Sarah McLachlan was born on January 28, 1968, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and placed with the McLachlan family who later legally adopted her. As a child, she took voice lessons, along with studies in classical piano and guitar. When she was 17 years old and still a student at Queen Elizabeth High School in Halifax, she fronted a short-lived rock band called The October Game. One of the band's songs, "Grind", credited as a group composition, can be found on the independent Flamingo Records release Out of the Fog and the CD Out of the Fog Too. It has yet to be released elsewhere. Her high school yearbook predicted that she was "destined to become a famous rock star".
Following The October Game's first concert at Dalhousie University opening for Moev, McLachlan was offered a recording contract with Vancouver-based independent record label Nettwerk by Moev's Mark Jowett. McLachlan's parents insisted she finish high school and complete one year of studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design before moving to Vancouver and embarking on a new life as a recording artist. She finally signed to Nettwerk two years later before having written a single song. A mutual acquaintance introduced her to her birth mother when she was nineteen. McLachlan did not seek her out and was ambivalent about meeting her.
In 1994 McLachlan was sued by Uwe Vandrei, an obsessed fan from Ottawa, who alleged that his letters to her had been the basis of the single "Possession". The lawsuit was also challenging for the Canadian legal system: Vandrei was an admitted stalker whose acknowledged goal in filing the lawsuit was to be near McLachlan. Consequently, precautions were taken to ensure McLachlan's safety if she had to be in the same location as Vandrei. Before the trial began however, Vandrei was found dead in an apparent suicide. Vandrei's preoccupation with McLachlan was explored at length in Canadian author Judith Fitzgerald's book, Building a Mystery: The Story of Sarah McLachlan & Lilith Fair.
In 1997, McLachlan married her drummer, Ashwin Sood, in Jamaica. While she was pregnant with her first child, her mother died from cancer in December 2001. While working on her next album, Afterglow, she gave birth to daughter India Ann Sushil Sood in Vancouver on April 6, 2002. On June 22, 2007 she gave birth to her second daughter, Taja Summer Sood, in Vancouver. McLachlan announced her separation from Ashwin Sood in September 2008 and they divorced the same year.
The signing with Nettwerk prompted McLachlan to move to Vancouver, British Columbia. There she recorded her first album, Touch, in 1988, which received both critical and commercial success and included the song "Vox". During this period she also contributed to an album by Moev, provided vocals on Manufacture's "As the End Draws Near," and embarked on her first national concert tour as an opening act for The Grapes of Wrath.
Her 1991 album, Solace, was her mainstream breakthrough in Canada, spawning the hit singles "The Path of Thorns (Terms)" and "Into the Fire". Solace also marked the beginning of her partnership with Pierre Marchand. Marchand and McLachlan have been collaborators ever since, with Marchand producing many of McLachlan's albums and occasionally co-writing songs.
1993's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was an immediate hit in Canada. From her Nettwerk connection, her piano version of the song "Possession" was included on the first Due South soundtrack in 1996. Over the next two years, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy quietly became McLachlan's international breakthrough as well, scaling the charts in a number of countries.
In 1993, Darryl Neudorf filed a lawsuit against McLachlan and her label, Nettwerk, alleging that he had made a significant and uncredited contribution to the songwriting on Touch, and alleging that he was not paid properly for work done on Solace. The judge in this suit eventually ruled in McLachlan's favour on the songs; though Neudorf may have contributed to the songwriting, neither regarded each other as joint authors. The judge ruled in Neudorf's favour on the payment issue.
Following the success from Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, McLachlan returned in 1997 with Surfacing, her best-selling and best-known album to date. The album earned her two 1998 Grammy Awards, one for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Building a Mystery") and one for Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance (for "Last Dance"), and four Juno Awards, including Album of the Year for Surfacing and Song of the Year and Songwriter of the Year for "Building a Mystery". The album has since sold over 16 million copies worldwide and brought her much international success. Still in the spotlight from the album, McLachlan launched the highly popular Lilith Fair tour. Her song "Angel"—inspired by the fatal overdose of Smashing Pumpkins touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin—made sales skyrocket. One of the songs from Surfacing, Full of Grace, features in the season 2 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Becoming (II).
Fellow adoptee Darryl McDaniels was so touched by "Angel" that it inspired him to reassess his life and career. He credits McLachlan and her album, Surfacing, (on which "Angel" appeared) with saving his life. They collaborated on many projects in support of Adoptee Rights.
