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Silver Chips (US)
February 9, 1995

Montgomery Blair High School's student newspaper
Silver Spring, Maryland

Famous Amos: sweet sounds, tough cookie

Former area student has overcome numerous obstacles and now tops the music charts

by Sherry DeLauder

I remember singer-pianist Tori Amos from my pre-preschool days when she direfted the children's choir at my Rockville church. If I had to pick one word to describe her, it would have to be "determined." This firey-haired minister's daughter and smash on the alternative music scene has always been that way, even after a recording failure and a devastating rape.

The Amos family consists of her parents, Ed and Mary Ellen, her older brother, Mike and her older sister, Marie. Myra Ellen, who renamed herself Tori at 21 when she left home, was born in the small town of Newton, North Carolina 31 years ago.

Tori was musically inclined from the very beginning, according to her mother. "She hummed before she spoke!" Amos exclaims with a laugh. "We [her family] didn't think much about it until she began to show a real interest in the piano. As soon as she was old enough to reach the keys, she began playing. Tori Ellen could play anything by ear, and instead of that making her brother and sister jealous, they thought it was wonderful, and encouraged her."

The Amoses moved to Maryland early in Tori's life. "Tori Ellen was accepted at Peabody [Institute at Johns Hopkins University] at age five," Amos says. The Peabody Institute has one of the most prestigious music programs in the country. By the time she reached age eleven, however, Tori left the program because of creative composition differences with the Peabody Exam Board.

"Tori Ellen attended Eastern Junior High School, and then we moved to Rockville and she entered Richard Montgomery High School in 1978," Amos continues. "She was an excellent student."

Tori's eleventh grade English teacher Susan Barrett remembers her student with a smile. "She was very bright, eager, and incredibly determined to succeed as a singer," Barrett says. "And she was very generous with her talents. She would sing for school functions whenever she was asked. Speaking for all of her teachers, we're all pleased to have known her. She's a decent, wonderful person."

In high school, Tori began to work seriously on her singing career. "She took both her senior year of high school and her first year of college simultaneously," Amos explains. "I would pick her up after her English class and drive her to Montgomery College, and pick her up again in the afternoon. She would get home, give herself some free time, have dinner, and then leave by five to play at hotels or wherever she was playing," she says.

"It's very important to remember the struggles that performers without inside connections go through the get to the top," Amos continues. "Her first album, 'Y Kant Tori Read,' [released in 1988] bombed." Soon after, she decided to break away from the band, which she had been a member of along with Brad Cobb, Matt Sorum (who would later play drums for Guns N' Roses), and Steve Caton, to try the business again on her own. "It wasn't until she got to London that she really began to be played a lot on the radio," Amos says. "They recognized her as an unusually gifted pianist, and they were interested in her music. That's one of the reasons she loves it there and why she's lived much of her life there since 1991. They love her, and she loves them back."

Since the failure of her first album, Tori has released two albums. 'Little Earthquakes,' which came out in 1992, debuted at number 15 on the United Kingdom's music charts and more recent 'Under the Pink,' released in 1994 describes the concept that people are the same on the inside.

Even though Tori has become a great success, her mother claims that something other than music is Tori's greatest accomplishment. "She is proudest of RAINN, the Rape Abuse Incest National Network," Amos says. "It is something real that has helped people. It met a need." RAINN, which Tori helped to establish in coalition with Atlantic Records and Time-Warner, is an untraceable hotline that abuse victims in search of help can call.

In recognition of her efforts with RAINN, Tori was presented the Visionary Award last June. The Visionary Award is given to national leaders who have furthered the cause of abused women and children.

"Young people come up to Tori Ellen at her concerts and say, 'You've given me back my self-esteem,'" Amos says. "The song 'Me and a Gun' came out of a personal experience of hers, a rape, and is done at every performance. It's been an enlightening experience for me," Amos says.

Tori deals with the after-effects of her own rape through many of her songs, including 'Me and a Gun,' which was cited by the D.C. Rape Crisis Center as a song which helped to expand society's knowledge of rape.

Tori's music contains messages for all to identify. "Her music speaks to me, and all of my emotions and distresses and dreams come alive," Amos says.

Barrett agrees. "I saw her in concert this summer, and it was amazing," she says. "Her voice is so receptive and melodic. And I know how hard she worked to get where she is today, and I really respect her effort."

Through the years, Tori Amos has fought her way to the top, from drumming on piano keys as a melodic two-year-old to establishing a national helpline for abuse victims and assault. Considering her determination, the top is right where she belongs.

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