With its record for turning out top country talent, Belmont University may be one of the industry’s best-kept secrets.
On the edge of Nashville’s Music Row, Belmont University may seem like a quaint, quiet campus, but make no mistake: Its graduates are some of the biggest movers and shakers in country music. Here are 10 country artists who have called Belmont home over the years.
10. Brandy Clark
While Clark’s career as an artist is just starting to take off, she showed early signs of stardom during her time at Belmont. The commercial music student was chosen to perform in the university’s ultra-competitive “Best of the Best” showcase. She has written or co-written some of the biggest hits in the last five years, including “Follow Your Arrow” for Kacey Musgraves, “Mama’s Broken Heart” for Miranda Lambert and “Better Dig Two” for The Band Perry. In 2015, she was nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards.
9. Ashley Gorley
Though he’s not an artist himself, Gorley’s prolific songwriting career qualifies him for this list of notable Belmont alumni. Since graduating from the university in 1999, he has written 17 number one hits and more than 200 songs, including “Good Girl” for Carrie Underwood, “American Saturday Night” for Brad Paisley and “Crash My Party” for Luke Bryan.
8. Larry Stewart and Dave Innis of Restless Heart
Stewart actually attended Belmont on an athletic scholarship to play baseball, though he discovered his passion for music while in Nashville and found work as a demo singer after graduation. Meanwhile, Innis was playing keys for a still-unnamed band signed to RCA Records. When the band’s lead singer quit before they had even started recording their first album, Innis called up his old college friend Stewart, and Restless Heart as we know them today was born.
7. Pam Tillis
Like many others on this list, Tillis also came to Belmont to learn about the music business back when it was still Belmont College. She dropped out of school in her second year to pursue her budding music career, choosing to join her father, famed country artist Mel Tillis, on the road.
6. Chris Young
Chris Young’s college career was also short-lived: He only spent three semesters at Belmont University before transferring to Middle Tennessee State University…and ultimately realizing college wasn’t for him! However, he put the music business skills he learned at Belmont to good use as an intern for a song publishing company run by Laura Stroud, the wife of his future producer, James Stroud.
5. Josh Turner
Though he only spent three years on campus, Turner certainly made the most of his time at Belmont University. In 1999, he wrote his breakout single, “Long Black Train,” while he was a Belmont student. He also met and fell in love with Jennifer Ford, a fellow student; the two were married in 2003 and have four sons.
4. Minnie Pearl
Before Minnie Pearl achieved legendary status with the Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw, she was just Sarah Cannon, a theater studies student at Ward-Belmont College. At the time, Ward-Belmont was one of the most prestigious women’s colleges in the South. The school became coed in 1951 and officially changed its name to Belmont University in 1991.
3. Trisha Yearwood
After being unhappy at a larger school, Yearwood transferred to Belmont for its more intimate campus atmosphere. She graduated from the school’s legendary music business program in 1987. In 2009, she hosted the national broadcast of Christmas at Belmont, an annual holiday concert that airs on PBS and showcases her alma mater’s music program.
2. Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line
It may be hard to believe, but these “bad boys” of country music actually met while through a church worship group at Belmont in 2008. Kelley, a lifelong baseball lover, had transferred to the smaller university to seek more playing time and pursue his music career. After graduating in 2009, the pair set the ambitious goal of succeeding in country music in two years—they released their first EP, Anything Like Me, in 2010.
1. Brad Paisley
Paisley was awarded a full ASCAP scholarship to attend Belmont, where he also majored in music business. During his time on campus, he met fellow student Frank Rogers, who would ultimately become his producer. Paisley began to make a name for himself around Music City, completing several high-profile internships as a student. EMI Music Publishing signed him to a songwriting contract within a week of graduating from Belmont.