Editor’s note: Taylor Swift’s new music video, “Fifteen,” is available for free streaming at CMT.com.
Taylor Swift is undeniably country music’s most popular teenager today. At age 18, she spent six weeks at No. 1 with “Our Song” — which she wrote for a school talent show. By the time she turns 20 in December, she’ll have sold 10 million albums, sold out an arena tour, graced countless magazine covers and solidified her spot as one of the most popular musicians of the decade.
However, she’s certainly not the first fresh-faced youngster to make a name for herself in Nashville. Here are 15 more whippersnappers who ultimately found brilliant careers in country music.
During her reign as the California Horse Show queen in 1967, this 19-year-old singer landed a Top 5 hit with “If I Kiss You (Will You Go Away).” The song was written by her mother, Liz Anderson, who wrote several hits for Merle Haggard. Lynn’s 1970 signature, “Rose Garden,” earned her a CMA Award and a Grammy, paving the way for a decade of hits.
The Everly Brothers
Phil Everly was 18 when “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie” spent a combined 15 weeks atop the country chart in 1957. (Don Everly had turned 20 earlier that year.) Highly respected for their wholesome harmonies, as well as keeping their business affairs in Nashville, they were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 1970, the 19-year-old singer reached No. 23 on the country chart with “I’ve Cried (The Blue Right Out of My Eyes)” — written by her famous sister, Loretta Lynn. Yet it wasn’t until 1977 that Crystal earned a No. 1 hit with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Her previous record label noticed, and “I’ve Cried” re-entered the Top 40 a few months later.
When she was 12, the bluegrass community embraced this prodigious fiddle player. Signed to Rounder at 15, nobody guessed the kid could sing, too. And how! Krauss released her debut album shortly thereafter and won her first of 21 Grammys when she was just 18. She joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1993 — the first bluegrass musician inducted in 29 years.
In 1957, she cracked the Top 20 with “One Step at a Time” before she turned 13, then spent her formative years touring the world with massive pop hits like “Sweet Nothin’s” and “I’m Sorry.” Still, she relied on Nashville producers and songwriters. She’s now the subject of a major exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Imagine touring with Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline, plus regular gigs in Las Vegas. Not bad for a 13-year-old steel guitarist, eh? When the California native moved to Nashville at 19, she gigged in Printer’s Alley and signed to Columbia Records. She finally nabbed her first No. 1 hit at the ripe old age of 30. She joined the Hall of Fame earlier this year.
She leveraged local stardom in Knoxville, Tenn., into a Grand Ole Opry appearance at 13 years old. After her high school graduation, she moved to Nashville and scored a Top 10 cut with Bill Phillips’ “Put It Off Till Tomorrow,” which she wrote with her uncle. Her harmonies on that track led to a record deal. The Hall of Fame welcomed her in 1999.
In 1996, this 13-year-old Texas whirlwind echoed Patsy Cline on “Blue,” a heartbreak song that won a Grammy and a CMA Award. A few years later, Rimes’ single, “How Do I Live,” sold more than 3 million copies and spend a record-setting 309 weeks on the country sales chart. While still a teenager, she sold a staggering 15 million albums.
A leading honky-tonk singer of her generation, this 19-year-old singer scored a six-week No. 1 hit in 1953 with her first charting single, “A Dear John Letter,” which featured a recitation from Ferlin Husky. She also co-wrote its answer song, “Forgive Me John,” a Top 5 hit. Her success led her to the Opry, where she still hosts and performs regularly.
Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley
These two friends put a bluegrass band together at age 15, and when Ralph Stanley heard them play, he hired them both within a year. The young Kentuckians eventually found their way to Nashville, collectively notching 16 No. 1 hits. Skaggs remains a Grammy favorite, and Whitley is often cited as a key influence among the generation that followed.
As a starry-eyed kid in Mississippi, he found himself living the hillbilly dream by age 13 when he was hired to play mandolin in bluegrass legend Lester Flatt’s touring band. He held the gig for six years, releasing his debut album in the meantime. An Opry member since 1992, he is considered one of country music’s most knowledgeable (and glittering) historians.
The 13-year-old girl with the husky voice found fame immediately with 1972’s “Delta Dawn,” eventually charting a dozen adult-natured Top 10 hits as a teenager. After some awkward growing pains, she bounced back in the mid-1980s with four more No. 1 hits (including “Strong Enough to Bend”) and won the CMA’s female vocalist award in 1991.
Hank Williams Jr.
The family tradition was strongly encouraged by his mother, Audrey. Thus, his first single charted in 1964 when the 14-year-old took his father’s “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” to No. 5. He duplicated that feat at 17 with his own “Standing in the Shadows.” Today, at 60, he remains a popular live draw and an apparent shoo-in to the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At 17, Wynonna and her mother, Naomi, signed to RCA. Thus began the legacy of the Judds, one of the most beloved duos in country music history. Wynonna hadn’t yet turned 20 when the Grammy-winning “Mama He’s Crazy” began its climb to No. 1 in 1984. Her 1992 solo album brought critical acclaim, three No. 1 hits and sales of 5 million copies.