Who Are The Members Of The Country Music Class Of ’89?
Here’s an in-depth look at country music’s class of ’89, comprised of Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt.
Garth Brooks; Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia, Clint Black; Photo Courtesy Facebook, Alan Jackson; Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Tree Town Music Festival, Travis Tritt; Photo Courtesy Facebook
Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt are collectively known as the “Class of ’89,” a group of trailblazers who, to this day, are still considered to be some of the most talented and influential artists in country music. They started to have a profound impact on the genre beginning in the year 1989, but their success continued to bring attention to the genre throughout the ‘90s and beyond. During this time, they ushered in an era of authentic, neo-traditional sounds that placed a heavy focus on the importance of storytelling in their songwriting. As a result, a surplus of new fans to flocked to the genre, making country music more popular than ever before.
Each member in the Class of ’89 broke out onto the music scene with their chart debuts in the same year. As individuals, they saw their careers skyrocket, but it is the collective impact they made that truly had a profound effect on the music industry as a whole. In total, this class of country artists racked up 64 No. 1 country hits and were awarded many honors between the ACM, CMA, GRAMMY Awards, etc.
Radio stations and award shows were other aspects of the industry that were greatly affected by these singer/songwriters. Country radio stations experienced such incredible growth in their listenership in the year 1989 that they were elevated to the top spot among radio formats in America. Additionally, the popularity surrounding Brooks, Tritt, Jackson, and Black brought a new level of exposure to country award shows, which in turn sent these TV specials into the top ten most-watched programs of their week as more and more fans began to tune in from coast to coast.
It was their distinctive vocals and passion-fueled spirits for the rural way of life that changed the game for Country music by achieving widespread success. With their careers, came a power strong enough to alter the way people around the world saw country music by showing them that there was more to these guitar-strumming, boot-stomping, Stetson-wearing artists.
Mary Chapin Carpenter and Vince Gill
While Brooks, Black, Jackson, and Tritt are the core members of the Class of ’89, other artists experienced a significant rise in success that same year. As The Tennessean reported, Vince Gill and Mary Chapin Carpenter are two artists who had already started to establish themselves around Nashville, but in 1989, they deeply cemented their rightful places in the pool of talent.
That year, Carpenter dropped her first single with Columbia Records, “How Do,” which landed inside the Top 20, followed by her Top 10 hit, “Never Had It So Good.” A few years later, she unleashed her best-selling album, Come On Come On, which produced seven hit singles and rose to the Top 10 on the Country Albums chart. In the same year, Vince Gill also broke through with his first album for MCA Records, When I Call Your Name. Along with the title track, which became a signature tune for Gill, the project also spawned several other singles such as “Never Alone,” “Oklahoma Swing” and “Never Knew Lonely.”
A Musical Legacy
In today’s age of country music, the Class of ’89 is considered to be the standard for current and future generations of country music. Many emerging artists as well as the already established ones look up to the success of Brooks, Tritt, Jackson, and Black with hopes of one day leaving their own lifelong legacy among fans and their peers.
Fast forward thirty-five years later, all four members of the class remain active members of the country music community. Most of them continue to write and release new music and put their careers on display in front of fans, whether that be through various award show performances or full-blown stadium tours. No matter how they choose to live out their days now, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson have proved that their legacy remains strong.
Garth Brooks made his very first trip down to Nashville in 1985. While the outcome didn’t exactly fulfill the dreams he went in with, he didn’t give up. He returned to Music City in 1988 and luckily, had a much different outcome. He signed with Capitol Records and released his self-titled debut album the next year, marking the start of his involvement in the monumental era of country music. This project peaked at No. 2 on Billboard and spawned Brooks’ first set of Top 10 hits including his debut single, “Much Too Young (to Feel This Damn Old),” as well as his first two No. 1 hits, “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and “The Dance.” The diamond-certified record also went on to earn Brooks his first set of awards including CMA Music Video of the Year (“The Dance”), ACM Song of the Year (“The Dance”), ACM Video of the Year (“The Dance”), and AMA Favorite Country Single (“If Tomorrow Never Comes”). Brooks followed up his debut album with No Fences, the full-length project that sold more than 16 million copies by July 1998 and featured Brooks’ signature tune, “Friends In Low Places” as the lead single. Once again, he compiled a stack of impressive feats from major award shows like CMA and ACM, one of the most noteworthy wins being his Entertainer of the Year title by both organizations. This was an unheard-of feat for an artist who only had about two years as a recording artist under his belt. Years after proving his status as a member of the Class of ’89, Garth Brooks continued to see so much success within the industry that many artists of today and those of the future will look up to his career as the standard for their own. In total, he has racked up 20 Billboard No. 1 songs, achieved record-breaking sellouts in stadiums across the world, and has been named the second best-selling solo album artist of the century by the RIAA, sitting just behind The Beatles.
