EAST TEXAS (KETK) — The Lone Star State has long been home to a host of famous American musicians, actors and historical figures. But do you know how many of them hail from East Texas? It’s more than you might think.
Below is a list of these famous East Texans with their accomplishments:
While Matthew McConaughey may have been born out west in Uvalde, East Texas is a home to him all the same. When he was still young, his family moved to Longview, where they stayed for the duration of his high school career. As a Lobo, McConaughey played golf and tennis, and was also voted “Most Handsome Student,” according to biography.com.
After he graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in film, his career as an actor took off almost immediately, first acting in student films and commercials, according to IMDb. A short time later, he landed his breakout role in “Dazed and Confused.” Since then, he has become one of the most popular actors in Hollywood, landing leading and supporting roles in films such as “A Time to Kill,” “Mud,” “Interstellar,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and many more.
Critically acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker also hails from Longview, where he was born in July of 1961 to a mother that taught special education and a father who sold insurance, according to IMDb. His time in East Texas, however, was short-lived when his family moved to Los Angeles in 1965.
Whitaker received numerous scholarships during his college career for his various talents, which began with football, then music at the University of Southern California and eventually acting and performing at Berkeley. He made his debut on the screen at the age of 21 in the 1982 comedy “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Since then, he has starred in many major motion pictures, including “The Last King of Scotland,” for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Actor, as well as “Black Panther,” “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and many others.
Miranda Lambert is perhaps one of the most famous faces from East Texas, not only due to her multiple Grammy and CMA awards, but because she grew up right in the heart of the area. She was born in 1983 in Longview, but grew up in Lindale, where her parents ran a private detective agency, according to biography.com. Her father was also a guitarist and songwriter, and she grew up listening to country music legends like Merle Haggard and Guy Clark.
Lambert has been pursuing country music since she was 10-years-old when she entered her first country music talent show. Over the course of her career, she has released 12 studio albums and won 38 music awards from the Grammys and ACM. Her most recent album was released in April, titled “Palomino.”
Koe Wetzel is a rising star in the country music scene, mostly due to his very specific and unique take on the genre. He hails from Pittsburg and has “lived” music for most of his life. According to his website, as a kid, he accompanied his mother as she performed on the Opry Circuit, his grandfather introduced him to Creedence Clearwater Revival, his dad put him on to hip-hop legends like the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac and 50 Cent and his cousin introduced him to alternative rock bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden.
All of these influences have made him into the artist he is today as he brings something different and new to the country music scene. His music brings a blend of outlaw country, grunge and alt rock all at the same time, solidifying him as a genre-defying artist. Since his career took off, he has released four albums, his first in 2015 and his latest in 2020. He has had several hit songs including “Ragweed,” “February 28, 2016,” “Something to Talk About” and many others.
“Some artists break one or two rules. Koe Wetzel breaks pretty much all of them,” his website reads.
An NFL rising star and a jewel of East Texas, Patrick Mahomes has become one of the most well-known names in the area. Born in Tyler to former MLB pitcher “Pat” Mahomes and event planner Randi Martin, he had a strong foundation and aptitude for sports at a young age. By his junior year, he was starting quarterback at Whitehouse High School, where he also excelled at baseball, according to biography.com.
After high school, he attended Texas Tech University, initially intending to play baseball with hopes of being drafted in the MLB later on. However, he found success as a starter on the university’s football team in his sophomore year, ultimately shifting his focus entirely to football. According to biography.com, Mahomes decided to forego his senior year of college for the NFL draft, leading to being drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs as the 10th overall first-round pick.
He quickly found success in the NFL, being named the league’s Most Valuable Player in 2018 and was the Super Bowl MVP of 2020. He then went on to sign a 10-year contract with the Chiefs that was reportedly worth $503 million. Mahomes is married to his high school sweetheart, Brittany, with one daughter and another child on the way.
Johnny Manziel hails from Tyler, where he was born on Dec. 6, 1992. He was a football star from a very young age, becoming the first college freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012 playing as quarterback for Texas A&M, according to IMDb.
Manziel went on to be drafted by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. However, Manziel was later waived by the Browns and dropped by his agent after a multitude of off-field issues and apparent unwillingness to commit to being a top-tier player, according to IMDb.
He now plays for a different professional football league known as Fan Controlled Football in Atlanta, according to ESPN. He has also played for several other minor leagues like the CFL and AAF.
Lee Ann Womack
Lee Ann Womack is one of the almost countless country music stars with ties to East Texas. She was born on Aug. 19, 1966 in Jacksonville and has always maintained the importance of her roots to the Deep East Texas area.
“I could never shake my center of who I was,” her website reads. “I’m drawn to rootsy music. It’s what moves me.”
Womack released her first album, which was self-titled, in 1997 and has released a total of nine albums, almost all of which were recorded in the country music capital, Nashville. However, for her 2017 album “The Lonely, The Lonesome and the Gone,” she decided to dive back into her roots of Deep East Texas and recorded it in the SugarHill area of Houston.
“I love local things, and I missed local music,” she explains on her website.
Over the course of her career, she has collected three ACM awards and one Grammy, but has been nominated numerous times for other awards.
One artist you may not have known was a native to East Texas is perhaps one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music: Chris Tomlin. Born in Grand Saline, Tomlin grew up listening to country music and learned to play guitar from his father, according to an archived post from Billboard. He accepted Jesus Christ as his savior when he was 9 years old and wrote his first song of praise at the age of 14.
In the early 90s, he enrolled at Texas A&M University to study medicine, but ultimately found himself more involved in a campus Christian group, which eventually led to him leading worship sessions regularly and in front of bigger groups. Today, he is one of the most popular contemporary Christian artists in the country and has penned many popular Sunday morning worship songs like “How Great is Our God, “Holy Is Our Lord” and many others. He has also won a Grammy award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album and a Dove award from the Gospel Music Association for Special Event Album of the Year, according to IMDb.
