Mary Chapin-Carpenter's country hits -- The Northeast native has become a Nashville sensation

For generations, country audiences demanded its stars be symbolic ordinary figures — ”jus’ folks” — and almost always Southern. In that regard, Mary-Chapin Carpenter is the ultimate outsider. Daughter of a Life magazine executive, Carpenter grew up in Princeton, N.J., graduated from Brown University, and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, far from the Nashville city lights. Such an upscale background might have worked against Carpenter a decade ago, but it has had scant effect on her success on the country charts. Since releasing her first album, the folkish Hometown Girl, in 1987, she has had a slew of country hits, garnered endorsement deals with guitar-string and microphone makers, and this year won a Country Female Vocal Grammy for her Cajun-accented hit, ”Down at the Twist and Shout.”

”Just as the (country) artists have changed in the last five years, the audience has, too,” Carpenter, 34 and single, says. ”Today’s typical fan doesn’t adhere to a stereotype any longer. He’s likely to be educated and an urban dweller.” Still, Carpenter — who kept her day job at a philanthropic organization until 1989 — hasn’t been able to avoid one element of the Nashville assembly-line record-making process: ”You wouldn’t believe how I’m being inundated with songs that are like ‘Son of Twist and Shout’ — it cracks me up,” she says with a laugh. ”That song was an absolute aberration.”