Carolyn Dawn Johnson was born April 30, 1971, in Grand Prairie, Alberta, and raised on a farm in Deadwood, Alberta. She was surrounded by music from a young age — listening to her parents’ Jim Reeves and Don Williams records, singing at church functions and school plays, playing piano and continually singing around the house. As she got older, she found herself drawn to a wide range of artists from Charley Pride and Marty Stuart to Fleetwood Mac, Jann Arden, Abba and Matraca Berg. She wrote songs, made her own recordings at home and attended every concert she could. In college, she studied non-music courses but continued to sit in with hometown bands at night.
In 1992, she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to attend recording engineering school. Learning the technical aspects of the business by day and continuing to write songs and work as a waitress at night, she studied Billboard and Music Row magazines each week to learn about the business. Intrigued by a TV commercial on TNN, she sent away for a songwriting video, featuring hit Nashville writers, to learn more about the craft. Through the video, she joined the Nashville Songwriters Association International and traveled to Nashville for the first time in 1994 to participate in one of its workshops. For three years, she commuted the 3,000 miles between Vancouver and Nashville until she obtained a work visa and moved to Nashville permanently in 1997.
She began singing demos for other writers and began writing with some of them. Late in 1997, she signed a publishing deal with Patrick Joseph Music, home to one of her heroes, Matraca Berg. In between gigs, she waited tables and tended bar at Phil Vassar’s Hard Day’s Night Club. Next, she sang as a studio vocalist on albums for Patty Loveless, Martina McBride, Mindy McCready, Loretta Lynn and Kenny Rogers. Writing credits followed for Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis, Linda Davis and more. Then in 1999, she earned a record deal, one of her compositions became a No. 1 hit (Chely Wright’s “Single White Female”) and she toured as backup singer and guitarist for McBride.
Arista Nashville issued her debut album, Room With a View, in 2001. That same year, she won five Canadian Country Music Awards and the Academy of Country Music’s top new female vocalist trophy. Her second album, Dress Rehearsal, is expected in 2004.