Dawn Sears, vocalist with the four-time Grammy-nominated band the Time Jumpers, died Thursday (December 11th) after a two-year battle with lung cancer. In addition to her work with the Western swing-influenced band, Sears was also a longtime member of Vince Gill’s touring band and an in-demand harmony vocalist. She was 53.
A native of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, Sears was just 14 when she won her first talent contest at a VFW Hall in Grand Forks, North Dakota. At 17, she was touring with a band throughout the West and Midwest. After moving to Nashville in 1987, she signed to Warner Bros. Records and released her debut album, What a Woman Wants to Hear, in 1991. The Barry Beckett-produced LP earned her favorable comparisons to singers Reba McEntire and Shelby Lynne, and featured her husband, fellow Time Jumper Kenny Sears, on fiddle. In 1994, while a member of Vince Gill’s band — after a brief hiatus from her solo recording career — Sears became the first artist signed to the reactivated Decca label in Nashville, releasing the album Nothin’ but Good. In addition to the Time Jumpers projects and several of Gill’s albums, Sears sang harmony on tunes by Tracy Byrd, Ronnie Milsap, Jim Lauderdale, Patty Loveless and Merle Haggard, among others.
In October, McEntire headlined a benefit for Sears, which also featured performances by the Time Jumpers and Riders in the Sky. In a statement at the time, Sears said, “I am on a mission to help fund lung-cancer research at [Nashville’s] Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. A benefit concert is the best way I know how to do that. It is my mission to bring more hope to those of us with lung cancer. I was diagnosed with lung cancer over a year ago and I now have a greater understanding of the daily battle and challenges that people with cancer of any kind face.” The event raised more than $100,000.
As a singer with the Time Jumpers, who perform every Monday at Nashville club 3rd and Lindsley, Sears earned thunderous ovations, whether singing rollicking classics like “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” or weepy heartbreakers like “If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong, Do It Right.” Watch a goose-bump-raising performance of the latter from just this past June below.
Sears is survived by her husband and their daughter, Tess. Funeral arrangements are pending.