Born in New York City, Phoebe Snow was raised in a household where Delta blues, Broadway show tunes, Dixieland jazz, classical music and folk music recordings were played around the clock. Her father, Merrill Laub, was an exterminator by trade and her mother, Lili, was a dance teacher who died of bone cancer. She grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and graduated from Teaneck High School. As a teenager, she carried her prized Martin 00018 acoustic guitar from club to club around Greenwich Village, playing and singing on amateur nights. Her stage name is the same as a fictional advertising character created in the early 1900s for the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad, a young woman named Phoebe Snow, who appeared on boxcars traveling near her hometown. She changed her name from Phoebe Laub to Phoebe Snow. She was briefly married to Phil Kearns, and, in December 1975, gave birth to a severely brain-injured daughter, Valerie. Snow resolved not to institutionalize her but instead care for her at home, which she did until Valerie died on March 18, 2007 at the age of 31. Snow's efforts to care for Valerie greatly and negatively affected her professional career, nearly ending it; it also adversely affected her personal life.
It was at the Bitter End club in 1972 that Denny Cordell, a promotions executive for Shelter Records, was so taken by the singer that he signed her to the label and produced her first recording. She released an eponymous album, Phoebe Snow, in 1974. Featuring guest performances by The Persuasions, Zoot Sims, Teddy Wilson, David Bromberg and Dave Mason, Snow's album became one of the most acclaimed debut recordings of the era. It spawned the Billboard Hot 100 #5 hit single, "Poetry Man," reached number 4 on the Billboard 200 album chart, won Snow a nomination for the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, and established her as a formidable singer/songwriter. The cover of Rolling Stone magazine followed, while she performed as the opening act for tours by Jackson Browne and Paul Simon (with whom she recorded the hit single "Gone at Last" in 1975). 1975 also brought the first of several appearances as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, on which Snow performed both solo and in duets with Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt.
Legal battles took place between Snow and Shelter Records, and Snow ended up signed to Columbia Records. Her second album, Second Childhood, appeared in 1976, produced by Phil Ramone. It was jazzier and more introspective, and suffered disappointing sales. Snow moved to a harder sound for It Looks Like Snow, released later in 1976 with David Rubinson producing. 1977 saw Never Letting Go, again with Ramone, while 1978's Against the Grain was helmed by Barry Beckett. After that Snow parted ways with Columbia; she would later say that the stress of her parental obligations degraded her ability to make music effectively.
In 1981, Snow, now signed with Mirage Records, released Rock Away, recorded with members of Billy Joel's band; it spun off the Top 50 hit "Games". The 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide summed up Snow's career so far by saying: "One of the most gifted voices of her generation, Phoebe Snow can do just about anything stylistically as well as technically ... The question that's still unanswered is how best to channel such talent." However, Snow would now spend long periods away from recording, often singing commercial jingles for AT&T and others in order to support herself and her daughter. During the 1980s she also battled her own life-threatening illness. Snow returned to recording with Something Real in 1989 and gathered a few more hits on the Adult Contemporary charts. Also, Snow composed the Detroit's WDIV-TV Go 4 It! campaign in 1980. She sang Ancient Places, Sacred Lands on Reading Rainbow's tenth episode The Gift of the Sacred Dog which was based on the book by Paul Goble and narrated by actor Michael Ansara. It was shot at Crow Agency, Montana in 1983.
In 1990, she contributed a cover version of the Delaney & Bonnie song "Get ourselves together" to the Elektra compilation RubÃ¡iyÃ¡t. In 1992, she toured with Donald Fagen's popular New York Rock and Soul Revue and was featured on the group's album recorded live at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Even when she wasn't recording her own works, Phoebe continued to tour extensively as a solo artist throughout North America, Great Britain, Germany, and the Far East.
Throughout the '90s she made numerous appearances on the Howard Stern radio show. She sang live for specials and birthday shows. In 1997, she sang the Roseanne theme song a cappella during the closing moments of the final episode.
Snow has performed with a Who's Who of prolific artists including Lou Rawls, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dave Grusin, Avenue Blue with Jeff Golub, Garland Jeffreys, Jewel, Donald Fagen, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Queen, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Jackson Browne, Dave Mason, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, Cyndi Lauper, Roger Daltrey, Chaka Khan, CeCe Peniston, Take 6, Michael Bolton, Thelma Houston, Mavis Staples, Laurie Anderson, Tracy Nelson, and The Sisters of Glory (with whom she performed at the second Woodstock festival), among many, many others. She also sings the title track on the 1997 Laura Nyro tribute album, Time and Love, and recently Snow joined the pop group, Zap Mama, who recorded its own version of "Poetry Man," in an impromptu duet on the PBS series, "Sessions At West 54th." Hawaiian girl group Na Leo also had a hit on the Adult Contemporary chart in 1999 with their cover version of "Poetry Man."
Decorating an already vibrant career, in May 1998, Snow received the Cultural Achievement Award by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. She is also the recipient of a Don Kirschner Rock Award, several Playboy Music Poll Awards, New York Music Awards and the Clio Award.
One of President Bill Clinton's favorite vocalists, she performed for the President, the First Lady, and his cabinet at Camp David in 1999.
In 2003, Snow released her album Natural Wonder on Eagle Records, containing ten original tracks, her first original material in fourteen years.
In 2008 she released a Live album on Verve Records. Sadly, Snow suffered a brain ailment in early 2010 and died in April 2011.