8 Musicians That Have Served in the Military

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

While the demands of the military may not seem to complement a creative spirit, many famed musicians have heeded the call to service – many even credit their time serving as the driving force behind their foray into music.

From country stars to rock icons, these musicians can add veteran to their list of laurels alongside their illustrious careers in music.

1. Elvis Presley

When thinking of musicians that have served in the military, images of a young Elvis Presley in Army greens immediately come to mind. Already a household name by the end of the ’50s, The King’s drafting was dubbed “Black Monday” in the press. The heartthrob rock n’ roller was met by a horde of screaming fans at the airport when he arrived for basic training.

Despite his celebrity status, Elvis completed his stint in the Army dutifully. When given the choice between serving in a safer role and the throes of regular soldiers, Elvis chose the latter, serving from 1958 to the spring of 1960.

2. Johnny Cash

Before he was a once-in-a-generation musician, Johnny Cash served in the Air Force. Cash enlisted at the age of 18, directly after high school. He went on to serve in the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile of the Air Force Security Service in Germany as a Morse Code operator working to intercept Soviet transmissions.

His earnings in the military allowed him to buy his first guitar and start his first band, The Landsberg Barbarians—named after the town in West Germany where he was stationed. Upon his discharge, he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend a radio announcing course in Memphis before venturing into the limelight with his first recordings of “Hey Porter” and “Cry! Cry! Cry!”

Due to his time in Germany, Cash recorded a handful of tracks in German including a translated version of his famed track “I Walk the Line.”

3. Jimi Hendrix

The rock legend remains one of the most influential guitarists of all time, despite a career that lasted just four years. Hendrix entered the military as one of two choices given to him by police after being caught twice in a stolen car. It was either prison or the military.

Hendrix enlisted in 1961 and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Kentucky. For his service, he was awarded the prestigious Screaming Eagles patch in early 1962. Just six months later, the trailblazing guitarist was discharged from service due to “unsuitability.” The rock and roll mentality didn’t seem to mix well with military service.

4. Willie Nelson

From crooner to outlaw country star, Willie Nelson has earned a sprawling career that has spanned genres and decades. Before his rise to fame, Nelson enlisted in the Air Force in 1950.

He only served for about nine months before receiving a medical discharge due to back issues. While he didn’t serve long, he has remained committed to issues plaguing veterans, including unsuited medical care and homelessness. He has long supported veterans advocacy groups, including Operation Firing for Effect, devoting to protecting those disabled while serving.

5. George Strait

The “King of Country” himself joined the U.S. Army in 1971 following an elopement with his high school sweetheart, Norma. He served from 1971 to 1975, reaching the rank of corporal.

While stationed in Hawaii, Strait launched what would become a decades-long career in country music with an Army-sponsored band called Rambling Country. Strait has remained a staunch supporter of the armed forces throughout his career. Notably, he has served as the spokesman for the Wrangler National Patriot program and used proceeds from concerts to help fund homes for veterans.

6. John Prine

Dubbed the “Mark Twain of Songwriting,” John Prine served in the Army during the Vietnam War. While in Germany, he spent his evening in the barracks playing through the songs he knew by heart. Following his service, Prine returned home to Chicago and garnered a lauded career in country music.

Many of his lyrics concern themselves with his time in the service as well as the plights of returning soldiers. “Sam Stone,” which was famously covered by fellow veteran Johnny Cash, told the story of a soldier who struggles to adjust to life back home following his time in the Vietnam War.

7. Ice-T

Tracy Lauren Marrow, better known as Ice-T, joined the service after his daughter was born in an effort to support his family. He was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division at the Tropic Lightning Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

During his service, Ice-T served as a squad leader, earning enough to buy equipment and hone his musical talent. Following his time in the Army, he returned home and launched a lauded career in Hip-Hop.

8. Craig Morgan

The singer may be best known for his hit “Redneck Yacht Club” but he is also an Army veteran. Morgan served almost ten years in active duty in the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and another six and a half years in the reserves.

While furthering his illustrious music career, he has continued to support his fellow veterans with donations to various advocacy groups, including Operation Finally Home—an organization that seeks to provide mortgage-free homes to veterans.

Photo: Authentic Brands Group (ABG)

Leave a Reply

Behind the Meaning of the Song “Barbecue” by Paul Williams

5 Songs You Didn’t Know Smokey Robinson Wrote for Other Artists