Musicians and singer-songwriters are usually known for their hits, glitz, and glam and capturing the heart and soul of millions of fans around the world through their music. With their iconic styles resonating throughout the ages, these famous musicians who served in the military aren’t only about the hits they made but also the hits they took for their country.
Here are five influential music legends you might not know who served their country on the frontlines.
The King of Rock and Roll himself, the Mississippi-born, Tennessee-raised Grammy Award-winning Elvis Aaron Presley, served in the United States Army. He served after releasing his film “King Creole,” and a series of top-charting songs, including “Too Much” and “All Shook Up.” Of course, you can never forget the number one hit album, the Jailhouse Rock E.P. too!
With his name stirring a buzz across fans in the United States and beyond, he was drafted into the U.S. Army at Fort Chaffee on March 24, 1958. This turned the fort into a media circus, with photographers and paparazzi hounding the musician. Here he requested that he be treated like any other soldier and refused an easy enlistment entertaining the troops.
He completed his basic training at Fort Hood and was notorious for being a pistol sharpshooter and knowing his way around tanks. Afterward, he went into the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32nd Armor, 3rd Armored Division based in Friedberg, Germany. Here, he learned Karate and met Priscilla. He denied any special treatment, refusing previous offers by the Army, Navy, and Pentagon to join the Special Services to entertain the troops, and was known to be a generous soldier. He donated his army salary to various charities and bought many luxuries for his buddies in the army, even buying them extra army clothes within his close circle. Finishing his career with the rank of Sergeant, you could say he was great with a mic and a gun!
The late blues king known for his string bending, Riley B. King, was known for his hits “The Thrill Is Gone” and “Every Day I Have The Blues,” usually using his trusty Gibson ES-335s named “Lucille.”
But before all his success and fame, the Mississippi-born guitarist sang at the Elkhorn Baptist Church because he enjoyed the music. During his tenure at the church, he learned how to play the guitar with the local minister teaching him!
Known for his extremely hard-working work ethic, he enlisted into the U.S. Army at only 18 years old in 1943. Not much is known about his military career, but we do know that he was released from the military when he finished his basic army training as the military found out he knew how to drive a tractor.
Knowing your way around a tractor and fields back then were an asset to the military because food production was a major concern so his experience as a laborer on farms was essential to the war effort at home.
The Man in Black himself!
Hailing from Kingsland, Arkansas, is the iconic musician Johnny Cash with his deep baritone voice of gold. Like B.B. King, he was exposed to the cotton fields at a young age, so he was no stranger to hardship. He even wrote the legendary song “Five Feet High and Rising” about his family’s personal bout with the Great Depression during the 1930s.
Contrary to his stage image as a rebel and an outlaw, Johnny Cash joined the U.S. Air Force and took basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. When he finished his technical training at Brooks Air Force Base, he was immediately deployed to Landsberg, Germany. He served as part of the 12th Radio Squadron Mobile, a unit under the U.S. Air Force Security Service. Musicians who served in the military were quite common, but Johnny’s talent was one of a kind. During his time of service, he would often write songs in his downtime when he had nothing to do.
Who would have ever thought Johnny Cash would be a morse code interceptor of messages for the Korean War, right? That’s something you don’t see every day! Apparently, he was a pretty good Airman rising through the ranks and ending his military career as a staff sergeant in 1954.
No! It’s Grammy Award-winning rapper Tracy Lauren Marrow, better known as Ice-T! Now in his early 60’s, you would’ve never thought that the rapper who released the song “Cop Killer” and the album “O.G. Original Gangster” was a patriot at heart!
Ice-T had a troubled childhood, with his mother dying of a heart attack when he was just in the third grade and his father dying when he was only 13. This left him quite vulnerable to gang activity, where he was associated with the Crips.
While he didn’t drink or use drugs, he did sell weed and stole car electronics to support his girlfriend, who was pregnant with his child.
A determined Ice-T wanted to make a better life for his daughter, so he decided to join the U.S. Army in 1977. He served as a Private First Class stationed in Hawaii for most of his service, leading a squad based at the Schofield Barracks. Hawaii was known for having affordable music equipment, so he bought some to get himself started on the hip-hop scene.
From some shabby studio equipment, Ice-T’s net worth of $60 million comprises his music and T.V. success. Yup, if you didn’t know, he’s part of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, where he earned $250,000 per episode or over $6 million per season. Kinda odd for a guy who adopted the public persona of a gangsta to make his chops as an actor playing a cop, isn’t it?
With over 50 million records sold worldwide, Tony Bennett and his legendary jazz songs didn’t just captivate the ears of his listeners, but that voice also bravely served in World War II!
If he left his heart in San Francisco, he put out all guts and glory in the frontlines across France and Germany. We all knew that music was his passion, of course, but he had a heart of gold. He was drafted into the U.S. military in 1944, just a year before World War II would end. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t pull his weight.
After basic training at Fort Dix and Fort Robinson, he became a skilled marksman. As an infantry rifleman, he joined the 255th Infantry Regiment of the 63rd Division, where he had to endure one of the hardest winters in history fighting the Germans. Bennet fought in the Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns and was also present for the liberation of the Landsburg concentration camp in Dachau. As is typical of the Army and its use of human resources, Bennet ended up serving in a Graves Registrations Unit after the War before being assigned to the 314th Army Special Services Band to entertain the troops during the occupation of Germany.
When he returned to the States, his legendary song “Because of You” hit the charts, and the rest is history from this iconic musician!
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