With hit songs in each of the last five decades, music legend Garth Brooks has won nearly every award imaginable. Now, he’s adding another honor to his long list of achievements — becoming one of five artists celebrated by the Kennedy Center for their contributions to American culture.
Brooks is the best-selling solo artist in U.S. history — thanks, in part, to an infectious enthusiasm that spans genres.
“Music is what starts my day,” Brooks told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.
Decades of fans would consider Brooks “cool,” King acknowledged. But the artist was more modest.
“That’s sweet,” he said. “‘Cause I’m the last guy that would think ‘cool’ would be on my thing.”
He continued, “I’m not beautiful, I’m not thin, I’m not — you know, and the voice is not of, you know, cinematic quality.”
Not being “special,” Brooks said, is both his blessing and his curse.
“I get to be the average guy,” he said.
The youngest of six kids from a small town in Oklahoma, Brooks’s mother Colleen Carroll gave up her own music career to raise a family.
Carroll had told CBS News in a 1998 interview that she “begged him” not to go into music.
“So I went to the recruiting office there in Stillwater, for the Marine Corps, because my father was a Marine. And I thought I’d surprise my dad by telling him I went. And his first words: ‘Garth, you don’t wanna do that,'” Brooks recalled. “I think every parent wants something different for their child. Because every parent has seen the dark side of everything.”
His mother’s advice didn’t deter him, and after playing local bars all through college, Brooks left Oklahoma for Nashville.
The trip lasted 24 hours.
“I go to Nashville thinking everything’s gonna be straw hats and gooseneck trailers, right?” Brooks recounted. “And everything’s suit and ties — it’s a business. I’m not ready for that.”
Back home, Books married his college sweetheart Sandy Mahl and got a band together. On his second trip to Music City, he landed a record deal in less than a year.
His first record was certified gold, and his career took off.
However, the star admits he “probably didn’t handle” fame well.
“A nation watches you grow up, right? So you’re gonna make decisions that you go, ‘Man, I wish I could take that one back,’ but the truth is now… If changing anything then meant any part of now would change, no, thank you,” he said.
Brooks embraced that philosophy on life from one of his earliest hits — 1989’s “The Dance.”
“So there’s the blessing and the curse,” Brooks explained. “The blessing is you found the song that defines you. Some artists never get to. The curse is, it was way back off that first record.”
By 1999, Brooks had sold over 100 million albums and brought millions of new fans into country music.
But with his marriage falling apart, he announced he would be walking away.
He had said in an interview then, “I never ever, ever in my life thought I’d say this but music is not the first thing in my life anymore.”
“Once children come into the mix, children take the lead. That’s it. They didn’t want to come in this place. It wasn’t their choice, we brought them in. So even though Sandy and I were not going to be able to complete our marriage, we still had our children to raise,” Brooks told King.
“The country music audience has given you everything. Now you just simply ask them, ‘I’m gonna go home and raise my babies.’ The big surprise was never, ever thinking, you’re gonna get to be let back in,” he added.
Brooks said he was still stunned to this day at the reception he gets.
“Because when you don’t know why they show up, you don’t know if they’ll show up again,” he said.
He admitted he was “scared to death” returning after 14 years — but “the people were so sweet.”
“Garth, they let you back in,” King said.
“Oh my God, did they ever,” he said.
“Country is the best place to be. Because, one, you have the most loyal audience there could possibly be, and they will wait for you” he said.
Brooks continued: “And there began my life.”
“Your kids are all out of high school…You’re with the love of your life, and this is the rest of your life, as far as you can see? What gets better than that?” he said.
That love is his wife and fellow country singer Trisha Yearwood. The two first met in the 1980s — while married to other people.
“You kind of become friends, buddies. Every time she comes in to sing on every record, you know, you start getting kind of sweaty and just love the way she smelled,” Brooks said. “She smells like nothing’s impossible. Man, she really does.”
Despite all his success, Brooks isn’t ready to slow down.
After accepting his Kennedy Center medallion, he made a bold promise — that “this is going to start making what we’ve done hopefully look small.”
“You wake up in the morning, you’re breathing, then God’s got a plan for you,” Brooks said. “What are you gonna do with it? Are you gonna be a warrior? Are you gonna be a retired guy? So that’s your question every morning.”