From the show-stealing children of the earliest family singing groups to the meteoric rise of teenage Taylor Swift, country music has long been a proving ground for talented youth. God-given talent and the proper support system propelled these five artists to stardom after a very early start to their ongoing careers. None were instant hit-makers like 13-year-old LeAnn Rimes or Tanya Tucker. Still, the makings of country stardom showed as these now-famous talents cut their teeth as teenage bluegrass pickers or independent artists.
Before Krauss became the modern face and voice of bluegrass, she was a fiddle-playing prodigy. She conquered the famed Walnut Valley Festival fiddling contest at age 13. Three years later, she signed with Rounder Records. By age 18, she first fronted Union Station. Krauss is now just 46 years old, with a staggering 27 Grammy awards and as enviable a career as any living bluegrass artist. Keep in mind that a lot of great talents, from Willie Nelson to Chris Stapleton, were closing in on 40 before reaching peak popularity.
A legit ‘90s baby, Morris suited country radio’s young demographic when songs from her album Hero hit the airwaves last summer. However, the 27-year-old singer hardly qualifies as an overnight success. She had two independent releases before signing with Columbia Nashville. Her 2004 debut album Walk On displays a sampling of the emotive vocals that teenage Morris later parlayed into mainstream country stardom.
Musgraves’ sudden mainstream success in her mid-20s followed a string of independent releases. She came across her current roots-honoring sound honestly, yodeling like Patsy Montana on 2002 debut CD Movin’ On. The album and its 2003 follow-up Wanted: One Good Cowboy rekindle the pure fun of singing cowboys and western swing, through the eyes of a Texas-raised teenage girl.
Amazing footage survives of Skaggs absolutely destroying it on mandolin at age 7. It wasn’t an age-appropriate local picking contest, either. He was playing on the nationally televised Flatt and Scruggs’ Grand Ole Opry Show, alongside its famous namesakes. Skaggs’ childhood love of bluegrass never faltered. Less than 10 years later, he and teenage friend Keith Whitley became full-time members of Ralph Stanley’s legendary Clinch Mountain Boys.
One of country’s greatest historians spent his formative years learning under two of the genre’s most important history-makers. Stuart first hit the road in his mid-teens as a permanent member of Lester Flatts’ the Nashville Grass. He spent his early 20s as a backing musician and producer for former father-in-law Johnny Cash.