In Spring 1998, the motion picture City of Angels featured "Angel". It became the No. 1 album on the Billboard chart. More than five months after the movie disappeared from the theatres, City of Angels: Music from the Motion Picture remained firmly entrenched among Billboard's top 40 albums. This soundtrack earned quadruple-platinum status. In 1999, she sings "When She Loved Me", a song about how a girl named Emily used to play with a cowgirl doll named Jessie (voiced by Joan Cusack), but how Jessie is forgotten as Emily grows older, in the Pixar animated movie "Toy Story 2" The song is sung through Jessie's perspective.
McLachlan returned to public life and touring with her 2003 album release, Afterglow, which contained the singles "Fallen", "Stupid", and "World On Fire". Rather than shoot a conventional music video for "World On Fire", McLachlan donated all but $15 of the $150,000 budget to various charitable causes around the world and then used the video to explain how it benefited the communities that received the money.
Another live album, Afterglow Live, was released in late 2004. The CD consisted of several tracks from a full-length concert, which was included in its entirety on a DVD, as well as the three music videos from Afterglow.
In 2004, Darryl "D.M.C." McDaniels, who credits McLachlan and her music for lifting him from a period of depression, as he described publicly on NPR Moth Radio Hour "Angel" dated September 9, 2014, invited her to join him on a track from his solo album. Although the album was not released until early 2006, remixes of the song "Just Like Me" were included on a number of compilations in 2005.
In October 2006, McLachlan released a Christmas album, Wintersong. The album included 11 new recordings, featuring covers of Joni Mitchell's "River", Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night", and John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", which she recorded with her outreach children and youth choir, and seasonal favourites: "Christmas Time Is Here", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", "Silent Night", "The First Noel", and "Greensleeves (What Child Is This?)", among others. The title track is an original work of McLachlan's.
Wintersong debuted at No. 42 on the Billboard 200 album chart the week ending November 4, 2006. It peaked at No. 7. Worldwide the album has sold over 1.1 million copies to date. It has been certified Platinum in the U.S. and 2x Platinum in Canada.
Wintersong was nominated for both a Grammy Award, in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category, as well as for a Juno Award, for Pop Album of the Year.
On October 3, 2006, the live album Mirrorball was re-released as Mirrorball: The Complete Concert. This release contains two discs that were compiled from two concerts performed on consecutive nights in April 1998 at the Rose Garden arena in Portland, Oregon.
On April 29, 2008, Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff Volume 2 was released. The track list includes McLachlan's recent covers of Joni Mitchell's "River" and Dave Stewart's "Ordinary Miracle", as well as collaborations throughout her career with the Perishers, Cyndi Lauper and Bryan Adams, among others.
On August 5, 2008, the 15th anniversary three-disc edition of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was released. The set includes the original re-mastered album, The Freedom Sessions and a DVD that includes live performances, music videos and more. The album was released by Legacy Recordings.
McLachlan released a greatest hits album, Closer: The Best of Sarah McLachlan, on October 7, 2008. On August 12, 2008, she released a new song from the album, "U Want Me 2", a mid-tempo contemplative love song, as a digital single in the iTunes Store; also accompanied with a video performance. McLachlan also admitted the song was inspired by the dissolution of her marriage, which she announced in September 2008, during initial promotion. "Don't Give Up on Us", the other new song on the album, was released as the second and final single on February 3, 2009. Both singles were subsequently included on her next album, Laws of Illusion.
A single, "One Dream", was released on September 29, 2009 and was the official theme song of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. McLachlan's first studio album of original material in nearly seven years, Laws of Illusion, was released on June 15, 2010. New York Times music critic John Pareles says about Laws of Illusion – "It's a kindly, enveloping sound that Ms. McLachlan has long used to conjure passion and empathy laced with melancholy. But now it encompasses a new anguish, deeper and sharper than what she hinted at with Afterglow in 2003." It features 10 new songs in addition to the previously released tracks "U Want Me 2" and "Don't Give Up on Us", as well as various bonus tracks. Previews of the tracks and bonus materials were made available in the iTunes Store and on Amazon.com for listening and viewing on May 26, 2010. Lilith Fair kicked off in Calgary, AB on June 27, 2010. In anticipation of the album and the tour, McLachlan appeared on the WNYC-produced radio show Soundcheck. During the wide-ranging interview, McLachlan discussed with host John Schaefer the last eleven years of her life and how she has changed, especially as a working mother of two.
