Who’s Next?

A great sprinter in the making. A possible Supreme Court justice. Our favorite new jazz singer. Meet ten women who represent the best of Texas today—and tomorrow.

Nora Jones

REMEMBER THE COVER OF THE Sinatra album No One Cares? A gin-soaked Old Blue Eyes sits alone at the bar, clinging by his fingernails to last call. It’s a masterpiece of self-pity, but one Norah Jones song on the jukebox is all it would take for Frank to pick himself up and get back in the race. Albums don’t get any more intimate than Jones’s debut, Come Away With Me, which has sold six million copies worldwide since its release in February 2002. The Dallas-raised singer-pianist doesn’t dwell on my-baby-left-me blues. Instead she purrs “Turn Me On,” “I’ve Got to See You Again,” and the title song, all in her thin but utterly beguiling voice. Sultry is the only word for it—not Christina Aguilera, take-it-all-off sultry, but seductive in an altogether adult fashion. And here’s the thing: She’s just 23 years old.

The daughter of the famed Indian musician Ravi Shankar, Jones studied music at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, in Dallas, and the University of North Texas, in Denton, before returning to New York, where she was born. Soon there were appearances on Leno, Letterman, and Saturday Night Live. Plus, she’s just picked up five Grammy nominations. That’s a steep trajectory for any new artist, much less one whose music sounds like something from her grandparents’ record collection. Come Away With Me has been hailed as something new, but in fact the sixties and seventies were full of coolly restrained pop records from the likes of Nina Simone and Carole King. Norah Jones stands proudly beside them. And no matter what rough roads may lie ahead, you can catch her anytime. No one cares? She knows all about it. Just press play. JEFF MCCORD

Marshevet Hooker

THEY’RE CALLING HER “THE NEXT Marion Jones,” but San Antonio’s Marshevet Hooker has one thing the celebrated Olympian did not: an early focus on one sport. Like Jones, the eighteen-year-old Southwest High School senior—whose father, Ricky, now a school principal, was drafted by the Spurs in 1983—is a top hoops star. But Hooker will stick to track and field year-round for the University of Texas at Austin, where she’ll be a freshman in the fall. Hooker’s recent exploits include Texas UIL 5A titles in the one-hundred- and two-hundred-meter dash as well as second place in the long jump. She also won bronze and silver medals in the one-hundred-meter at, respectively, the World Junior Championships and the Junior Nationals. Athens 2004 is not out of the question, which could make her both a teammate and a competitor of you know who. “I watched Marion run in Atlanta and later in Sydney,” Hooker says. “I watched the way she came out of the blocks, and I watched her form. I pictured myself doing that. It would be a dream come true.” JASON COHEN

Susan Combs

IN HER OWN WORDS SHE’S “head and shoulders above everybody else in this group”—because the Texas agriculture commissioner stands six feet two and one-half inches tall and is damn proud of it. Susan Combs, 58, has the perfect pedigree for a Texas politician: She’s a fourth-generation Texan with roots in both city (she grew up in San Antonio) and country (two ranches south of Marathon have been in her family since 1882). After two terms in the state legislature representing Austin, she won her current job in 1998, succeeding Rick Perry, who went on to bigger and better things. Combs would like to do the same. The pro-choice Republican (with exceptions) won reelection last fall with more than 59 percent of the vote—second only to Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander (now Strayhorn) on the all-victorious GOP ticket. Look for her to run for the U.S. Senate if Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat becomes vacant in 2006. Meanwhile, she has an issue to push in the current legislative session: getting vending machines that sell junk food out of elementary school cafeterias. Citing “unprecedented rates of type 2 diabetes,” Combs says, “we’re running the risk of killing our children.” PAUL BURKA

Claudia S. Miller

FOR MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS Claudia Miller has been in the thick of our most controversial public health issues. Now 56, Miller is an allergist and a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In the seventies and eighties she researched the effects of chemicals in the workplace—the pesticides, preservatives, and such in so-called sick buildings—and the multiple sensitivities that people can develop to them. In 1991 she co-authored the highly acclaimed book Chemical Exposures: Low Levels and High Stakes, which made her a popular authority on Gulf War syndrome. Next Miller turned her attention to the health problems of the border region, creating the South Texas Environmental Education and Research Center, in Laredo. The center studies the health effects of pollutants and other health hazards common to the area—bacterial contamination of the Rio Grande, for example—and offers a course in environmental medicine, the first of its kind in the nation. Miller’s lectures are perennially packed, guaranteeing that she will be a force in setting Texas’ public health agenda for years to come. JIM ATKINSON

Dao Strom

AUSTINITE DAO STROM (NÉE NGUYEN) WAS two years old when she fled Saigon with her mother, a journalist and publisher, in 1975. Her father, also a writer, stayed behind as the city fell to the Viet Cong. Some 27 years later she opens her impressive debut novel, Grass Roof, Tin Roof (Houghton Mifflin), with a soul-searing fictionalization of her parents’ harassment by the government in the waning days of South Vietnam’s democracy. Strom’s principal characters Tran, a single mother writing a newspaper serial inspired by Gone With the Wind, and her editor, who hides behind Tran’s byline to print subversive articles—suffer trials (figurative and literal) that are vivid reminders of Vietnam’s tumultuous early seventies. The plot of Grass Roof sags a bit when Tran and her children immigrate to California, but Strom’s writing is flat-out wonderful. Houghton

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