The Nelson-born songstress is no stranger to music awards and recognition. Throughout her career, she’s won Top Female Vocalist at the New Zealand Music Awards three times (1978, 1979, 1980) and is the only artist in awards history to have won a Tui in 3 consecutive years.
Her debut album also picked up awards for Best Producer and Best Engineer, and the album’s lead track won the 1979 APRA Silver Scroll. Her ground-breaking self-titled second album won Album of the Year in 1980, and in 1983, Sharon also won Best Soundtrack for Smash Palace.
Her 1983 song ‘Maxine’ won the hearts and minds of music lovers here and in Australia alike. It was the second single from her fourth album Foreign Affairs and chronicles the life of a Kings Cross prostitute. Such is the iconic nature of this song and video, the costume worn by the actress in the video was featured in the landmark music exhibition Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa (2016) at Auckland Museum.
Recorded Music NZ CEO Damian Vaughan says Sharon O’Neill’s seminal style and powerful pop-rock albums are a staple of both New Zealand and Australia’s musical legacy.
“Sharon’s songs are an iconic part of an era when New Zealand music really started to come of age. From her early days as a folk singer to sweeping the charts and winning awards both here and in Australia – Sharon blazed a trail for women in rock, and it’s only right we take the time to celebrate her career and the impact she had on Kiwi music.”
Sharon started her career as a folk artist in Nelson before briefly joining Christchurch rock band Chapta in 1972. A move to Wellington saw her work as a session vocalist at the legendary EMI Studios in Lower Hutt.
However, it was her 1978 performance of her song “Luck’s On Your Table” on the New Zealand TV show “The Entertainers” which caught the ears of the newly-established local office of CBS Records. CBS promptly made Sharon their first local signing, and the track became the lead single off her debut album This Heart This Song (1979).
Her second album Sharon O’Neill (1980) was a breakout success reaching #3 on The Official New Zealand Music Charts and featuring the hits “Words” and “Asian Paradise”. She followed this in quick succession with the album Maybe (1981) and the soundtrack to Roger Donaldson’s iconic film Smash Palace (1982).
However, it was Sharon’s fourth studio album Foreign Affairs (1983) which marked her out as a major star on both sides of the Tasman. Recorded in Los Angeles, the album featured classics such as “Maxine”, “Losing You” and “Danger”.
With striking videos, numerous TV appearances and a national tour of Australia supporting Boz Scaggs (with 2013 Inductee Dave Dobbyn playing guitar in her band), Sharon won over the Aussies. At the Australian Countdown Awards, Sharon won Best Female Performance in a Video twice (1984 & 1985) and Most Popular Female Performer four times (1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984). She was also a two-time ARIA Awards nominee for Best Female Artist.
Sharon next returned in 1987 with her fifth album Danced In The Fire, followed by 1990’s Edge of Winter. In the interim, Sharon and her partner Alan Mansfield (a 2011 Inductee with Dragon) co-wrote the 1989 hit single “Young Years” for Dragon. The 90’s also saw Sharon co-write and provide vocals for the late British superstar Robert Palmer, with Sharon and Alan co-writing Palmer’s final studio single, “True Love” (1999).
In 2001 Sharon returned to New Zealand to join When The Cat’s Away on their Live In Paradise tour, with the subsequent live recording going Top Ten and platinum. More recently, The Church Tour in September 2016 saw Sharon tour the country with fellow legends Debbie Harwood, Hammond Gamble and 2013 inductee Shona Laing, and in 2017 Sharon retuned to Nelson to play two sol-out headline shows.
Watch Stellar’s tribute performance: