The Stunning Transformation Of Ashley McBryde

What success looks like is often a matter of perspective. For Ashley McBryde, it's standing among great country artists such as Dolly Parton and Wynonna Judd. It wasn't a fast one-way track for the 40-year-old, who has gone through the wringer for wanting to chase her musical dreams. Growing up in a small town in Arkansas, McBryde had all the drive to make her dream a reality. Some may say she did it with spectacular grace. With four studio albums, multiple award nominations, and a range of writing credits under her belt, McBryde raised the bar year after year — further cementing her legacy within the music industry. 

So much so that she is frequently deemed the future of country music. Following her ever-growing success, McBryde was presented with the Groundbreaker Award in 2023 at the Billboard Country Power Players ceremony. During the event, McBryde fielded questions regarding what it meant to be a groundbreaking artist. "When I first heard about it, I was like, 'Wait, groundbreaker? Is that the same as breakthrough? 'Cause I've been around a while,' and they were like, 'No, it means you've had the most groundbreaking year,' and I was like, 'I would agree!' It's been an amazing couple of years," she stated. Given her strong sense of self and vulnerable nature, it's no wonder she transitioned from the girl going nowhere to the girl who's made it. To learn more about her never-ending growth, here is the stunning transformation of Ashley McBryde.

Ashley McBryde's interest in her father's guitar collection frequently got her into trouble as a child

Ashley McBryde was born on July 29, 1983, and had no fewer than five older siblings growing up. As a child, McBryde was surrounded by music. Each member of her family could sing, and it wouldn't take long for McBryde to express some interest in music as well. In fact, by the age of 3, McBryde built a reputation at home that eventually led her to become the musician she is today.

McBryde's father, William McBryde, juggled several careers, including as a doctor and a preacher. William also had a deep interest in music and collected several expensive guitars. As a child, McBryde was attracted to his array of instruments and frequently snuck into the back room where he kept them. Due to her tiny frame at the time, she'd only be tall enough to play them as if they were an upright bass. When asked about this particular memory during a 2019 interview with FaceCulture, McBryde recalled being scolded by her parents. "I remember the spanking that followed," she stated. "I was disciplined for it pretty harshly because they were nice guitars. So, I would try to stand them up like an upright bass and play them, and that's not, you know, of course, the proper way to hold a guitar. So, they would smack my hands or my legs and [say], 'No, you can't play those.'"

She wrote and performed her first song when she was 12

Ashley McBryde knew she would pursue a music career at a young age. After frequently disobeying her father's rule about playing his guitars, her parents gave McBryde a mandolin to keep her occupied, and later her own guitar. From there, the Arkansas-native singer regularly attended bluegrass festivals with her mom, where the community was more than helpful enough to show her how to perfect her instrument. After she learned about chord progressions and other musical elements, it was time for McBryde to add vocals.

Despite writing a few song lyrics prior, McBryde told Peter Cooper on the "Voices in the Hall" podcast that she wrote her first song when she was 12. This came after a brief period when she couldn't combine singing with playing the guitar. Following this creative challenge, McBryde wrote a song that was more or less too mature for her at the time. Surprisingly enough, the first people to hear it would be her parents. "It was a song called 'Fight the Flames' about some love affair. How I came up with it, I don't know," she said. "But I sang it for my parents. And I was at my grandparents' house. And Mom asked me where I'd heard that song. And I was so offended because I was like, 'No. I made it up! I was by the deep freeze in the den.'"

Her high school teacher fueled her drive to be successful in music

Although Ashley McBryde knew she would be a musician from a young age, the future country singer faced adversity long before her big break. From writing her first song at 12, McBryde attended Highland High School playing the trumpet and French horn in their marching band. Her transformative years in high school seemingly prepared her for the journey ahead, as her math teacher quickly became her first critic.

During a 2017 interview with Sounds Like Nashville, McBryde stated that her algebra teacher scolded her for wanting to pursue a music career. While she wasn't the only one who didn't believe in her dream, it was the one that McBryde remembered the most, and it fueled her drive to succeed. "I was in an algebra class in ninth or 10th grade, and I had known since I was small that I wanted to make music for a living someday. I didn't know how I was going to accomplish that, but I knew that's what I was going to do," she said. "When I told [the teacher] I was going to make up songs for a living, I remember her telling me, 'Well, that's stupid. That would not happen, so I better have a really good backup plan.' Her words really weighed on me the rest of my growing-up life."

She briefly juggled college with a music career

After graduating from Highland High School, Ashley McBryde attended Arkansas State University. According to her interview with FaceCulture in 2018, she went there to study music. "I was a French horn major and I loved it. I loved studying classical music," she recalled. "It's pretty important, especially to me now. I wish I'd appreciated it more then, the way I do it now." While there, McBryde started to perform at bars in Memphis after a friend convinced her to do so. 

