fan of Shelby's and cannot find her song "You" anywhere. If you could, would you send it to me? My email is firstname.lastname@example.org
I grew up with Shelby, she was one of my dearest friends....the night she passed, I was supposed to go out to dinner with her and our mutual best friend, but, I turned down the offer as I was hanging out with a guy...,one of the biggest regrets of my life...,I saw Shelby about 5 days before her passing...she looked so frail and sickly, but, at the same time, she seemed happy. I thought that maybe she was doing better, but, unfortunately, she was not. I will never forget that phone call from our mutual best friend that night, she was crying so hard her words were barely understandable...but I got the message, our dear, beautiful, talented friend had left us way too soon. Not a day goes by that I don't think of Shelby, and all the promise that laid ahead for her....a beautiful soul taken from us way too soon....I urge anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder to get help TODAY....Shelby told her mom the night she passed that she was truly ready to get help and move past her disease, but, unfortunately, it was too late, her body could no longer handle the stress that bulimia places on the heart....don't push it off, talk to a friend, a parent, anyone...but, TALK ABOUT IT....and know that you ARE BEAUTIFUL....I LOVE YOU SHELBS, AND MISS YOU EVERYDAY.....XOXO
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