McGovern was born in Youngstown, Ohio to Mary Rita Welsh and James Terrence McGovern.[1] She has Irish ancestry.[2] As a child, McGovern would listen to her father’s barbershop quartet rehearse in their home. She was told by her elders that she began singing at the tender age of three, and would sometimes sing herself to sleep with things she heard on the radio. She decided at age eight that she wanted to be a professional singer; and she developed a taste for various types of music, including jazz, showtunes, oldies, and folk. Her influences include Barbra Streisand and Dionne Warwick.

After graduating from high school in 1967, she worked as a secretary and performed part-time as a singer for a local folk band called Sweet Rain. Her singing caught the attention of Russ Regan (then head of 20th Century Records) in 1972 when he heard a demo she had recorded. At the time, Regan was searching for a singer to record “The Morning After” (the theme from The Poseidon Adventure) for release as a record. He hired McGovern sight unseen to record the song, which led to her signing with 20th Century Records. After it won an Oscar for Best Original Song, “The Morning After” quickly climbed the pop charts, reaching #1 in 1973.

In 1974, she recorded two movie themes: “We May Never Love Like This Again” (from the disaster film The Towering Inferno, in which she made a short appearance when she is seen singing the song as the evening’s entertainment) and “Wherever Love Takes Me” (from the British disaster film Gold). The former won an Oscar (though it was only a minor pop hit), and the latter received an Oscar nomination. These two songs (along with “The Morning After”) led the media to call McGovern “the Disaster Theme Queen.”