George Strait has always known his way around the top of the charts. Since entering the country music scene in 1981, he has had 60 number-one hits, setting an all-time record. He has been nominated for more CMA and ACM awards and has more wins in both categories than any other artist. Meanwhile, his record sales have been surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Once dubbed “the honky-tonk Frank Sinatra,” it appears Strait has the country world wrapped around his finger.
Born in a small Texas town in 1952, Strait attended nearby Pearsall High School, where he began to dabble in music. He started playing and singing in a rock ‘n’ roll garage band at around the same time the four lads from Liverpool reached the height of their popularity. As the years went on, Strait found his ears being drawn to the country twangs of the south, which included musicians like Bob Wills, Merle Haggard, and Hank Williams.
And though his life changed, the sound of pure American country stuck with him. After eloping and enlisting in the army in 1971, he ended up playing in an army-sponsored band called “Rambling Country.” After being discharged in 1975, Strait, the son of a cattle farmer, enrolled in Southwest Texas State University to earn his agricultural degree. He answered a campus flyer seeking a vocalist and before long, his first band, Ace in the Hole, was regularly booking local honky tonk venues. Despite his obvious talent and charm, several trips to Nashville yielded no results in terms of a higher record deal for Strait.
But MCA records gave him one last shot in 1981. They offered him the opportunity to record one single -- nothing more, nothing less. The rest, as they say, is history. “Unwound” shot to number six on the country chart and proved that Strait had what it took to be a star. The next nine years featured 17 more hit singles and numerous albums.
In the midst of his success though, tragedy struck. His 13-year-old daughter, Jenifer, was killed in a car accident. While it shook him and his family deeply, Strait continued to pour his heart and soul into his music. The following decade saw the release of hits like "If I Know Me" and "You Know Me Better Than That,” as well as another several albums. He’s produced so much material over the last 40 years, it can be difficult to keep track -- even for himself.
“Some of those songs, I forget about,” Strait told The New Yorker in 2017. “They just kind of go away after so long.”
His remarkable popularity followed him into the 21st century, and current country celebrities like Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town, Asleep at the Wheel, Miranda Lambert, and many more point to him as one of the tried-and-true greats. And though he retired from touring in 2012, Strait has never quit songwriting.
“I’ve never been one to like to talk about myself a lot,” he said. Perhaps it’s because he’s told us all about himself through his music since 1981.
Written by Allison Rapp