12/25/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
Nashville is noted for hard-luck stories that turn into sequined successes, seemingly overnight. But Shania Twain, a Canadian and part-Ojibway Indian who raised her three younger siblings after their parents died, holds bragging rights to the toughest tale. A gifted songwriter who learned her craft in Canada's honky-tonks, Twain, 30, broke onto country playlists in January with "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" No sooner had that song reached No. 1 than Twain scored again with "Any Man of Mine" and the title tune to her now 3-million-selling album, The Woman in Me, making many wonder how such full-blown talent had been nurtured without being noticed first on Nashville's Music Row.
The answer could be turned into a classic down-and-out ballad. Born in poverty to an Irish mother and Ojibway father, Shania—the name means "On My Way" in Ojibwan—learned to hunt, trap and pick guitar while growing up. She sang in bars as a teen to earn money for her family in Timmins, an Ontario mining town. After her parents were killed in a 1987 car accident, Shania, then 22, cared for her brothers and sister. She headed to Nashville only after they were grown.
Twain added another colorful twist to her résumé two years ago when she met British album producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange. His platinum touch has helped albums for AC/DC, Def Leppard and Michael Bolton, among others, sell more than 100 million copies. Twain's debut album caught Lange's ear, and the two began a transoceanic collaboration that led to marriage in 1993—and to The Woman in Me. For Twain, who capped her year with a performance for the First Couple at Ford's Theatre in Washington on Nov. 12, success means having little time to share with her husband at their lavish new 3,000-acre estate in the Adirondacks. "I've been so busy," she says with a weary smile, "we usually pass each other at airports."