May 4, 1959
Marshville, North Carolina
Leading the Traditional Country Takeover
Randy Travis helped country music achieve a new level of success when his arrival in the mid-1980s signaled the start of a sales explosion. He was the first country artist to go platinum with his first album and the first debuting country artist to go multi-platinum.
Starting in 1986 with his best-selling debut album Storms of Life, Randy Bruce Traywick (later renamed Travis) became the de facto leader of a handful of tradition-minded artists who dramatically changed the course of country music’s evolution beginning in 1986. Travis’s understated traditional vocal twang and square-jawed sex appeal endeared him both to hard-country loyalists and to millions of fans beyond country’s core boundaries. His success also opened the door to numerous acting roles in movies and television series.
Travis’s early life and career were hardscrabble. He grew up in a large, country music–loving family on a farm in rural North Carolina and began playing music locally with his brother, eventually moving to Nashville with his manager, Lib Hatcher, in August 1981. He soon split time as a cook and occasional singer at the Nashville Palace nightclub near the Opryland Hotel, performing as Randy Ray before changing his name to Randy Travis.
Travis’s break came when he was signed to Warner Bros. Records in 1985 by executive Martha Sharp, who connected him with producer Kyle Lehning. Lehning’s knack for supporting Travis’s gnarled, knotty baritone with excellent studio musicians complemented Sharp’s keen song-spotting sense and helped make Travis a success. Fueled by hit singles “On the Other Hand” (written by Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet), “Diggin’ Up Bones” (Overstreet, Al Gore, and Nat Stuckey), and “1982” (Buddy Blackmon and Vip Vipperman), Storms of Life became a #1 country album and a runaway best-seller.
Travis’s follow-up, Always and Forever (1987), was an even bigger smash, buoyed by the #1 country hit “Forever and Ever, Amen” (written by Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet), which was named the 1987 Country Music Association Single of the Year. Always and Forever, named the CMA Album of the Year, stayed at #1 on the country album charts for forty-three weeks on its way to selling 5 million copies. Travis’s next five albums also achieved platinum sales status.
Meanwhile, Travis won dozens of music awards in the 1980s, including the CMA’s Horizon Award (1986) and Male Vocalist of the Year award (1987, 1988), the Academy of Country Music’s Male Vocalist honors (1986, 1987), and Grammys for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, in 1987 and 1988.
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Hollywood Acting and a Chart Revival
Travis soon devoted time to a series of acting roles that included TV movies (Wind in the Wire, Dead Man’s Revenge, Frank and Jesse, A Holiday to Remember) and theatrical movie releases The Legend of O. B. Taggert, At Risk, Maverick, The Rainmaker, and Black Dog, as well as roles on television series including Matlock, King of the Hill, and Touched by an Angel.
As his career moved into the 1990s, Travis’s traditional sound fell out of favor on the charts, and his #1 hits and awards became less frequent, though he continued to be widely acknowledged as one of country music’s most distinctive voices. He broke through again in a big way, though, when he recorded the Christian song “Three Wooden Crosses” for his Rise and Shine gospel music collection (2002). The single became his first #1 country hit in eight years and received 2003 CMA Single of the Year honors, while the album won a Grammy. Travis has recorded several gospel-themed albums in the 2000s, including Inspirational Journey (2000), Rise and Shine (2002), Worship & Faith (2003), Glory Train (2005), and Blessed Assurance (2011).
Travis scored another chart comeback in 2009 when Carrie Underwood released her rendition of the Travis-penned hit “I Told You So.” His voice was added to hers for a duet version, and this became a Top Ten pop and country smash and won a Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals.
In addition to “I Told You So,” Travis’s hit records as a songwriter include “Promises,” “Heroes and Friends,” “The Box” and his collaborations with Alan Jackson: “Forever Together,” “Better Class of Losers,” “I’d Surrender All,” and “She’s Got the Rhythm (and I Got the Blues).”
Overall, Travis has received numerous honors, including seven Grammys, five CMA awards, nine ACM awards, ten American Music awards, two People’s Choice awards, seven Music City News awards, and eight Dove awards from the Gospel Music Association. Travis was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry cast in 1986, and in 2004, he was recognized with his own star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 2013, Travis suffered a massive stroke that nearly killed him and left him unable to speak, sing, or play guitar. He underwent extensive therapy to regain his voice, and when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2016, he sang “Amazing Grace” during the ceremony.
Adapted from the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum’s Encyclopedia of Country Music, published by Oxford University Press
Randy Travis’s understated traditional vocal twang and square-jawed sex appeal endeared him both to hard-country loyalists and to millions of fans beyond country’s core boundaries.