Remembering Lari White: ‘She Just Plain Saved Me’
Tamara Saviano is a well-known and highly respected figure in the country music scene. In this special feature for Taste of Country, the Grammy and Americana Award-winning producer, music business executive and writer remembers her friend Lari White, who died on Tuesday (Jan. 23) after battling cancer.
White's run of country hits included "That's My Baby," "Now I Know," and "That's How You Know (When You're in Love)," but her legacy ran much deeper; she also appeared on television and in films, and her music extended from mainstream country into bluegrass and gospel. She was also a notable producer, but perhaps her most important legacy was as a beloved figure to many in the music and arts community,
In the tribute below, Saviano remembers White as a "soul sister" who reached out to many in the music community and helped her get through a very difficult time in her life.
Yesterday the beautiful soul of Lari White Cannon traveled to the great beyond. Our heartbreaking loss is heaven’s gain. Lari was a creator: songwriter, producer, author, actor of stage and screen. Lari was best known for her hit country songs in the 1990s (“That’s My Baby,” “Now I Know,” “That’s How You Know (When You’re In Love).” She is the green-eyed woman who wows Tom Hanks at the end of the film Cast Away. But, more importantly, for all of the Nashville music community, Lari was our kind and loving soul sister.
Lari and I knew each other casually after we met when I worked at country radio station WMIL in Milwaukee in the early '90s. After I moved to Nashville in 1995, our paths crossed often and, although we were not close friends, we always had interesting conversations and I enjoyed being around her. As the years went by and I began producing records, Lari sent me encouraging emails about my work. I was a fan of her work, too, and loved the discussions we had about music and art.
In March 2014, I was going through a rough patch. I was depressed, not sleeping and completely freaked out about a Guy Clark biography I was writing for Texas A&M University Press. I was quite sure I was in over my head and would never finish the book. At that time, someone else had approached Guy about doing a documentary about him and Guy asked me to make the film because he didn’t want to work with someone else. This was weighing on me, too. I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility. Lari emailed me out of the blue and said, "We’re always promising to get together for lunch. Let’s go do it!" I met her the next day.
Although we didn’t know each other well, Lari immediately knew something was off. She held my hand during the entire lunch. I broke down and cried and revealed all of my fears. I was vulnerable and Lari sat with me like we’d been best friends forever. She shared some of her own struggles to reassure me I was not alone. She hooked me up with a yoga therapist and promised it would help me sleep (it did). Lari checked in with me frequently over the next couple of months as I started to regain my strength and confidence.
When Lari’s birthday came up in May, she called to invite me to a girls night at her house to celebrate. She said, "These women will feed your soul." She was right. That night one of Lari’s friends introduced me to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, a book I still treasure for its healing powers. Lari saved me that spring. She just plain saved me.
The last time Lari and I spent any real time together was Oct. 30, 2015, when Shawn Mullins played the City Winery as his album that Lari produced was released. She texted me and said she had reserved some tables at the Winery and asked me to come to the show and celebrate. Lari was beaming that night. She was alive and beautiful. I had to leave the show early because I got an emergency call about Guy, who was dying at the time. Lari’s last words to me were, "Just surround him with love." I did.
And now it is our turn to surround Lari’s family with love and prayers. It’s not enough but right now it’s all we have.
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