Born in Jacksonville, Neal McCoy has a successful career in country music, with 15 studio albums and 34 singles to country radio. He had back-to-back No. 1 singles titled “No Doubt About It” and “Wink” from his platinum album, “No Doubt About It.” He’s had many top 10 hits, two more platinum albums and one gold album.
McCoy remains active in philanthropic work and frequently attends events in East Texas. He’s been on 15 USO tours around the world and retains strong ties to his home, still supporting his own local charity organization: East Texas Angel Network, which is “committed to the enhancement of the lives of children of East Texas who are living with terminal or life-threatening diseases.”
McCoy is also known for his patriotic values, as he takes to Facebook daily to livestream the pledge of allegiance. He has done so for over 2,000 days in a row to a loyal fanbase.
Margo Martindale was born in Jacksonville as the youngest of three children and her parent’s only daughter. According to IMDb, she was Miss Jacksonville High School 1969, as well at Football Sweetheart 1969. She attended Lon Morris College in Jacksonville, and later moved to Ann Arbor to study at the University of Michigan. In addition to that, she did a summer study at Harvard.
She has been nominated for six Emmy’s and won three of them, and was also nominated for a Tony Award for her part in a revival of Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. In addition to that, she originated the role of Truvy the hairdresser in the first off-Broadway version of “Steel Magnolias”, a part that was later played by Dolly Parton in the movie version of the play.
Now a country music phenom, Kacey Musgraves was born in Sulphur Springs got her start in the town of Golden. According to the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, she started dressing up as a cowgirl and performing old-time country songs as early as age eight. Years later, at age 18, Musgraves set out to Austin to start her singing career. She earned a spot on a TV singing competition called “Nashville Star”, where she placed seventh.
She then moved to the country music capital of the world, Nashville, where she worked as a songwriter. Her debut album, titled “Same Trailer, Different Park” won two Grammys. In her career, she has been nominated for 11 Grammys and won 6 of them, including Album of the Year, Best Country Song, Best Country Album, and Best Country Solo Performance.
Hailing from Atlanta, Texas, Bessie Coleman was the first African-American, and first woman of Native-American descent, to have a pilot’s license. PBS describes the world she grew up in as “cruel” and full of “poverty and discrimination.” When she first went to school at age 6, Coleman went to a one-room wooden shack, which was a four-mile walk from home.
When she turned 23, she moved to Chicago to live with two of her older brothers. At that time, very few American women of any race had pilot’s licenses in 1918, and the ones that did were mostly white and and wealthy. She saved one from her job working as a manicurist and managing a chili parlor, and with some extra financial support, went to Paris to go to flight school.
She took her last flight in April of 1926 while preparing for an air show. An unsecured wrench somehow got into the control gears of her plane, and it plummeted 3,500 feet, killing Coleman. She will be memorialized on U.S. quarters available in 2023.
Known as the “Tyler Rose”, Earl Campbell was born in the Rose City in 1955. Raised along with 10 siblings, he was a hotly recruited high school football player and ended up at UT Austin. The Pro Football Hall of Fame said he “took the NFL by storm right from the very start.” He was a four-year starter in college, and earned all-conference honors in every season and consensus All-American honors in 1977, according to Britannica. He won the Heisman Trophy his senior season.
Campbell was taken as the first overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers. In his NFL career, he was named MVP in 1979, was voted first-team All-Pro in his all of first three seasons and was named to the Pro Bowl five of his first six seasons. His career lasted eight seasons due to health issues. In 1991, he was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Commonly considered one of the finest running backs in the history of American Football, Adrian Peterson, also known as “All Day” (“A.D.” for short), hails from Palestine, where he was born in 1985. According to Britannica, he dedicated himself to football from a young age, in part as an outlet for his anger over his traumatic childhood. When he was 7-years-old, he saw his brother killed by a drunk driver and when he was 13, his father was sentenced to 10 years in prison for laundering drug money.
After a successful high school football career, he accepted a scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, where he set the national Division 1-A freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. He later went on to be the seventh overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft and was selected by the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson was traded to different teams several times throughout his career due to personal issues and injuries, playing for the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Arizona Cardinals, the former Washington Redskins (now the Washington Commanders) and the Detroit Lions.
You may know him as the Texas business tycoon who ran for President of the United States in 1992, or as the man whom the Perot Museum in Dallas is named after. But did you know that Ross Perot is an East Texas Native? He was born in Texarkana on June 27, 1930 to an impoverished family and in the midst of the Great Depression.
According to IMDb, Perot began working various jobs at the age of 7 and by 1949, he enlisted in the U.S. Naval Academy, after which he served as an officer on a destroyer and aircraft during the Korean War for four years. After his time in the Navy, he became a successful salesman for IBM and later started his own business, Electronic Data Systems, which is worth billions today. The New York Times described him as a “no quitter,” as he was an Eagle Scout, a “crusader for education” and a billionaire philanthropist.
Perot passed away on July 9, 2019 at the age of 89 at his home in Dallas after battling with leukemia, leaving behind a legacy of outstanding accomplishments and perseverance.
While Dez Bryant was not born in East Texas, he sure made a mark on Lufkin when he played high school football there. He was born in Galveston and then moved to deep East Texas. After playing for the Panthers, he went on to play college football at Oklahoma State University.
Bryant was selected at the 24th overall pick in the 2010 National Football League Draft by the Dallas Cowboys and spent eight seasons with “America’s Team”. He played two other seasons in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and the Baltimore Ravens.