Lee Greenwood was born in South Gate, California. His parents separated when he was very small; he and his mother lived with his maternal grandparents near Sacramento on a poultry farm. He began playing the saxophone at age seven, and at the age of nine, became a member of a dance team. He made his first television appearance in 1969. He worked with the country music artist Del Reeves shortly after that.
In 1962, Lee founded his first band called Apollo. The band changed the name later to Lee Greenwood Affair, and played mostly pop music. They appeared in Las Vegas casinos. On the Paramount label in Los Angeles, the band recorded a few records. The band broke up after that, and Greenwood moved to Las Vegas and got a job dealing blackjack during the day, and singing at night. The physical toll of the two jobs was a vocal strain on Greenwood. He developed a permanent hoarseness in his voice, which he used to his advantage.
He was discovered in Reno, Nevada by Larry McFaden, the bandleader and bassist of Mel Tillis. He made some demo tapes, and was signed in 1981 by the Nashville division of the MCA label.
Greenwood’s first single, “It Turns Me Inside Out”, made it to the top 20 of the country music charts. Greenwood had written the lyrics for Kenny Rogers; Rogers turned it down. Greenwood also did “Ring on Her Finger, Time on Her Hands”, which went to the country music chart’s top ten.
His most famous song is “God Bless the USA”. The song was done in the early 1980s, and peaked at # 7 on the country music charts, but didn’t gain a momentous popularity until the 1990s. This song even re-entered the Top 20 of the country music charts in 2001. This song was used as a recurring theme song for several Republican political campaigns. Greenwood won many awards from various country music magazines and associations for this big hit.
Greenwood took a break from touring in 1995 to spend time with his wife and newborn son. During his “down” time, he built a theater in Sevierville, Tennessee. The “Lee Greenwood Theater” opened its doors in April 1996. He performed there for five seasons. The former theater is now host to a church.
Greenwood was appointed to a 6 year term to the National Council on the Arts in 2008 by President Bush.
With more than twenty major label albums to his credit, and more than thirty five singles on the Billboard country music charts, Lee Greenwood has made his claim to fame in America’s country music field.
He is best known for his single “God Bless the USA”, but Greenwood also has charted seven No 1 hits in country music: “Somebody’s Gonna Love You”, “Going Going, Gone”, “Dixie Road”, “I Don’t Mind the Thorns (If You’re The Rose)”, and two more. The 1983 single “I O U” was also a top five hit on the Adult Contemporary charts, and was very popular in the country music charts. His “God Bless the USA” became his highest charting hit, reaching # 16 in the Hot 100 in 2001.
Greenwood tried to retain his audience through patriotic work during the 1991 Gulf War. He even earned the “Patriot Award” and a “Points of Light Foundation Award” from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. By the middle of the 1990s, he was no longer charting singles in the country music field, pop field, or contemporary field. Greenwood’s country music fans and his pop music fans will keep his music around and enjoy his talents forever. God bless the USA for giving the country music world a beautiful voice like Lee Greenwood.