A dynamic singer, songwriter, and musician, Chris Stapleton proved his musical mettle as an in-demand songwriter in Nashville for more than a decade before his breakout success in 2015. The exhibition Chris Stapleton: Since 1978, presented by Ram Trucks, highlights the breadth of his musical contributions.
About Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton was born April 15, 1978, in Lexington, Kentucky, and raised in Staffordsville, located in rural, mountainous Johnson County, in eastern Kentucky. He began writing songs and playing guitar in his teens, teaching himself to play the instrument after only one formal lesson.
Stapleton’s parents listened to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, as well as blues, soul, and R&B music, all of which influenced the budding musician, as did the rap songs of Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg that he listened to in high school. As an artist, Stapleton has also found inspiration in fellow Kentuckians such as the Judds and Ricky Skaggs and rock artists including Aerosmith and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Stapleton first moved to Nashville in 1996, to attend Vanderbilt University and study biomedical engineering. Lacking a passion for his studies, he returned to Kentucky after his first year and eventually dropped out of college completely. He sold cars, drove an ice truck and worked at a pizzeria while writing songs and playing in bars.
A Top Songwriter in Nashville
It wasn’t until Stapleton met and collaborated with Nashville songwriter Steve Leslie that he realized it was possible to pursue a career in songwriting. With encouragement from Leslie and Sea Gayle Music publishing executive Liz O’Sullivan, he moved back to Nashville in 2001 and signed with the publishing company, becoming a full-time songwriter without aspirations of a career as a performing artist.
Gary Allan (“Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey”) and Patty Loveless (“Higher Than the Wall”) were among the first to release songs written by Stapleton, in 2003, and he scored his first Billboard #1 hit as a songwriter with Josh Turner’s “Your Man” in 2006. As a songwriter, Stapleton has also earned Billboard #1 songs with Kenny Chesney (“Never Wanted Nothing More,” 2007), Darius Rucker (“Come Back Song,” 2010), Luke Bryan (“Drink a Beer,” 2014), and Thomas Rhett (“Crash and Burn,” 2015), as well as three of his own recordings.
Also in 2006, Stapleton joined the bluegrass band the SteelDrivers as lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter, contributing to a live album and two studio albums before leaving the group in early 2010. Later that year, his blues-influenced rock band, the Jompson Brothers, released their first and only album. Stapleton’s voice was also sought-after in the recording studio, and he sang background vocals on songs he co-wrote for several well-known country artists, including Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, and Thomas Rhett.
Stapleton’s first solo success came in 2015 with his debut album, Traveller, which was inspired by an eleven-day road trip he took after the death of his father. He wrote the album’s title track during the cross-country journey, after picking up a 1979 Jeep Cherokee that his wife, Morgane, had purchased for him in Arizona. The trip—and the subsequent recording of the album at historic RCA Studio A with co-producer Dave Cobb—marked a turning point in Stapleton’s embrace of his individuality and pursuit of artistic freedom.
Stapleton catapulted to stardom after a rousing performance with pop star Justin Timberlake at the 2015 Country Music Association Awards. He also took home all three CMA awards for which he was nominated that year: Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and New Artist of the Year. Following the show, Traveller rose to #1 on both the country album chart and the all-genre Billboard 200 album chart, and his recording of “Tennessee Whiskey” shot to #1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Stapleton soon began headlining arenas and followed Traveller with two more successful albums, From A Room: Volume 1 and Volume 2, in 2017. In February 2018, Traveller and both volumes of From A Room occupied the first three slots on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart, a feat previously only accomplished by Country Music Hall of Fame member Garth Brooks and Charlie Rich. Stapleton continued this momentum with his 2020 album Starting Over, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s country album chart and earned two more Billboard #1 singles, “Starting Over” (2021) and “You Should Probably Leave” (2022).
Stapleton remains a top-selling recording artist and touring act with his band, the Honchos, and has accumulated armloads of awards, including nine Academy of Country Music awards, fourteen CMA awards, and eight Grammys. His wife, Morgane, an accomplished singer and songwriter herself, is a key member of his band and plays a large role in Stapleton’s career, including helping select songs for his albums.
The exhibition Chris Stapleton: Since 1978, presented by Ram Trucks, runs July 1, 2022 through May 2023 and highlights the breadth of his musical contributions.