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Taylor Swift
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Taylor Swift became one of country-pop's brightest (and youngest) faces in 2006, when the 16-year-old vocalist released her first album. Although new to the American public, Swift had been performing since early childhood, taking inspiration and encouragement from her opera-singing grandmother. She sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" before a Philadelphia 76ers game at the age of 11; the following year, she began practicing her guitar skills for several hours each day, only stopping when her fingers began to bleed. Swift's parents realized their child's dedication and began making regular visits to Nashville, TN, where Swift would perform casually and meet with songwriters in the area. The family then decided to move from their native Pennsylvania to an outlying Nashville suburb, which accelerated Swift's career.

While performing at the intimate Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Swift caught the eye of music industry veteran Scott Borchetta, who signed her to his newly formed label. Swift joined the roster at Big Machine Records and released her debut single, "Tim McGraw," in August 2006. The song drew upon her experience as a lovelorn high-school student, a theme that Swift revisited throughout her self-titled debut album. Released in late 2008, Taylor Swift catapulted the young songwriter to stardom, spawning a handful of hits (five consecutive Top Ten singles, a new record for a female solo artist) while earning multi-platinum sales. Swift also received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, an award she ultimately lost to Amy Winehouse. Two subsequent EPs -- Sounds of the Season: The Taylor Swift Holiday Collection and Beautiful Eyes -- helped maintain Swift's popularity while whetting public demand for her sophomore release, Fearless, which arrived in November 2008. ~ Andrew Leahey & Megan Frye, All Music Guide