NASHVILLE, TN - JULY 08: Rose Falcon and Carly Pearce perform during the 2012 Country Throwdown tour closer at The Woods at Fontanel on July 8, 2012 in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Bluegrass Beginnings Paved The Way For These Country Superstars

Numerous elite country superstars from the past 50-plus years began their lucrative and creatively-fulfilling paths as bluegrass musicians and vocalists. In the cases of acts ranging from Shenandoah's Marty Raybon to The SteelDrivers' Chris Stapleton, the skill set required for a prior gig doubled as a stepping stone to greater commercial notoriety.

Of course, this list could be much longer, considering how thin the line between country star and bluegrass artist has been at times: from the early days of Bill Monroe to the transcendent success of Alison Krauss. And numerous artists of note have ping-ponged between the two designations seamlessly: namely Rhonda Vincent and Patty Loveless.

With that said, these five compelling cases best establish bluegrass as an effective proving ground for country music hopefuls.

Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart's ride to the Country Music Hall of Fame began at age 13 when he hit the road with traditional bluegrass mapmaker Lester Flatt. Throughout Stuart's ascent to Nashville stardom and Americana acclaim, he made Monroe's instrument of choice, the mandolin, hip to a broader audience.

Vince Gill

A stint as a high schooler in Mountain Smoke preceded Vince Gill's membership in Ricky Skaggs' Boone Creek and Byron Berline's Sundance. Bluegrass experience surely sharpened Gill's skills as an elite guitarist and soaring tenor vocalist.

Keith Whitley

Around age 16, Kentucky natives Keith Whitley and Skaggs joined Ralph Stanley's touring band before both future country stars spent time as members of J.D. Crowe & the New South. Valuable on-the-job training sharpened Whitley's vocal style, which set him apart in 1980s Nashville because it owed so much to Ralph's brother, Carter.

Joe Diffie

Before he emboldened '90s country with a honky tonk attitude, Joe Diffie sang harmony vocals back home in Oklahoma for bluegrass band Special Edition. Just like Gill and Whitley, Diffie translated the versatility required of a bluegrass singer and guitarist to an impactful run of country hits.

Carly Pearce

Elements of traditional bluegrass and the Appalachian folk music that preceded it shaped the next-level storytelling skills that set Carly Pearce apart as one of mainstream country music's most gifted and compelling singer-songwriters. Pierce's trek to Grand Ole Opry membership started among bluegrass pickers back home in Kentucky and passed through Dollywood, where she worked as an on-stage performer.

READ MORE: By Shifting Its Creative Course, Town Mountain Upholds Bluegrass Tradition