Utah residents Atz and Nedra Kilcher begat a daughter, Jewel, in May of 1974. The Kilchers, who hadn't yet relinquished the '60s to history, soon moved to Homer, Alaska, settling on the 800-acre homestead founded by Jewel's grandfather, a Swiss immigrant. In addition to farming, Atz and Nedra were itinerant musicians, performing in bars and lounges throughout the state. Jewel joined the show at age six -- true to her Swiss heritage, she performed a yodeling number with her father.
Growing up on the homestead was not easy, there was no access to television, telephone lines or indoor plumbing. Jewel's home was almost completely sheltered from the influence of pop culture, which led Jewel to create her own entertainment. Her parents divorced when she was eight years old, and writing became not only recreation but also an escape mechanism for Jewel. She wrote poetry to cope with the trauma of the divorce and the realization that she was an outcast among her peers. At school, she was teased about her yodeling and her naivete. She was also dyslexic, which made classwork a challenge.
However, she was gaining recognition for her musical talent even then. After her parents' divorce, she continued to live and perform with her father, becoming somewhat of a star in Homer. Before her junior year of high school, she learned she had won a vocal scholarship to attend the Interlochen Fine Arts Academy, a prestigious arts school in Michigan. The scholarship paid 70 percent of her tuition; the balance was raised by donations from the residents of Homer and the proceeds from Jewel's first solo concert.
Juel, as she spelled her name while at Interlochen, studied opera, drama and sculpture. After she graduated, perhaps remembering all too well the mid-January trips to the ol' outhouse back in Homer, she moved to San Diego to live with her mother Nedra. At first she worked odd jobs, mostly as a waitress, to scrape together enough money for her rent, all the while wishing she could focus more on her songwriting. Though Nedra provided love, support and encouragement, her financial situation was not much better than her daughter's.
The Kilcher women scraped by until they could stand it no longer. Jewel made the decision to eliminate her rent expense, moving into her van and quitting her job so she could focus on music. Nedra followed suit, setting up camp in her own van.
Jewel was relieved to be able to get serious about writing songs. Life was still not easy, the young singer was living in a 1969 Volkswagen Bus, subsisting on carrots and peanut butter, bathing in K-Mart restrooms and foregoing medical treatment for chronic kidney problems.
Around this time, Jewel landed a weekly gig at a coffeehouse called the Innerchange. Though her first shows drew sparse crowds, her versatile voice, VW bus-honed songs and down-to-earth persona paired with physical beauty began to attract a following.
By late 1993, she was playing to packed houses each week. As legend has it, Jewel would play four-hour sets of original songs and rambling stories, then race to the door to thank everyone as they left.
At one such show, the line of people shaking Jewel's hand included reps from Atlantic Records, who took her out to dinner. Their limo dropped her off at her van, and before long she had inked a deal with the label.
She used her advance to upgrade her and her mother's accommodations, renting a house and buying a used Volvo.
Her debut album, Pieces of You, was recorded in 1994. Some tracks were done at Neil Young's studio; others were recorded live at the Innerchange. When the album was released, in early 1995, it initially went nowhere in a market that was still caught up in grunge. The first single, "Who Will Save Your Soul," captured a smidgeon of airplay on VH-1 but little else. Without any other means of promotion, Atlantic sent Jewel on a grueling series of tours consisting of as many as 40 cities in 30 days.
After a year in which she played nearly 500 shows, Atlantic saw Jewel gaining momentum and launched another marketing push. This time, the re-released "Who Will Save Your Soul" caught on, peaking at No. 11 on the Billboard singles chart in September 1996. Atlantic then re-released Pieces of You's second single, "You Were Meant for Me." The song hit No. 2 in November 1996 and won an MTV award for Best Female Video. Jewel was also nominated for two Grammys and was named Best New Artist at the American Music Awards. Pieces of You, in the meantime, had gone triple platinum. It would go on to sell 10 million copies worldwide.
Before the enormous success of the re-released "You Were Meant for Me," Jewel had begun to record her second album. However, those plans were abandoned in favor of another 18-month stint on the road in support of Pieces of You. Jewel did not end up releasing a follow-up until November 1998, which left her in the somewhat awkward position of being 24 years old with a reputation based on songs she wrote when she was 17.
Spirit, her second album, was preceded by a book of her poetry titled "A Night Without Armor."
In early November 1999 Jewel released Joy, her first holiday album.