Lyrics Uncovered: Tim McGraw, ‘Humble and Kind’
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Tim McGraw didn’t write the “Humble and Kind” lyrics, but the person who did thinks his interpretation has made the song what it is.
Lori McKenna is a critically-acclaimed artist in her own right, but she’s also one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters, penning hits for Faith Hill, Little Big Town and many more. She juggles her music career with a very settled family life in Massachusetts, and her children inspired her to write “Humble and Kind” by herself in between loads of laundry and picking up kids.
“My family knows those as spaghetti days, because the only thing I can do for dinner is spaghetti. It’s the only thing I can cook in 10 minutes,” she tells Taste of Country with a laugh. “There’s not really proper food given to the family those days. It does sort of sidetrack you, and you want to finish it. But I’m not a picker … once it’s done, I usually sit on it for a short amount of time and listen back, and I’m pretty sure I sent it to Tim that night.”
Hill was the first major commercial artist to cut McKenna’s songs, and as a result, “If I write something I’m proud of, I think, ‘I wonder if Faith or Tim would like this?'” she admits. “And so I sent it to him, and the fact that it worked out in the end still kind of amazes me. Faith and Tim with their kids and me and my husband with our kids, we’re in the same little world of sending your kids off. So it just sort of hit him the way it hit me, and then the way he sings it is just — I feel like he wrote the song with me, the way he sings it.”
“Humble and Kind” sprang from McKenna’s concern over raising her younger children in the age of cell phones and social media, and hoping they understood the proper way to treat others.
“I think initially it honestly came from a kind of frustration in the way that you see people sometimes not be humble or not be kind,” she says. “I remember having a conversation about it, thinking, ‘Have we been careful to raise our kids … our kids would never say that. Our kids wouldn’t do that, would they? Have we been really careful enough to make sure that they know everything we want them to know?'”
“And then it really became one of those things where I thought, ‘I’m just gonna write it down in a rhyming list form, and make sure I can’t be accused later on of not telling them the basics,'” she adds of the “Humble and Kind” lyrics. “Sometimes I think we just get so caught up in the world. I think it’s so hard for kids right now … when I grew up, you still heard things about the Golden Rule, and if I said to my 11-year-old, ‘Do you know what the Golden Rule is?’ he’d probably say, ‘What?’ Are we giving them the basics? Just general manners.”
"He’s really a regular guy, Tim. I think that’s why everybody loves Tim’s singing, because he sings it like he’s singing it for you, not singing it at you."
The song’s strength is the directness and simplicity of its message, which helps make it universal: “Hold the door, say please, say thank you / Don’t cheat, don’t steal and don’t lie / I know you’ve got mountains to climb / But always stay humble and kind / When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you / When the work you put in is realized / Let yourself feel the pride / But always stay humble and kind.”
“I do like simple songs, and I think people are drawn to the song because it is very simple, and you can hear it maybe once and at least you’re part of it and can understand it,” McKenna says, adding that McGraw is the perfect artist to convey the song’s message to a wider audience.
“It definitely needed to be an artist of a certain age,” she observes. “Maybe if an 18-year-old sang it, it wouldn’t have come across the same way.”
The singer’s Everyman quality allows him to relate to his audience in a different way than some other entertainers. “He’s really a regular guy, Tim. He just has an exceptional job, and he does a great job at it, but he’s really obtainable,” McKenna points out. “I think that’s why everybody loves Tim’s singing, because he sings it like he’s singing it for you, not singing it at you.”
McGraw took the simple song and added a soaring arrangement that really brought it to life, accompanied by a one-of-a-kind video featuring footage Oprah Winfrey provided, showing people from cultures all over the world. The result is a song that may very well become a career single for the superstar, and McKenna says it exceeds her wildest expectations.
“I know as an artist that I don’t have the accessibility to have ever given the song what he has given it,” she states. “To ever really give other people the chance to hear it. For someone to take something that you wrote and just shine it so bright like that, it sort of makes it as much his song, if not more, than me … I feel like it’s been such a gift for him to be able to share it with the people the way he has. I’m just blessed that I’m part of it, to be honest.”
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