Q&A: Martina McBride headlines Rock & Roll for Children benefit at Fillmore

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Martina McBride (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)

Just when you thought Rock & Roll for Children couldn’t top last year’s headliner, rocker Ann Wilson of Heart, this year brings 14-time Grammy-nominated country star Martina McBride.

The annual charity concert and auction returns to The Fillmore in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Saturday, March 23 to benefit The Children’s Inn, a free residential facility that houses families of seriously ill children who are participating in research at the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a great event,” McBride told WTOP. “All the money goes to benefit children. I have a soft spot in my heart for kids, I have three daughters of my own, so any time we can do something to help, I’m there. … We’ll do a lot of our hits: ‘This One’s for the Girls,’ ‘Independence Day,’ ‘Broken Wing,’ ‘Anyway’ and ‘Love’s the Only House,’ which will be especially appropriate.”

Born in Kansas in 1966, McBride grew up on a dairy farm singing in her dad’s country band.

“He was a farmer, but he also was a musician,” McBride said. “I started singing in the band when I was about 7. … I grew up singing Reba [McEntire], Dolly [Parton], Loretta [Lynn], stuff that was popular on the radio in the ’80s, but then I started singing in a rock band so I sang Ann Wilson, Journey, Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt. … It really was just something I fell into naturally and at some point I decided to pursue a career and move to Nashville in 1990.”

She made the move with husband and studio engineer John McBride, whom she wed in 1988.

“He had a sound company in Wichita, Kansas, that he moved to Nashville,” McBride said. “He got an offer to go mix sound for Garth Brooks for a couple of shows, kept in touch and when Garth blew up overnight and could afford to carry production, he hired John’s sound company and John as production manager. He went out and toured as production manager for several years and I went and sold T-shirts for Garth for a year when I was trying to get a record deal.”

That deal came when McBride signed to RCA Records for her debut album “The Time Has Come” (1991). But it was her second album “The Way That I Am” (1993) that launched her to platinum success with the No. 2 hit “My Baby Loves Me” and the career-defining masterpiece “Independence Day,” which explored domestic violence under the guise of a patriotic anthem.

“It’s told through the eyes of a child who’s now grown up,” McBride said. “When I heard it, I was blown away. I’m from a really small town in Kansas, a farming community where nobody really talked about domestic violence ever. When I heard it, I felt like it would be the kind of song that could help someone. Through that song, I got educated very quickly about how massive the problem of domestic violence against women and children is in this country.”

The topic was so controversial that some radio stations wouldn’t play it.

“That song was kind of banned on the radio,” McBride said. “There were 10 stations that never played the song. No. 10 was its peak position, but it went on to become my career song. I’m just so grateful for that song and being able to be the one that it traveled through out into the world. It gave some women the courage to leave their situations. It also gave women the feeling that they weren’t alone, that somebody understood what they were going through.”

She went platinum again in her third album, “Wild Angels” (1995), which featured a title track that went straight to No. 1, followed by her fourth album “Evolution” (1997), which featured the No. 1 hit “Wrong Again,” the No. 2 hit “Happy Girl” and the iconic No. 1 hit “Broken Wing.”

After a Christmas album interlude, her sixth album “Emotion” (1999) featured the No. 2 hit “Love’s the Only House” and No. 1 hit “I Love You.” The latter especially showed her country-pop crossover appeal in a new mainstream wave of Faith Hill and Shania Twain.

“I never really thought about how to set myself apart, I just always found songs that I felt really passionate about,” McBride said. “I was very involved in the making of my own records and production and I feel like we came up with a sound that was different for the time. It was just a lot of heart and hard work — and it was fun on top of all of that!”

She quickly gained a reputation for live shows, belting to the rafters with her upper register.

“Some nights are better than others — it’s live — but it’s a great feeling,” McBride said. “Linda Ronstadt said one time that when you’re singing and you’re on and you’re doing it well, it’s like skiing downhill. It’s this really exhilarating, physical feeling that’s pretty awesome. Then when you’re connecting with an audience and the audience is with you with their heart and soul and emotions, it’s amazing. I’m just so lucky that I get to do this with my life. I feel so grateful.”

Her “Greatest Hits” (2001) celebrated that gratitude while offering brand-new songs with the No. 1 hit “Blessed,” the No. 3 hit “Where Would You Be” and the No. 5 hit “Concrete Angel.”

The hits kept coming with her next album “Martina” (2003), including “How Far” (No. 12) and “God’s Will” (No. 16). It also featured motherhood themes in “This One’s for the Girls” (No. 3) and “In My Daughter’s Eyes” (No. 4) after giving birth to three children in 1994, 1998 and 2005.

“Becoming a mother changes your whole world,” McBride said. “I never really thought about how it changed my song choices, but looking back obviously it did. I don’t think I would have been able to sing ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes’ without having a daughter at the time. I still love singing that song. I see all three of my girls in that song. … It opens your heart more when you become a mother. You see the world in a different way and in a more compassionate way.”

Today, she’s helping other kids at the Rock & Roll for Children benefit in Silver Spring with a message of hope contained in her song “Anyway” (2006) with the lyrics: “This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today. Believe it anyway.”

“That’s a great message, right?” McBride said. “Every human being has to have hope to keep going forward and keep getting up everyday. These families, children and parents are facing incredibly tough times, so I feel like having some hope in that situation is so important. When I sing that song every show it speaks to me differently and it still resonates all these years later. … It soothes and comforts me when I sing it, so I hope it does that for someone else.”

Find more details on the benefit website. Listen to our full chat with Martina McBride below:

WTOP's Jason Fraley chats with Martina McBride (Full Interview) (Jason Fraley)
WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Martina McBride at N-I-H benefit (Jason Fraley)
Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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