Luke Bryan is one of the most famous and beloved country singers on the scene right now. His best-known songs are “Country Girl (Shake It for Me),” “Drink A Beer,” “All My Friends Say,” and “This Is How We Roll,” which is a collaboration with Florida Georgia Line.
Even though Luke Bryan is known for his upbeat songs, he’s actually had quite a tragic upbringing. Keep reading to find out more about how this man became the person he is today.
The Childhood Years
Thomas Luther Bryan was born in 1976. He had two siblings— his sister Kelly, who was born nine years earlier than him, and his brother Chris, who was born seven years earlier than him. His father co-owned and ran a peanut processing plant.
Luke worked at the peanut plant when he was a teenager. When Luke was a baby, he was often sick and his mother would sing “Rock of Ages” to help soothe him to sleep.
Encouragement From The Family
Luke Bryan spent his childhood listening to a variety of musical genres. His parents had a lot of records around the house, both country and not country. Bryan was heavily influenced by country artists like Conway Twitty, George Strait, Ronnie Milsap, and Merle Haggard.
Milsap was the reason that Luke learned how to play the piano. He has never claimed to be good at piano, but it is an instrument he enjoys.
Pop Influences Galore
While his parents introduced him to country artists, Luke’s siblings introduced him to pop artists like Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson. Luke said, “Thriller was my first cassette; that was like currency. At school I could moonwalk all the way to the pencil sharpener and back.”
Luke was also influenced by Elvis Presley, which is pretty obvious if you’ve ever seen Luke Bryan shake his hips. Luke said, “I’d be, like, 4 years old in my underwear singing Elvis songs!”
Picking Up The Guitar For The First Time
Now, Luke Bryan is a pretty phenomenal guitar player. All of that talent started way back when Luke was just 14 years old. That’s when he first picked up a guitar in Jennings, Louisiana, where he was on a family vacation.
Luke told Rolling Stone, “During that trip, there was a kid playing guitar at a church and I saw all the girls swooning over him, and I told myself when I got back to Leesburg I was gonna find a guitar.”
The First Tragedy
Luke Bryan was 19 years old and about to move to Nashville when he got some news that would have a profound impact on his life. He learned that his older brother Chris had died in a car accident on October 27th, 1996. Chris was just 26 years old at the time.
Instead of going to Nashville, Luke stayed home with his family and attended Georgia Southern University where he earned a degree in business management.
The Next Steps
Luke told People magazine in 2013, “I was never convinced I’d get back to Nashville, but I didn’t spend time on ‘Should I go or should I not?’ It was just ‘Not going.’ Your mother had just lost a child. At that point her youngest son was not going to leave the house. Chris’s dying got me a little more mature.”
His mother had a different plan for him, though. She told 20/20, “We knew Luke at some point would come to Nashville, but … you can’t leave your family, and … I couldn’t bear the thought of him being away.”
The College Years
Luke’s parents got divorced shortly after Chris died. Dealing with their son’s death was too much for their marriage to handle. It was a very sad time for the Bryans, but Luke managed to go to college and be productive.
He started a band while he was in school called Neyami Road. Luke told Billboard, “We had to dance to take the focus off how bad the music was. That’s where I learned a little bit of the [booty] shaking.”
Meeting The Mrs.
Luke met the woman who would become his wife, Caroline Boyer, at a bar near his college when he was a freshman. He was immediately attracted to Caroline, but apparently, the feeling was not mutual.
Luke said, “It took me eight seconds to figure it out and it took her about eight years to figure it out. I had to drink a lot before I could go talk to her, but I did.” He added, “Somehow I managed to ease over there and somewhat be charming.”
A Match Made At A Bar Called Dingus
Yup, the bar they met at was called Dingus. How romantic. Luke and Caroline dated in college, and then they went their separate ways for five years. They later reconnected and decided to stay together for the rest of their lives.
Luke and Caroline got married in 2006 and now they have two sons together. Their first son, Bo, was born in 2008, and their second son, Tate, was born in 2010.
His Father Threatened To Fire Him (For Good Reason)
Luke was still working at his father’s peanut plant in 2001, but his father, Tommy, knew that Luke was destined for bigger things. Luke wasn’t sure that he was ready to leave the peanut plant though.
Tommy Bryan told 20/20 that he threatened to fire Luke if he didn’t move to Nashville. He said that he told his son, “You know, if you’re going to pursue your music career, you need to pack your truck up and move to Nashville.'”