In late January 2014, McLachlan announced the release of her next studio album, Shine On, which was inspired by the death of her father. It was her first release on Verve Records, after leaving Nettwerk/Arista after over twenty years. The album was released on May 6, 2014.
In March 2014 McLachlan announced a schedule for a Shine On tour across the United States, which began in Seattle on June 20, 2014. The tour visited 30 cities all together. The Canadian leg of the tour will include 25 shows in 21 cities.
On May 14, 2014, it was announced that Shine On debuted at No. 4 on the US Billboard charts, with 42,000 copies. On June 24, 2014, Shine On was certified Gold (40,000 units sold) by the Canadian Recording Industry Association.
In March 2015, McLachlan won a Juno for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year for Shine On.
On October 21, 2016, McLachlan released Wonderland, her ninth studio album and second Christmas album. Wonderland contains interpretations of 13 traditional and contemporary holiday classics.
McLachlan performed on NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24 as well as NBC's annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center special on November 30. She also performed on ABC's CMA Country Christmas Special on November 28, Live with Kelly! on December 8 and Harry TV on December 16.
On December 9 McLachlan performed on CBS Radio's WCBS_FM 101.1 Holiday In Brooklyn show featuring live performances by Jimmy Buffet and James Taylor.
McLachlan has recently released the single "The Long Goodbye" and is currently writing for her next studio album.
In 1996 McLachlan became frustrated with concert promoters and radio stations that refused to feature two female musicians in a row. Bucking conventional industry wisdom, she booked a successful tour for herself and Paula Cole. At least one of their appearances together – in McLachlan's home town, on September 14, 1996 – went by the name "Lilith Fair" and included performances by McLachlan, Cole, Lisa Loeb and Michelle McAdorey, formerly of Crash Vegas.
The next year, McLachlan founded the Lilith Fair tour, taking Lilith from the medieval Jewish legend that Lilith was Adam's first wife.
In 1997, Lilith Fair, featuring McLachlan as one of the headlining acts, garnered a $16 million gross, making it the top-grossing of any touring festival. Among all concert tours for that year, it was the 16th highest grossing. Lilith Fair tour brought together 2 million people over its three-year history and raised more than $7 million for charities. It was the most successful all-female music festival in history, one of the biggest music festivals of the 1990s, and helped launch the careers of several well-known female artists. Subsequent Lilith Fairs followed in 1998 and 1999 before the tour was discontinued.
Nettwerk CEO and Lilith Fair co-founder Terry McBride announced that the all-female festival would make its return in mid-2010 in Canada, the United States, and Europe. A list of 36 North American shows was released. But poor ticket sales, financial problems, and headliners' withdrawing out of fear of not being paid caused 13 of the shows to be cancelled. The two-week European tour never materialized.
In 1997, McLachlan co-wrote and provided guest vocals on the Delerium song "Silence" for their album Karma. This song achieved a massive amount of US top 40 airplay when released as a single in late 2000 and also featured on the soundtrack for the movie Brokedown Palace. In 2001, McLachlan provided background vocals, guitar, and piano on the closing track "Love Is" from Stevie Nicks' eighth solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La, in addition to drawing the dragon used for the "S" in Stevie's name on the album cover. In May 2002, her duet with Bryan Adams was released on the Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack. She sang harmonies and played the piano on the song "Don't Let Go" while Sood did the drum work.
In 1998, in addition to performing her own set, she performed a cover of Cat Stevens' "Sad Lisa" with rock band Phish at the annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California, hosted by Neil Young. During 1999, she released a live album, Mirrorball. The album's singles included a new live version of her earlier song, "I Will Remember You", a studio recording of which had previously been released on The Brothers McMullen soundtrack as well as Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff. The song was released as a single twice, once in 1995 where it peaked No. 65 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 in Canada, and again in 1999 at No. 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 10 in Canada. The 1999 version garnered McLachlan her third Grammy Awards for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "I Will Remember You") in 2000.
In 1999, McLachlan recorded the Randy Newman song "When She Loved Me" on the Toy Story 2 soundtrack. This song was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2000, and McLachlan performed it at the awards ceremony, but the award went to "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan, written and recorded by Phil Collins.
