George Strait backstage publicity shoot, December 7, 1980. / George Strait performing onstage circa 1995/ George Strait at iheartcountry concert 2021
Photo by Kirk West/Getty Images/ Photo by Beth Gwinn/Redferns/ Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

George Strait Then & Now: From Fresh-Faced Cowboy to the King of Country


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It's difficult to imagine a time before George Harvey Strait was the King of Country. But before he was a music icon with 60 No. 1 hits (or the suavest man to ever rock a pair of Cowboy Cut Wranglers), he was a supremely talented Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) grad, working cattle and performing in a western swing band.

King George's journey to fame is the stuff of country music legend. Even before Nashville took notice, Strait had major star power. He became a draw for central Texas college students performing with his Ace in the Hole Band at Cheatham Street Warehouse and, soon after, Cheatham Street owner Kent Finlay took Strait to Nashville to record his first demos. By the time 1981's "Uwound" hit the airwaves, the whole country recognized what Texas knew all along: George Strait was a country superstar.

Like his fellow Texan and friend Willie Nelson, Strait seems almost ageless. For me, he's both eternal and forever the fresh-faced, clean=cut cowboy on the cover of the George Strait's Greatest Hits cassette that lived inside my mom's 1992 Buick. But there is a beginning to our royal troubadour's story. On May 18, 1952, in the small town of Poteet, the strawberry capital of Texas, the great George Strait was born. (May 18 is George Strait Day in Texas, as it should be.)

To celebrate the King of Country's 70th birthday, take a look back at George Strait through the years -- from his Lone Star State beginnings to his role as one of country music's most beloved elder statesmen. Long live King George.

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Photo of George Strait

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Seen here performing at Hollywood's Palomino Club, Strait rose to fame in the early '80s with neo-traditional country tunes such as "Unwound" and "Down and Out," which stood in stark contrast with the Urban Cowboy-style of country music that had been on the charts.

 Photo of George Strait

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George Strait poses with guitar

Photo by GAB Archive/Redferns

 

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George Strait poses with award

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Strait won his first Academy of Country Music award in 1984 (for Top Male Vocalist). Since then, he's won 24 ACM Awards

Country Music Singer George Strait with Country Music Songwriter Dean Dillon at Party for George Strait Movie premiere on October 20, 1992 in Nashville, Tennessee

Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Strait is seen here with fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Dean Dillon, who's written over 50 of Strait's songs, including "The Chair" and "Ocean Front Property."

 

George Strait and Norma Strait during 24th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at Disney Studio in Los Angeles, California, United States.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Strait is pictured here with his lovely wife Norma, who he married in 1971.

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"Norma was the first girl I ever loved," Strait said of his love story. "We knew each other forever, growing up in a small town. I never really even thought anything about her, but then one day I asked her out and we went on a date. We didn't see each other for a long time after that. Then one day, I thought, 'I'm missing the boat here,' and we started dating again."

Photo of George Strait onstage

Ebet Roberts/Getty Images/ Redferns

Strait kicked off the '90s with his 10th studio album Livin' It Up, which featured his hit "Love Without End, Amen."

In 1992, the country king made his acting debut, starring in Pure Country as country singer Wyatt "Dusty" Chandler. The soundtrack spawned the hits "Heartland" and "I Cross My Heart."

SInger George Straight poses for a photograph June 1998 in Atlanta, GA.

Photo by Pam Francis/Liaison

Throughout the decade, Strait continued to dominate the country charts with songs such as "Blue Clear Sky," "Carried Away," "I Can Still Make Cheyenne," "Check Yes or No," "Carrying Your Love With Me," "I Just Wanna Dance With You" and more.

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In 1997, Strait even headlined his own festival, the George Strait Country Music Festival, which featured Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson and more.

George Strait performs as part of the George Strait Music Festival at the Oakland Coliseum on April 26, 1998 in Oakland, California.

George Strait performs as part of the George Strait Music Festival at the Oakland Coliseum on April 26, 1998 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

 

Alan Jackson Presents George Strait with the Gene Weed Special Achievement Award at the 38th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards

Photo by M. Caulfield/WireImage

In 2001, Strait released the critically acclaimed The Road Less Traveled, featuring "Run" and "She'll Leave You With a Smile." Over the course of the decade, Strait continued to release some of the best songs of his career -- "Desperately," "Cowboys Like Us," "Wrapped," "Give it Away" and more.

In 2006, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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Musician George Strait performs on the Mane Stage during the Stagecoach Music Festival held at the Empire Polo Field on May 5, 2007 in Indio, California.

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In 2012, Strait announced his retirement from touring, kicking off the Cowboy Rides Away Tour, featuring Lee Ann Womack, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert and more. Strait's 2014 concert in Arlington set the record for largest ticketed attendance for a single-show concert in the U.S.

Lee Ann Womack, George Strait during The Universal Music Group Country Music Awards Afterparty at Duvet in New York, New York, United States

Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic

Musicians Kenny Chesney (L) and George Strait pose during the rehearsals for the 43rd Academy of Country Music Awards held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 17, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Since retiring from touring, Strait has launched his highly successful Las Vegas residency, Strait to Vegas. He released Cold Beer Conversation in 2015 and Honky Tonk Time Machine in 2019.

George Strait performs during the 2021 iHeartCountry Festival at Frank Irwin Center on October 30, 2021 in Austin, Texas.

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

READ MORE: Meet George Strait' Other Half, Norma Strait

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