Nashville may be the major hub for country music, but that doesn’t mean all of the country’s biggest stars grew up in Music City. Many of the biggest names in the genre proudly hail from across the country, many of whom were born and raised in the state of Oklahoma. Of Carrie Underwood for Reba McEntire, these native Oklahomans rose to national stardom, but never forgot their southern roots that helped shape them. Take a tour through the Sooner State to visit the hometowns and landmarks of some of country music’s biggest stars.
Of american idol winner of one of the biggest names in country music, it’s safe to say that Carrie Underwood is perhaps the most famous person in Checotah, Okla. Her hometown greets visitors with a giant sign on Highway 69 that reads, “Checotah Home of Carrie Underwood – American Idol 2005.”. You can pass by Checotah High School, which, in addition to Highway 69, the country star referenced in his song “I Ain’t In Checotah Anymore.” The avid animal lover also opened The Happy Paws Animal Shelter as part of Carrie’s CATS Foundation in 2011. Just an hour northeast is the town of Tahlequah where Underwood attended Northeastern State University.
Just outside Reba McEntireChockie’s small hometown, where the country star grew up on his family ranch, is Atoka. Stop at Atoka Museum and Civil War Cemetery to see a special exhibit of McEntire memorabilia that features photographs as well as one of her signature dresses. It was also in Atoka that McEntire decided to open his own restaurant and music venue, Reba’s Place. It is currently under construction with plans to open in 2022 and will include a restaurant, bar, music stage and retail store.
Ada is the hometown of none other than Blake Shelton. Drop by Ada High School, where Shelton graduated in 1994, or visit the town’s water tower that featured on the cover of her album Bring back the sun. To truly appreciate Shelton’s early roots, visit the McSwain Theater where Shelton was a regular performer in his early years. It was actually at the McSwain that Shelton was encouraged to pursue music by famed songwriter Mae Boren Axton, the man behind Elvis Presley’s first number one hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Ada may be where Blake Shelton grew up, but these days Tishomingo is home. The superstar bought a 1,300 acre ranch where he currently resides with his wife Gwen Stefani. It’s also where Shelton opened Ole Red Tishomingo, a restaurant and music venue he created inspired by his hit song “Ol’ Red.” It also has offices in Gatlinburg, Las Vegas, Nashville and Orlando. But Tishomingo’s location is special, not only because it’s in Shelton’s home state, but also because it’s essentially down the street from his ranch. We can only assume that it pops up from time to time.
Garth Brooks may have been born in Tulsa, but he grew up in the Yukon. In 1992, the Yukon renamed 11th Street “Garth Brooks Boulevard” in honor of the superstar who spent his childhood there. It’s one of the main streets in the city, so you can’t miss it. You can also walk past the building where Brooks attended high school, which has since been converted into the Yukon Public Schools Enrollment Center. The Yukon Cemetery is where you can find the Brooks family plot, including Brooks’ future headstone. You can even find his childhood home at 408 Yukon Avenue and a collection of memorabilia displayed at the Yukon Historical Society.
Originally known as Berwyn, this small Oklahoma town decided to change its name after the beloved singing cowboy moved to town. Autry bought a huge ranch hoping to make it his Flying A Ranch Rodeo headquarters. The townspeople therefore thought it logical to name the town after their famous new neighbor. In 1990, the city turned an abandoned school building into the Gene Autry Oklahoma Museum, dedicated to all things Autry, from his musical career to his many western films. The city even hosts the annual Gene Autry Oklahoma Film and Music Festival which brings to life all of the singing cowboy’s musical and film hits.
Fans of iconic country duo Brooks and Dunn might want to stop in Tulsa for the ultimate trip down memory lane. Their “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” music video was filmed at Tulsa City Limits, now known as the Krystal Palace Event Center. The duo also made a memorable stop at Cain’s Ballroom where they recorded “Brooks & Dunn Live at Cain’s Ballroom” in 2005. And let’s not forget that Ronnie Dunn made his own music before dating Kix Brooks. In the early 80s he worked with Churchill Records, which is now Roy Clark Productions.
Brooks and Dunn aren’t the only country stars to make Cain’s Ballroom memorable. In the 1930s, country swing star Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys had a daily radio show broadcast from the Tulsa ballroom, sharing Western swing with listeners across the country. Cain’s hosts an annual Bob Wills birthday party to celebrate the late star’s life and musical legacy. Wills considered Tulsa his adopted hometown, inspiring his popular song “Take Me Back to Tulsa”. After his passing in 1975, Wills was buried in his beloved Tulsa and you can find his headstone in Section 15, Lot 560, Space 2 of Memorial Park Cemetery.
Toby Keith was born in Clinton but grew up in Moore. In fact, the town’s water tower proudly displays “Home of Toby Keith.” You can see Moore High School, where Keith graduated in 1979, as well as his own street. After the release of his second album, Moore renamed part of Eastern Avenue “Toby Keith Avenue”. You can find its section between East Main Street and Southeast 4th Street on Eastern Avenue. Despite his burgeoning music career, Keith never felt at home in Nashville. For him, it’s no better than Moore, where he still lives today.
Although Toby Keith lives in Moore, he chose the state capital as the best place to open his own restaurant, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. Inspired by his 2003 single “I Love This Bar,” Keith’s restaurant features guitar-shaped bars where the country star is known to show up in person to perform and chat with guests.
Vince Gill has been performing in Oklahoma City since he was just a student at Cleveland Elementary School. He even returned to his old elementary school in 2008 for a benefit concert, helping them raise money to repair their auditorium. OKC honored the beloved singer by giving him his own street, ‘Vince Gill Avenue’ in the Bricktown entertainment district, which you can find at E Sheridan Ave and N Central Ave. Gill then attended Taft Middle School as well as Northwest Classen High School, which built its own 9.5-foot statue for him in front in 2014. If you’re hungry, they say on the street that Ted’s Café Escondido is Gill’s favorite restaurant in town.
Legendary country star Conway Twitty was another notable OKC resident from 1963 to 1975. You can see his former residence at 7000 South Villa and stop by the Diamond Ballroom where he performed during his 12 years in town. Fun fact, while in town, the singer opened Twitty Burger, where he offered his own special burger – a beef patty with cheese, bacon and fried pineapple. It’s no longer open, but it’s a creative order if you want to try and replicate it at home or another local eating place.
Okemah, Okla., the hometown of folk music legend Woody Guthrie, is a must visit for music lovers. Guthrie fans can see the high school where Guthrie sang in the choir, walk down Woody Guthrie Boulevard, tour his childhood home, stop at the Woody Guthrie statue and more.