Alan Jackson moved his Georgia-bred roots to Nashville, TN in the mid-1980s to make his mark on country music. He started slow, getting his name around town by working in the mailroom of the Nashville Network while simultaneously developing his skills as a songwriter. Eventually, his hard work started to pay off as he became the first signee of Arista Nashville. Under this record label, Jackson released his debut album of 1990, Here in the Real World, a project that propelled the success of four Top five singles including the title track, along with “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow,” “Wanted,” and his first-ever No. 1, “I’d Love You All Over Again,” a heartfelt tune inspired by Jackson’s love for his wife Denise. After finally reaching this coveted point on the charts, Jackson’s momentum continued with each of his next singles as they all went No. 1. Then, in 1992, the Country Music Hall of Famer dropped his third studio album, “A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love),” which produced chart-topping singles “She’s Got the Rhythm (And I’ve Got the Blues)” and “Chattahoochee.” On top of that, the album itself secured Jackson his first No. 1 album and remained in that position for five consecutive weeks in 1993. Alan Jackson’s legacy as a singer/songwriter remains one of the greatest in the genre as he has continued to be a consistent hitmaker since the early days of his career. The multi-platinum-selling artist has racked up 35 No. 1 hits, most of which he wrote or co-wrote, in addition to the 16 CMA Awards, 17 ACM Awards and two Grammys. His ability to stay true to his country music roots is undeniable and part of what makes him such a legend and role model in the genre.
It’s been 35 years since Clint Black released his historic debut album, Killin’ Time. The triple-platinum project is not only responsible for ushering him into the Class of ’89, but also for spawning five No. 1 singles, an achievement that hadn’t been done by any other country artist before. Additionally, Black scored the No. 1 Billboard Country song of both 1989 and 1990 for his singles “A Better Man,” and “Nobody’s Home” respectively, as well as chart-toppers “Walkin’ Away” and “Nothing’s News.” The success of “A Better Man” marked the first time in 14 years that a debut single by a male artist had peaked at the No. 1 spot on the chart. This tune also went on to earn a GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Song while the album’s title track scored a nod for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Male. Black’s career was kickstarted to the next level when he signed to RCA Records in 1989. Once the string of No. 1’s started to flow in, he held a steady pace throughout the 2000s, leading him to garner more than 30 singles on the U.S. Billboard country charts and release several compilation albums on top of his nine studio albums. Even more admirable, he is responsible for writing or co-writing nearly all of his hit songs. This year, the New Jersey-born, Texas-raised artist has announced that he will celebrate the milestone anniversary of his debut project with a 2024 World Tour.
Travis Tritt was unique among the males in this core group in the way that he refused to hide the luscious locks of his mullet underneath a Stetson, despite it being a staple in the careers of Brooks, Jackson, and Black. Tritt’s look may have stood out, but his music fit perfectly into the mold of this beloved generation of country music with his authentic songwriting and edgy southern rock/honky tonk-infused sound. He arrived in Nashville in 1982, signed with Warner Bros. Records in 1988, and within the following year he had dropped the title track of his major label debut album, Country Club. This song earned Tritt his first visit to the Top 10 and sparked a trend of having nine of his next singles break into Billboard’s Country Top Ten over the next seven years. The album as a whole also produced three Top 5 singles including “Help Me Hold On,” “Drift Off to Dream” and “I’m Gonna Be Somebody.” Since the early days of his impactful career, Tritt has racked up a total of 45 songs on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart including fan favorites like “T-R-O-U-B-L-E,” “Ten Feet Tall,” “Where Corn Don’t Grow,” “Bulletproof” and more. Twenty of these chart toppers made their way in the top 10 and five landed at No. 1, according to Billboard. His complete discography includes 15 albums, with nearly half being certified platinum or multi-platinum. In 2000, Georgia native inked a deal with Columbia Records. Under this new partnership, he released what became a platinum album titled Down the Road I Go, which includes his fifth No. 1 single, “Best of Intentions” as well as one of his signature tunes, “It’s A Great Day To Be Alive.”
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.