Luke’s Sister Was Supportive Of His Career
Luke left Georgia for Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue a career in country music. At first, he wrote some songs for artists like Billy Currington and Travis Tritt. It took him a while to make it as a solo act, though. He got his big break in 2007, six years after making the move.
Luke’s sister Kelly was always a big fan of his music and she supported him from day one. When Luke was invited to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, Kelly made plans for a group of 129 people from their hometown to go see the show.
Tragedy Struck Again
Kelly went to the Opry show and everything seemed normal. Then, a few days later, Kelly died suddenly while she was doing her laundry. She was 39 years old at the time and a mother of three young children. The cause of her death is still unknown.
Luke told 20/20, “My only older siblings … gone from the world, in a flash in two, two different, crazy, tragic manners we’ll never know, and never understand.”
Finding The Silver Lining
It might seem impossible for us to conceive of a positive angle to this story, but when Luke shared his family history with ABC, he said, “You can lean on friends and family through it … and you can get back life. If me telling my story moves people down a positive path of hope and getting up out of the bed and getting back going, then, you know, it’s certainly worth telling.”
“Losing my brother changed me tremendously and losing Kelly, even more,” Bryan told People Country. “I literally do not take one second for granted.”
His Career Really Took Off
After Kelly’s death, Luke’s career continued to skyrocket. Pretty soon he had multiple hit albums including Tailgates & Tanlines which hit number 1 on the country charts in 2011. His 2013 album Crash My Party was his first Billboard 200 number one hit.
In 2010, Luke Bryan appeared as a guest on an episode of Celebrity Apprentice. President Trump (who was not the president at the time) took note of Bryan when he appeared on the show. Trump said of Bryan, “Personally, I am, as you probably heard, not a gay man, but I think he’s better looking that [sic] Emily okay?”
A Tribute Song For Kelly And Chris
In the fall of 2013, Bryan released a song called “Drink a Beer.” Luke didn’t actually write the song, but as soon as he heard it, he felt a connection to it.
Luke said, “Somebody emailed it to me, I listened to it and it just tore me to pieces.” The song is about wanting to drink a beer with a loved one who has passed away. Luke said that this was the most critical song of his career. It allowed him to open up about what his family had been through.
Tragedy Struck Again
In 2014, Kelly’s husband, Ben Lee Cheshire, died of a heart attack. He was 46 years old at the time. Ben’s children had already lost their mother, and this event completely devastated the family. Ben remained close to Luke’s family over the years because he wanted his children to have a connection to their mother’s family.
Luke and Caroline took in Til, their teenage nephew, to raise him along with their own children. Til’s sisters were already adults when their father died, but they visit Luke and Caroline’s home quite frequently.
The Sad Saga Continues
If three tragedies weren’t enough for one family, in February of 2017, Luke’s infant niece died due to a whole bunch of health issues. This child was the daughter of Caroline’s sister, Ellen. Bryan shared the sad news with his fans on Twitter who responded with an outpouring of support, thoughts, and prayers.
Bryan later said, “when I’m checking my socials [media], and I’m seeing so many of you guys that are lifting my family up, I really appreciate it. It means the world to me.”
Bryan Relies On Faith To Get Him Through
Somehow, throughout all the sadness, Luke has managed to maintain a positive attitude. In 2015, Luke told People magazine, “I think with everything that’s happened in my family, I just have to lean on my faith and the understanding that God has a plan for all of us. We just wake up every day and do our best. I’ll get down in the dumps, and then I’ll meet a Make-A-Wish kid, and I’ll ask myself, ‘What are you complaining about?’ You just have to keep your faith strong and rock on.”
I think we can all learn a lot from Luke Bryan and what his family has endured.
He Thinks “Bro-Country” Is Offensive
Luke Bryan became associated with a brand of country music called “bro-country.” This subcategory of the genre refers to songs that are mostly about women, drinking, trucks, and parties. Luke didn’t like being associated with the term “bro-country,” and he felt pretty offended that people had even mentioned that his songs were shallow and demeaning to women.
Not everybody agrees with Luke, though. Some people think that “bro-country” fits his style of music perfectly.
Billboard Begs To Differ
Billboard had a lot to say about Luke Bryan’s 2015 album, Kill the Lights. That album includes both party songs like “Kick the Dust Up” and more relaxed, wistful songs like “Fast.”
Billboard said, “Bryan proves he’s more of a singer than he’s often credited for. With this album, Bryan suggests that he may be able to have it both ways: stirring deeper sentiments even as he sets off massive parties.” We definitely know that there’s more going on beneath the surface with this guy.