Faith Hill's Hope & Joy

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Family Values

Turning away from the spotlight is not a concept Hill could have imagined when she was the age of her eldest, Gracie. In tiny Star, Mississippi, life was always a bit too slow for Audrey Faith Perry. She was adopted soon after birth and raised with traditional Southern values by her bank teller mother and factory worker father. Her upbringing in Star was right out of the classic Grand Ole Opry playbook: very little money, lots of church and gospel, and endless persistence. She always wanted to shine.

At 18 she quit a local college and lit out for Nashville, where she took any job she could get, including selling T-shirts and working as a receptionist for a music company. She was married briefly to music executive Daniel Hill and finally got her break when one of the bosses in the office heard her sing along to the radio and suggested she do demo work. In 1993 the girl from Star cut her first single, "Wild One." She met McGraw three years later, when she was the opening act on his Spontaneous Combustion Tour.

The road to success was bumpier for McGraw, 41, who grew up poor and abused in another eyeblink town, Start, Louisiana, believing that Horace Smith was his real father. At 11 he found his birth certificate, which indicated that his biological father was baseball great Tug McGraw. His mother, a dancer when she met the famous pitcher, ultimately introduced her son to his dad, who at first denied paternity. Hill, too, with her parents' help, eventually met her birth mother (now deceased) as well as her brother, with whom she has a warm relationship.

Having had childhoods rocked by such emotional ambushes, the couple have made openness and straight talk a priority with their own and debates everything from the excesses of tabloid gossip to the moral implications of too much trash (the non-tabloid variety). "As much as we travel," says Hill, "there was just so much waste in our family, because we'd buy something we didn't use, or we'd buy too much food." She and Gracie -- a budding cook at 11 -- now grocery-shop together and talk about portion control and the dangers of impulse buying. A current family debate centers around whether Gracie should have a cell phone. So far Hill and McGraw have held firm to their "not yet" position. Says Hill, "I don't want to be a prude, the uncool parent, but I really don't feel she needs one right now." Similarly, the couple consider Gracie too young to have her own e-mail address. "Obviously, the girls' lives are a lot different from ours growing up," she says, "but we do have rules."

For inspiration she only has to look to the small-town values that still inform her parents' vibrant life in Star. "For them it's all about church and community," says Hill. "And they grow all their own vegetables and don't waste anything. My mom has had the same wooden spoons for 20 years. I've gone through three batches of wooden spoons."

Hill and McGraw believe those small-town values can work on a larger scale. Since 1994 McGraw has run a concert-meets-street-festival called Swampstock to benefit youth sports facilities, scholarships, and other causes in his hometown, Start. The girls and Hill have participated in this down-home event, along with boldface names like Martina McBride and NFL quarterback Brett Favre. Now Swampstock is part of the couple's larger umbrella charity, the Neighbor's Keeper Foundation, begun three years ago. "Tim and I both grew up in small communities, where it was always a neighbor who helped the person in need," says Hill. "That's where the name came from, and that's the goal."

Continued on page 3:  Reaching Out

 

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