George Strait

George Strait is the most traditional stylist in the new wave of country music of the past 20 years.

Born May 18, 1952, in Pearsall, Texas, Strait was raised by his father on the family ranch. He first played music as a teenager, joining a garage rock band with friends.

Strait entered college, but in 1969 he dropped out to elope with his high school girlfriend. He enlisted in the army in 1971, and while stationed in Hawaii he began to play country music for the first time.

He returned to Texas in 1975 to pursue his degree at Southwest Texas State, but his new band, Ace in the Hole, began to occupy more of his time. Strait had no luck getting a recording contract, however, until he made friends with Erv Woolsy, a club owner who used to work for MCA Records. Strait signed to MCA in 1980 and began creating hits soon after.

Through the '80s, the singer scored 31 #1 singles, always sticking close to traditional honky-tonk and Western swing. When a new generation of stars rose to prominence in the '90s, Strait continued to be successful. He starred in a movie, "True Country," in 1992, and in 1995 he released a four-disc retrospective, Strait Out of the Box. He has 25 platinum albums.

Last year the singer released Always Never the Same, which earned him a Grammy nomination. His most recent #1 single was "The Best Day" (RealAudio excerpt).

Other birthdays Thursday: Leon Ashley

, 64, and Joe Bonsall Oak Ridge Boys, 56.