Born Phoebe Ann Laub in New York City in 1952, the singer changed her name after seeing ‘Phoebe Snow’, a fictional advertising character for a railroad, on trains that passed through her hometown of Teaneck in New Jersey.
Her acclaimed self-titled debut album (1974) reached #4 in the chart, spawning the hit Poetry Man (rumoured to be about Jackson Browne, though she always denied it) as well as earning Snow a Best New Artist Grammy nomination.
With the exception of Let The Good Times Roll and San Francisco Bay Blues, the album’s nine songs were Snow originals, and best described as light jazz torch songs.
Critics praised both her songwriting and her rich, velvety voice, which had a magnificent four-octave range.
Following the success of the album, she became embroiled in legal wranglings and financial litigation with her label, Shelter. She eventually extricated herself from Shelter after signing with Columbia in the spring of 1975.
Ten months after the release of her second LP, Second Childhood (February 1976), Phoebe gave birth to daughter Valerie, on 12 December 1976, while recording the album It Looks Like Snow (December 1976).
Valerie was born with hydrocephalus (a build-up of fluid in the brain cavity), and Snow decided to care for her at home rather than place her in a hospital. Although she was not expected to live more than a few years, Valerie later died in 2007 aged 31.
After a three-year hiatus to nurse her daughter, Snow resurfaced in 1981 with Rock Away. The album presented her as a confident rock belter instead of the moody pop-jazz chanteuse of her earlier albums, proving that she was as intuitively good at rock & roll as she was at esoteric material.
Following Rock Away she gave a demo to her label, Atlantic‘s Mirage Records, which promptly sent it back to her re-cut. Unhappy with the changes, Snow got out of her contract and shopped the demo around. Nobody wanted it, and she spent the next eight years without a label.
Though she didn’t put anything out on vinyl during that time, she paid the rent by doing jingles for Exxon, Pillsbury, Coke and AT&T, to name a few.
She returned to the studio – on her own terms – for Something Real (1989). “Occasionally I put an album out, but I didn’t like to tour, and they didn’t get a lot of label support,” the singer told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008. “But you know what? It didn’t really matter because I got to stay home more with Valerie, and that time was precious.”
In 2003, she released the CD Natural Wonder, her first album of new, original material in 14 years. She released her last album in 2008, titled Live.
Snow suffered a cerebral haemorrhage on 19 January 2010 and slipped into a coma from which she never emerged, enduring bouts of blood clots, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. Snow died on 26 April 2011 in Edison, New Jersey, aged 58.