End of an Era: Joanna Cotten Leaves Eric Church’s Band

Since 2013, vocal powerhouse and larger-than-life performer Joanna Cotten has been helping Eric Church instill passion, soul, and energy into his music, both in the studio and on stage. She’s been Eric Church’s secret weapon, and right-hand woman on many of his most landmark and powerful performances. But after a year of battling illness that has taken her on and off the road, she’s choosing to move on, and it feels like the end of an era. But hopefully it’s the beginning of bigger things for Joanna Cotten.

On Sunday (7-31), Cotten made a statement to her fans, and fans of Eric Church. “Hello, friends and fans. I want to let you all know that I made the decision to take some time off after the Gather Again tour to focus on writing some new songs and have a time of rest and recovery. It was my intention to return, but God has other plans,” she said. “I also want you all to know that your energy carried me through so many shows with Eric. What a run we had. I am so grateful for the stages I sang on with him and the people I met along the way.”

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, and raised in Arkansas, Joanna Cotten was once signed to Warner Bros. Records, and recorded over 20 songs for a debut album that was never released. When a single called “The Prize” stalled out at #60 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 2007, her music was shelved by Warner Bros., and so was her career, as is so often the case in the major label business.

But Cotten continued to record and tour, and developed a sound she calls “Funkabilly,”—a mix of blues, funk, and country that is very indicative of her Memphis roots. She’s a singer with passion. “I have to sing for people, that’s just the way it is,” she says. “It’s like a beast inside of me that has to come out, and it’s been that way since I was a baby girl.”

Joanna Cotten attended the prestigious Juilliard Music School, and afterwards moved to Nashville where she would regularly perform at places such as 3rd and Lindsley, eventually getting signed by EMI Music on a publishing deal, and later to Warner. But after five years of waiting for the label to do something with the material she recorded for them, she decided to move on. When Eric Church was looking for a soulful voice for his band, Joanna Cotten signed up. She first appeared prominently with Eric Church in a live video for Church’s song “Over When It’s Over” in 2013. In 2017 when Eric Church performed “Chattanooga Lucy” on the CMA Awards, this was Cotten’s first brush with national television exposure.

“I wrote my CMA female vocalist of the year acceptance speech when I was 9 years old,” Cotton said after the 2017 CMAs. “I’ve wanted to stand on that stage and sing my entire life and this year I got to do just that. It was such an amazing experience and dream come true for me. I am so grateful to Eric Church for allowing me the opportunity to live my dream and for all the encouraging words from my friends and the fans. What a night for the record books in my life!”

Once again in 2018, Eric Church’s single “Desperate Man” bestowed the opportunity for Joanna Cotten to drift from the backline to the frontline at the CMA Awards, and wow viewers. In concert, Eric Church would often hand the mic off to Cotten to take her turn in the spotlight. She became such an integral part of Eric Church’s performances, when she was forced off the road due to COVID, Church had to find a backup, with Ashley McBryde doing fill-in duty for some performances.

But now it’s time for goodbye for Joanna Cotten from the Eric Church touring entourage, though it’s not goodbye for good. Just as Eric Church instilled a big boost behind Ashley McBryde that ultimately had her signing to a major label and winning awards, perhaps the same is in the future for Joanna Cotten.

“I am very much looking forward to new solo music and ventures on the horizon,” Cotten assures. “I love you guys and I’ll see you out there on the road before you know it!”

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