Just a year after Annette Locante-Blank recorded a demonstration tape in an Arbutus studio, she is on the verge of releasing a 10-song compact disc recorded in Nashville.
Better yet, she has a two-year contract with an independent recording company and is planning promotional appearances and a music video.
"If I died tomorrow, I would die happy," said the Oakwood Village resident. "I feel so lucky."
Ms. Locante-Blank, who will use only her first name professionally, has been singing since she was a youngster in Wisconsin. She sang backup for several years in Baltimore-area studios "for anyone who needed it," then, on the advice of friends, cut a country crossover demonstration tape last year that included the Olivia Newton John hit "Please, Mister, Please."
She flooded independent labels in Nashville with copies of her tape last winter and, to her surprise, received calls from several producers. She quickly found a Nashville entertainment lawyer and signed a contract in April with Jack Gale, a Baltimore native who chose her as one of the three or four unknowns he gambles on every year from the thousands of tapes his company, Playback Records, receives.
Mr. Gale has picked some winners, among them Johnny Paycheck.
"She's believable, and she's a communicator," the former Baltimore disc jockey said. "There's nobody in the Top 100 who she sounds like."
The songs on the CD are originals, some leaning toward traditional ballads and others more toward pop music. She and Mr. Gale picked them from about 100 songs.
Ms. Locante-Blank, 38, has no professional musical training, but she spent 12 hours a day for a week -- in the same Nashville studio where Lawrence Welk used to record -- with Mr. Gale, an arranger and her own backup musicians to make the album, "A Love Like Ours."
Mr. Gale is to pick for release nationally in December as a single a song he hopes will capture the attention of disc jockeys, which could help sales of the full CD.
When she played the CD for her mother last week, Ms. Locante-Blank said, the older woman cried with joy.
Annette Locante -- her family name means "the singer" in Italian -- is the fifth of seven children. Her family emigrated from Italy to Kenosha, Wis., when she was a toddler; within a few years she was singing to the accordion accompaniment of her brother, Frank, in impromptu family performances.
At 16, she was selected to perform with "The Kids from Wisconsin," a musical touring group of about 20 high school students. At 18, she sang backup one summer for an Elvis impersonator -- because she wanted the performing experience, not because she expected it to be a conversation stopper two decades later.
Shortly afterward, she was at the University of Wisconsin studying unhappily to be an English teacher and dabbling happily in a career her parents frowned on -- singing jazz, standards and pop songs at area clubs. She says jazz is her first love but that the music is hard to market. Country allows a melodic depth of feeling similar to that of jazz, she says.
She quit college for cosmetology studies and work that took her from Kenosha to Chicago to Milwaukee, all the while singing in the evenings and on weekends.
She moved to Glen Burnie nine years ago, when her boyfriend transferred to a job in Baltimore. She and Richard Blank have since married.
She was a cosmetologist and hairdresser in Bethesda, listening to books on tape and trying to learn a little French in traffic, until the older of their two daughters was born nearly four years ago. Then she began working part-time for special clients, which she continues to do.
After a saxophone player in a Baltimore hotel remembered her from Wisconsin a few years ago, she began doing backup vocals.
She is hoping that radio play will bring her to the attention of a major record label. The CD, she said, is a way "to try to get my name out there."