Born in northeast Louisiana, country music star Tim McGraw has numerous hit songs and soaring sales figures.
Since 1994 singer, songwriter, producer, and actor Tim McGraw has consistently maintained a highly successful career in contemporary commercial country music. McGraw’s radio-friendly presentation gets extensive airplay on country stations. This high-profile broadcasting presence, plus McGraw’s ability to reach audiences beyond country fans, has resulted in numerous hits and soaring sales figures, as tabulated by industry publications such as Billboard. As of October 2021 McGraw had recorded twenty-five number-one songs—including “Live Like You Were Dying,” “Please Remember Me,” and “I Like It, I Love It”—while his fans are said, anecdotally, to have purchased more than 80 million “records,” an all-encompassing term that includes CDs and LPs, and online-vendable formats such as streaming.
Samuel Timothy McGraw was born in 1967 in northeast Louisiana, where the Richland Parish towns of Start and Delhi, some twenty miles apart, both claim him as a native. As a child McGraw constantly sang around his family’s house and in church. He avidly listened to traditional country artists such as Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, and Merle Haggard, although his own style is more modern. In the early 1970s McGraw starred in a school production of the Broadway musical The Music Man. Decades later McGraw’s big-screen acting credentials would come to include starring roles in such major productions as The Blind Side, Country Strong, Friday Night Lights, Flicka, Four Christmases, Tomorrow Land, and The Shack.
In 1985 McGraw enrolled at Northeastern Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe) on a baseball scholarship. He often sat in with country bands at such clubs as the Rusty Nail in West Monroe. McGraw also made frequent trips to New Orleans: “[I]n the French Quarter one time,” he told music journalist Keith Spera, “I ran out of money and had my guitar with me. I sat on a corner and played a few songs and made a little bit of money so I could go buy some more beer.”
Eager to pursue a full-time country music career, McGraw dropped out of college and moved to Nashville in 1989. Thanks to the celebrity connections of his famous father— Major League Baseball pitcher Tug McGraw—the aspiring artist successfully auditioned for Curb Records. In 1993 Curb released McGraw’s debut album, simply entitled Tim McGraw. It did not meet with success. The following year, however, the album Not a Minute Too Soon brought McGraw three hits, and the Country Music Association presented him with awards for Album of the Year and Top New Male Vocalist.
Such acclaim was accompanied by controversy because one hit song from the album, “Indian Outlaw,” was widely criticized for a trite, stereotypical, and offensive depiction of Native Americans. At the time, McGraw did not appear to understand the controversy—which, to some, might identify McGraw as a rigid political conservative, like so many of his country-music peers. Quite atypically, though, McGraw self-identifies as a “Blue Dog Democrat” and has made strong statements of support for Presidents Clinton and Obama. In 2006 McGraw and wife, country-star vocalist Faith Hill, excoriated President George W. Bush for his response to Hurricane Katrina. In 2021 McGraw performed for President Joseph R. Biden’s inaugural celebration via video from Nashville.
McGraw maintains ties with his home state. In 2001 the University of Louisiana at Monroe gave McGraw an honorary humanities degree. “We are especially pleased to honor Mr. McGraw in this way,” President Lawson L. Swearingen Jr. stated at the ceremony, “not only because of his outstanding career in music, but also because of his unselfish, humanitarian acts.” In 2016 McGraw helped raise significant funds to help Louisianans affected by disastrous flooding.
The northeast Louisiana music community has long sought to emphasize McGraw’s regional connections within the historical context of previous country stars such as Webb Pierce, a native of West Monroe. In 2016 McGraw recorded a song entitled “Louisiana,” which was co-written by Jim McCormick, a highly successful tunesmith based in New Orleans and Nashville. In 2017 McGraw and Faith Hill embarked on the lengthy Soul2Soul Tour, which started in New Orleans and included a concert in Bossier City the following year. In 2017 the exhibit Tim McGraw and Faith Hill: Mississippi Woman, Louisiana Man opened at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. The exhibit’s name was a play on words referencing the 1973 country hit “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man” by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. McGraw has also performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.