Country singer. Born May 1, 1967 (some sources say 1966), in Delhi, Louisiana. One of the most popular “Young Country” stars to emerge in the 1990s, Tim McGraw quickly began to top charts and pack arenas after the release of his second album in 1994. With his high-pitched, rather growly voice, McGraw became known for his ability to stir up a range of emotions with everything from jumping dance tunes to heartfelt ballads. As he remarked to David Zimmerman in USA Today, “There’s a lot of people who can pick up a guitar and sing you a great song, but there’s very few people that can tell you how they feel. That’s the main purpose of acting or doing an opera or painting or anything. It’s to tell somebody how you feel and more importantly, tell them how they feel.”
McGraw’s strong appeal has led to millions upon millions of album sales, and a healthy list of awards from the likes of the Academy of Country Music, Billboard, the Country Music Association, Country Music Television, and more. Though some critics wondered after his first hit the controversial “Indian Outlaw” if he was going to be a one-hit wonder and fade into oblivion, McGraw has continued to score hits. In 1999, he released A Place in the Sun and toured with George Strait and then the Dixie Chicks. McGraw is married to another celebrated country star, Faith Hill.
The son of Betty Smith (now Betty Trimble) and Tug McGraw, Tim grew up thinking that his mother’s husband, Horace Smith, a trucker, was his father. The couple divorced when McGraw was nine, and after that, he and his mother were often forced to relocate around Richland Parish. One time after moving, McGraw, then 11, opened a box that contained his birth certificate, which had his father’s name scribbled out but listed the occupation as “baseball player.” His mother eventually divulged that she had a brief summer romance with Tug McGraw, who was a minor league pitcher at the time. He quickly left her, though, and she married Smith when her son was seven months old.
Tug McGraw went on to make his name with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies. By the early 1970s, he was the highest-paid and most popular relief pitcher in professional baseball. McGraw met him once at a game in Houston, but his biological father showed little interest in maintaining a close relationship. The baseball star had married and had two other children by then, though he and his wife divorced in 1988. McGraw was initially angry at his father for not supporting him, but later forgave him, telling Steve Dougherty and Meg Grant in People, “He was 22 and immature when it happened.” Ironically, McGraw had his father’s baseball card taped to his bedroom wall even before he knew he was his father.
Though he was raised in Start, Louisiana, a tiny town in Richland Parish, McGraw spent a good deal of time on the road in the cab of Smith’s 18-wheeler. In the truck, he would sing along to country artists like Charley Pride, Johnny Paycheck, and George Jones. “By the time I was six,” McGraw related to Christopher John Farley in Time, “I felt as if I knew the words to every album Merle Haggard ever recorded.” He also sang spirituals in church, and belted show tunes in elementary school plays. Though he played Little League as a boy, McGraw had given up his dreams of becoming a pro ball player like his dad by the time he went to college. When he was a senior at Monroe Christian High School, he met up again with Tug McGraw, who agreed to pay for his higher education. McGraw graduated as salutatorian in 1985. Shortly after that he changed his surname to match that of his biological father, though he continues to consider his stepfather, Smith, as his true dad.
As a freshman at Northeast Louisiana State University, McGraw took pre-law courses after seeing the film And Justice for All, starring Al Pacino. But he ended up enjoying parties more than classes, and became more interested in music. He ended up buying a guitar at a pawn shop, and within a year, he was singing in clubs around Monroe, Louisiana. Soon, he decided to quit school and try his luck in Nashville. His father told him to finish school first, but McGraw reminded him that he had quit college for baseball. Besides, as McGraw noted to Dave McKenna in the Washington Post, “The only thing I learned in college was how to float a keg, and I didn’t figure that was going to get me too far. So even though it was kind of scary, I wasn’t giving up much. I thought I could make it.” His dad continued to support him while he tried to rev up a career.
Landing in Music City in May of 1989, McGraw had little experience in performing and no contacts. But the industry was ripe for smooth, handsome male vocalists, and he managed to line up gigs in Printers Alley clubs. Within a year and a half, he cinched a contract with Curb Records. His first self-titled album came out in April of 1993, but sank into oblivion. To drum up attention, the label sent McGraw on the road with his band, the Dance Hall Doctors, and his live act went over big. With power ballads and party hits like Steve Miller’s “The Joker” he found his audience.
In February of 1994, McGraw released the infectious single “Indian Outlaw,” and it quickly raced up the country charts and became a radio hit. However, it also earned him unwanted status as a novelty act, and attracted a bitter backlash from many who found it offensive to Native Americans. The lyrics included lines like “I’m an Indian outlaw / Half- Cherokee, half-Choctaw / My baby she’s a Chippewa,” and lines like “You can find me in my wigwam / I’ll be beatin’ on my tom-tom.” But McGraw stated he meant no harm, and simply used the tribal names and other words for their rhyming qualities. In addition, the outcry surprised him since he had been closing his stage show with the tune for four years. However, Cherokee Nation leader Wilma Mankiller sent a letter to stations claiming the song exhibited “crass exploitative commercialism at the expense of Indians,” and expressed that it “promotes bigotry,” according to a Billboard article by Peter Cronin. As a result, some radio stations in Arizona, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Minnesota started refusing to play it. On the other hand, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians based in North Carolina wrote to McGraw’s management company in support of the song.