McLachlan also participated in several concerts during her break, such as Sheryl Crow's Live from Central Park in 1999, the Arista Records twenty-fifth anniversary celebration in 2000, as well as the 2002 British Columbia Cancer Foundation Benefit Concert in memory of cancer victim Michele Bourbonnais. She participated along with four other Canadian artists: Bryan Adams, Jann Arden, Barenaked Ladies, and Chantal Kreviazuk.
In 1993, she appeared as a guest vocalist on albums by Blue Rodeo (Five Days in July) and Stephen Fearing (The Assassin's Apprentice).
In 1995, she contributed to "A Testimonial Dinner", an XTC tribute album, covering the song "Dear God".
In 1997, she appeared as herself on the television series (Ellen) Season 5 episode 12 "Womyn Fest" and performed.
In November 2006, McLachlan performed the song "Ordinary Miracle" for that year's feature film, Charlotte's Web. The song was written by Glen Ballard and David A. Stewart of Eurythmics. McLachlan was the subject of rumours of an Oscar nomination for the song, but in the end was not nominated. She helped to promote the song and movie by performing it on The Oprah Winfrey Show as well as during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She also performed the song during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, in front of an estimated 3 billion television viewers worldwide.
In early 2007, she sang on Dave Stewart's Go Green, alongside Nadirah X, Imogen Heap, Natalie Imbruglia, and others.
In 2007, McLachlan's song "Answer" featured in The Brave One starring Jodie Foster.
McLachlan also appeared on Annie Lennox's album, Songs of Mass Destruction. Together with Madonna, Céline Dion, Pink, Sugababes, Angélique Kidjo, k.d. lang, Faith Hill, Fergie, Melissa Etheridge, Bonnie Raitt, Shakira, Anastacia, Joss Stone, Dido, and KT Tunstall, she performed on the song "Sing".
In 2010, McLachlan appeared as herself on the television series Life Unexpected and performed. On September 8, 2010, McLachlan performed and sang "Forgiveness" from her 2010 album Laws of Illusion on a semi-final show of America's Got Talent; she did so again on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, two days later.
Sarah appeared alongside Aimee Mann on the IFC series Portlandia, as a piñata and a yard maintenance person.
On November 22, 2010, McLachlan again performed and sang "Forgiveness" this time on the Regis and Kelly show.
On September 10, 2012 she performed I Will Remember You and Angel at a ceremony in Stonycreek, Pennsylvania, commemorating the passengers and crew of hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 who fought the hijackers and brought down their airplane on September 11, 2001. The event marked the dedication of the Flight 93 National Memorial and was attended by former President George W. Bush, former First Lady Laura Bush, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner.
McLachlan has been nominated for 26 Juno Awards and awarded 9. In 1992, her video for "Into the Fire" was selected as best music video. In 1998, she won Female Vocalist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year (along with Pierre Marchand), Single of the Year for "Building a Mystery", and Album of the Year for Surfacing. In 2000, she won an International Achievement award and in 2004, won Pop Album of the Year for Afterglow and again shared the Songwriter of the Year award with Pierre Marchand for the singles "Fallen", "World on Fire", and "Stupid".
She has also won three Grammy Awards. She was awarded Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1997 for "Building a Mystery" and again in 1999 for the live version of "I Will Remember You". She also scored Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 1997 for "Last Dance".
Her song "Building a Mystery" came in at 91 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s.
McLachlan has been extensively profiled by media including cover stories for Rolling Stone, Time magazine, Entertainment Weekly and Flare, a Canadian fashion magazine.
Through her career, she has also received many awards, primarily in recognition of her efforts in launching Lilith Fair. She was awarded the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Visionary Award in 1998 for advancing the careers of women in music. In 1999, she was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada by then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson in recognition of her successful recording career, her role in Lilith Fair, and the charitable donations she made to women's shelters across Canada. In 2001, she was inducted to the Order of British Columbia.
On February 12, 2010, McLachlan performed her song "Ordinary Miracle" at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
On June 15, 2011, she was recognized with an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University.
Kiwanis International presented her with the 2013 Kiwanis International World Service Medal to recognize her for founding the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, a free music school for at-risk youth in Vancouver, British Columbia.
