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Who Is Chris Stapleton?

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Chris Stapleton isn’t a household name in country music — at least not in the same way his fellow Male Vocalist of the Year nominees were — but fans know him now. The singer and songwriter is a favorite of many of the artists who attended the 2015 CMA Awards, however, and fans who don’t know him really do know him.

Prior to releasing his CMA-winning album Traveller in May, Stapleton was the lead singer of an IBMA Award-winning bluegrass band called the SteelDrivers. For over a decade he’s also been a very successful songwriter, having penned hits for George Strait, Darius Rucker, Kenny Chesney and more. “Never Wanted Nothing More” was a multi-week No. 1 for Chesney. “Your Man” by Josh Turner also topped the charts.

Last December, Luke Bryan fans may recall Stapleton taking the stage alongside Lady Antebellum to sing “Drink a Beer” at the CMT Artist of the Year ceremony. Stapleton co-wrote the song, and the group was performing it on behalf of Bryan, who was forced to miss the night due to a death in the family. It wasn’t coincidence that Bryan recognized him during his Entertainer of the Year win on Nov. 4.

More recently Stapleton has penned singles for Gary Allan and Thomas Rhett (“Crash and Burn”), but he’s being recognized in the mainstream for his own work for the very first time. The Traveller album is one of Taste of Country’s 10 Best of 2015. The songs were inspired by a road trip he took with his wife after the death of his father in 2013. There hasn’t been a successful radio single from the album, which makes his wins for Male Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year even more surprising. To date, Stapleton has charted just one song, the sensual “What Are You Listening To” from 2013.

That doesn’t mean his peers don’t appreciate his talents. Dierks Bentley was among the first to collaborate with Stapelton, using him frequently on albums and featuring him as a guest vocalist on Riser. Rhett also relied on him heavily for his new album. Fans of the very traditional, introspective Traveller album will be surprised to learn this 37-year-old Kentucky native penned “South Side” on Tangled Up.

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Next: See All 2015 CMA Nomination Surprises and Snubs

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