Shortly after this brouhaha, McGraw’s second album was released. Not a Moment Too Soon became the number one country hit in its first week on the charts. Also, three more singles off the effort topped the charts in addition to “Indian Outlaw.” The album and the number one single “Don’t Take the Girl,” a melodramatic ballad, racked up awards from the likes of the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Television. McGraw was also named best new country artist by Billboard and others. Not a Moment Too Soon hugged the top spot on the country album chart for 26 consecutive weeks and sold about eight million copies over the next few years. Immediately, McGraw was catapulted from playing honky-tonks to embarking on a major headlining tour.
The next year, in September of 1995, McGraw released All I Want. Though it was an attempt to show more serious musicianship, the first single released was the jaunty “I Like It, I Love It.” As he explained to Deborah Evans Price in Billboard, “It was a cool, fun, back- to-school song. It doesn’t really say a lot. We put it out because it’s a fun sing-along song, and it will call attention to some of the meat songs on the album that I really want people to hear.” The song stayed at number one for five weeks and the album sold three million copies, but McGraw was largely passed over at the 1996 awards ceremonies.
Still, 1996 saw the successful Spontaneous Combustion tour, which featured country singer Faith Hill as the opening act. By the end of the tour, McGraw’s personal life was sizzling as well, and he asked Hill, who has a laundry list of country music awards herself, to marry him. They were on tour at the time in Montana, and he popped the question in his dressing room, which was housed in a trailer. He related to Jeremy Helligar and Lorna Grisby in People, “She said, ‘I can’t believe you’re asking me to marry you in a trailer house,’ and I said, ‘Well, we’re country singers, what do you expect?'” She later accepted the proposal by writing “yes” on the mirror in his trailer while he was on stage, and they married on October 6, 1996. Their daughter Gracie was born in 1997, and another daughter, Maggie, was born the following year.
In the meantime, McGraw began to diversify in order to have options in case his popularity bottomed out. He formed production and management companies, and he and Byron Gallimoer coproduced Joe Dee Messina’s debut album, which contained the hit “Heads Carolina, Tails California.” McGraw need not have worried. In June of 1997, he spawned another winner with Everywhere, which rose to the top of the charts and included three number-one singles, including “It’s Your Love,” which he sang with Hill. In addition, that song made the crossover to hit the top ten on the pop chart as well. Everywhere reflected a new stability in his life as a married man and father, and attracted the biggest onslaught of awards to that point. Among other honors, in 1997 “It’s Your Love” was named Billboard magazine single of the year award, Radio & Records single of the year, and Country Music Television deemed him male artist of the year, in addition to bestowing upon McGraw video of the year and top video of all time awards. Also, in 1998 he won awards from the Academy of Country Music for single of the year, song of the year, video of the year, and top vocal event, all for “It’s Your Love,” as well as winning Billboard’s country single of the year for “Just to See You Smile.”
In 1999, McGraw’s hot streak continued after the release of A Place in the Sun that May. It debuted at the top of Billboard’s album chart and spawned a number one country chart hit, “Please Remember Me.” The awards continued to pile up as McGraw won Academy of Country Music Awards for male vocalist of the year and vocal event of the year (with Faith Hill) for “Just to Hear You Say that You Love Me,” and Country Music Association Awards for male vocalist of the year and album of the year as artist and producer, for A Place in the Sun, among others. In addition, for the second year in a row, a Radio & Records country radio readers poll award voted Everywhere the best album. He also collected several other nominations for A Place in the Sun from awards ceremonies to be held in 2000. To top it off, People magazine named him the “sexiest country star” that year in their annual issue devoted to dreamboats. Adding to his cache of honors, in 2000, McGraw won an Academy of Country Music Award for male vocalist of the year and his first Grammy Award for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Let’s Make Love,” a duet he sang with his wife.
The accolades and hits keep coming for this country music superstar. Both Live Like You Were Dying (2004) and Let It Go (2007) hit the top of the country and pop album charts. “Live Like You Were Dying” netted McGraw his second Grammy Award in 2004 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The following year, he and his wife received their second shared Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals for “Like We Never Loved Before.”
McGraw has also branched out into acting. He appeared in the 2004 feature film Black Cloud directed by Rick Schroder and the 2006 family drama Flicka. In a supporting role, McGraw also worked with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner in 2007’s The Kingdom.
McGraw lives in a six-bedroom home on 200 acres just outside of Nashville. As he explained to Zimmerman in USA Today, “It’s the most relaxing place in the world. We have bonfires all the time on the Back Forty and hang out on tailgates and pick guitars and have a few beers.” He and his wife are away on tour frequently, but Hill never leaves without the children. “I love my wife more than anything in the world,” McGraw remarked in another People article. “But boy, when she had our babies, it quadrupled. There’s just something about the connection.”