On November 20, 2013, McLachlan was recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta.
In 2012 she was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame. In May 2015 McLachlan received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canada's highest honour in the performing arts.
On April 2, 2017, at the Juno Awards ceremony, Sarah was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
McLachlan also funds an outreach program in Vancouver that provides music education for inner city children. In 2007, the provincial government announced $500,000 in funding for the outreach program. Originating at the "Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach", this program evolved into the Sarah McLachlan School of Music. This program provided children with high quality music instruction in guitar, piano, percussion and choir.
In 2011 McLachlan opened the Sarah McLachlan School of Music in Vancouver, a free music school for at-risk youth. The School of Music provides group and private lessons to hundreds of young people every year. It is their goal that through music education, students will develop a love of the arts and have greater self-esteem.
On May 25, 2016, the Sarah McLachlan School of Music expanded to Edmonton, Alberta, opening in Rundle Elementary School and Eastglen High School. The music school contains the same initiative as the Vancouver school.
Select VIP tickets for her 2014 summer tour will also feature a charitable contribution to the School of Music.
She supports the ASPCA by appearing in advertisements. She filmed a two-minute advertisement for the organization which featured her song "Angel". The advertisement's imagery of shelter animals mixed with the soundtrack and McLachlan's simple appeal for donations has raised $30 million for the ASPCA since it began to air in 2006, which allowed the organization to air appeals in higher profile prime-time cable ad slots; subsequently the organization produced a new ad for the 2008 holiday season featuring McLachlan appealing for the ASPCA over her Wintersong performance of "Silent Night", and a new ad with her was released in January 2009 featuring the song "Answer". In 2012, McLachlan wrote a letter on behalf of PETA to then-Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, protesting that country's annual seal hunt. During Super Bowl XLVIII on February 3, 2014, McLachlan parodied her ASPCA appeals in an Audi commercial featuring a "Doberhuahua" dog gnawing on the neck of her guitar.
McLachlan contributed the track "Hold On" to the 1993 AIDS-benefit album No Alternative, produced by the Red Hot Organization. She also performed at the Leonard Peltier Defense Fund Benefit Concert on February 12, 1997 and went on to release a cover version of Unchained Melody created as part of her support for Peltier. It was later included on the album Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff Volume 2.
In early 2005, McLachlan took part in a star-studded tsunami disaster relief telethon on NBC. On January 29 McLachlan was a headliner for a benefit concert in Vancouver along with other Canadian superstars such as Avril Lavigne and Bryan Adams. The show also featured a performance by the Sarah McLachlan Musical Outreach Choir & Percussion Ensemble, a children's choir and percussion band from the aforementioned Vancouver outreach program. In addition to her own headliner show she also joined Delerium live on stage for their first-ever performance of "Silence". The concert was titled One World: The Concert for Tsunami Relief, and raised approximately $3.6 million for several Canadian aid agencies working in south and southeast Asia. The show was the brainchild of McLachlan's manager, Terry McBride, CEO of Nettwerk. It ran for four hours and aired live on CTV across Canada.
In 2008, she donated a song to Aid Still Required's CD to assist with the restoration of the devastation done to Southeast Asia from the 2004 tsunami.
On July 2, 2005, McLachlan participated in the Philadelphia installment of the Live 8 concerts, where she performed her hit "Angel" with Josh Groban. These concerts, which were held simultaneously in nine major cities around the world, were intended to coincide with the G8 summit to put pressure on the leaders of the world's richest nations to fight poverty in Africa by cancelling debt.
For raising millions of dollars for causes including women's charities, AIDS sufferers and inner-city children, Simon Fraser University conferred on McLachlan the degree of Doctor of Fine Arts, honoris causa on June 13, 2011.
On November 30, 2012, McLachlan lent her support to Kate Winslet’s Golden Hat Foundation together with Tim Janis, Loreena McKennitt, Andrea Corr, Hayley Westenra, Sleepy Man Banjo Boys, Dawn Kenney, Jana Mashonee, Amy Petty and a choir etc performing on "The American Christmas Carol" concert in Carnegie Hall.
On June 29, 2013, McLachlan was awarded the Kiwanis International World Service Medal for her dedication to music education and working to improve the quality of life for young children.Touch (1988)
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy (1993)
Laws of Illusion (2010)
Shine On (2014)