When Annie Roboff moved to Nashville in 1994 little did she know that within one year she would co-write her first #1 hit, Diamond Rio’s “Walking Away.”

Depending on how you see things, she was either lucky or blessed. But there’s no doubt that she had put in years of hard work and dedication into her songwriting craft.

Annie’s path to her first hit record started in New York City’s Greenwich Village. She remembers, “I was in an acapella group of four women called The Bondinis. On the weekends we would sing all kinds of songs on the streets for literally hundreds of people. It immediately became a big deal for me.” At the prompting of her bandmates, Annie started to compose songs. And not long after that, the group disbanded.

The breakup didn’t hold her back; in fact, it put a fresh wind in her sails. Motivated to write music in any arena, her unlikely first big break came when she collaborated on creating new arrangements for the various ABC television sports themes. Before long she was writing opening music for TBS and CBS sports. Later, she composed ESPN’s original SportsCenter theme. That success showcased her penchant for coming up with memorable melodic themes. Almost overnight her music and arrangements were heard for TV’s mega-events including the Olympics, Presidential election coverage and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

Her good fortune on the small screen prompted a relocation to Los Angeles. However, turning out television themes quickly took a back seat as she soon had songs recorded by pop and R&B artists such as Olivia Newton-John, 4Real, Phil Perry and others. Now writing material at a feverish pitch, she compiled a collection of her best songs and played it for every major and minor music publisher in L.A.

They all turned her down.

But in another unlikely twist of fate, Lance Freed a publishing giant who headed Rondor/Almo/Irving Music miraculously revisited her demo and signed her immediately. Annie says, “Lance was the best publisher a person could ask for. He was supportive and fair. Most of all he was an encourager–creatively.”

A part of that encouragement was to send Annie to Nashville to work with legendary publisher David Conrad. Annie remembers, “David had faith in me. More importantly, he took me under his wing which helped me blend into the music community.” Annie needed that help for when she arrived in Music City she was told ‘the rules’ of country songwriting; don’t do this–don’t do that. “Knowing the rules is great–but not being afraid to twist them or break them a little, is even better,” she says. Bringing that spirit to her collaborations, Annie began an uncertain creative journey that would gently stretch the genre outside of its norms. And soon her partnerships started to bear fruit.

“There Goes My Baby” by Trisha Yearwood and “This Kiss” by Faith Hill became #1 singles in the summer of 1998. “This Kiss” won the 1999 CMA Song Of The Year as well the ASCAP Country Song Of the Year. Its perfect blend of Country and Pop sensibilities wasn’t lost on just award committees. Taylor Swift recalls that the song was key to her musical maturation: “I sang this song for my fourth-grade chorus audition. I think it changed the way I saw country music and music in general. Everyone loved “This Kiss,” not just country fans. Pop and rock fans loved it too. I guess you could say that theme rubbed off on me.”

Roboff’s successes gave her and possibly others–permission to be a bit more daring in the country genre. But she sums it up to that old adage that timing is everything. “Fortunately for me, I moved to Nashville when country music was expanding and my skill set was perfect for that evolution.”

She is consistently known for contributing songs that differ from one to another. Her music embodies a wide array of emotional and musical moods. Artists such as Whitney Houston, Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless, Bonnie Raitt, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Wynonna, Martina McBride, The Indigo Girls, Take 6, Lonestar, Cece Winans, and others have all called on her tasteful talent.

Additionally, her songs have appeared on countless soundtracks and television shows.

One of her two Grammy nominations was for an album by her longtime collaborator Beth Nielsen Chapman. The project, “The Mighty Sky” was a collection of songs written for children about astronomy. Along with Roboff and Chapman, Rocky Alvey, the Director of the Vanderbilt Observatory was also a writer on the innovative project.

Annie’s songs have sold over 80 million records. She has won the prestigious ASCAP Country Music Award 11 times and is considered a driving force behind the resurgence of the female artist in country music. At one time, Annie had seven singles on the charts simultaneously–an incredible achievement by anyone’s standards.

More than anything else, Annie attributes her unlikely success to her formative years growing up in a suburb of New York City. She recalls, “When my ear was glued to my little transistor radio as a youngster, it never dawned on me that there was a difference between white and black music. I loved it all. Later, when my piano teacher taught me chord inversions–I started to get a glimpse of the universality of all popular music–that was when the dam burst wide open for me.”

There are countless clues of that dam bursting throughout Annie’s songbook. For many of her creations personify a unique writing voice speaking through the unique artists that sing them.

—Herb Powell