As McBryde became more confident in her musical abilities, she began to juggle performing at dive bars with her college obligations for a brief period. According to her 2018 interview with The Tennessean, the aspiring singer began to wrestle with the thought of moving to Nashville because it granted more of an opportunity to succeed in music. "If I want to find out if I'm any good at this or not, I have to go to Nashville," she stated. Surprisingly enough, her French horn teacher — unlike her algebra teacher in high school — seemingly supported this venture as she noticed McBryde's growing disinterest in school. McBryde recalled a lesson in which her teacher interrupted her class to tell her, "I think you need to just drop out of school and go," and that same day, she dropped out to pursue music full time.

Ashley McBryde garnered massive popularity after performing with notable country singer in 2017

After moving to Nashville, Ashley McBryde found her mainstay bandmates, Deadhorse, and performed anywhere she could book. Sadly, this wouldn't be enough to make her appeal to several record labels. This was until 2014 when John Peets discovered McBryde. "She was struggling to get noticed; she didn't fit the mold," he told Garden & Gun in 2023. "But I'm attracted to the misfits and the ones who don't fit in." Though she'd eventually open up for legendary musician Willie Nelson and the "Maggie's Song" singer Chris Stapleton, Peets played a crucial role in giving McBryde the breakthrough she needed.

Before releasing her 2016 EP "Jalopies & Expensive Guitars," she had a few singles ready as demos. One of these happened to be "Bible and a .44." The song caught the attention of "Bad Mother Trucker" singer Eric Church — who was also managed by Peets. After his own successful EP release in 2016, Church invited McBryde to perform HER hit single on his 2017 "Holdin' My Own" tour in Chicago. In 2018, McBryde told PopCulture she was extremely anxious before the show. "I was super nervous," she stated. "I just kept thinking when I walked onstage was, 'Don't fall, don't fall, don't fall.' As long as I don't fall, then it's a good night." Luckily, it was, and it helped McBryde find the breakthrough she needed to become a mainstay country star.

Ashley McBryde experienced extreme anxiety after a traumatic loss in 2018

Within a year of her notable performance with Eric Church, Ashley McBryde released her debut album "Girl Going Nowhere" in 2018. With the album charting on various billboard charts, tragic details regarding McBryde's life would surface just as she found success. Amid her breakthrough, McBryde was met with a devastating loss just months after her debut album was released.

In June 2018, McBryde's brother, Clay McBryde, died by suicide. Though she'd remain relatively quiet about his passing, McBryde told People in 2019 that she had to maintain a strong exterior because she was busy headlining her own tour at the time. In turn, McBryde experienced strong symptoms of anxiety. "I developed anxiety really, really, really bad right after Clay died," she said. "I mean, they were bad panic attacks. They are under control now, but I didn't understand what was going on." Instead of taking time away, McBryde continued to fulfill her musical obligations to the best of her ability. "I said to myself, 'It's not about you, so get over yourself.' ... Nobody cares if I'm hungover or if I'm sad or if I'm tired or if I got s***ty news this morning. They care how they feel. And in the end, that's all I care about."

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

She opened up about the pressures of maintaining a certain appearance to the public

Due to her unique ensemble of tattoos and dark curly hair with silver streaks, Ashley McBryde faced criticism from major labels early on about her physical appearance. Although she prioritized remaining true to herself, she told the Recording Academy in 2019 that there were moments when she did change how she looked to appease higher-ups in the music industry. McBryde straightened her hair and lost 35 pounds, suggesting that she initially made these small changes for the sake of her career. "You have to do a small percentage of it anyway, because if you don't ... how do I say this? If you don't buy tickets to the game, you don't get to go," she said.

In 2020, however, she told Music Week that maintaining this image weighed on her because she didn't want to set unrealistic expectations for her fans. "Even though I was still being true to myself playing live shows, I had agreed to try anything once. I knew I liked my hair better curly and that I don't have to be skinny to be successful," she stated. "That would have been an impossible facade to keep up. I don't ever want some young man or young girl to look at me on a screen and go, 'I could never be that because I'll never look like that.' That would break my heart."

Ashley McBryde was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2022

Ashley McBryde built a credible list of achievements following her meteoric rise to stardom. In 2017, McBryde made her Grand Ole Opry debut, performing "Girl Goin' Nowhere," which — to most country singers — is an opportunity to solidify themselves as mainstay musicians. Though it was the beginning of her career, it catapulted her further into legendary status. 

With her albums "Never Will" and "Lindeville" under her belt, country luminaries such as Wynonna Judd and Miranda Lambert — with whom she eventually built a friendship — quickly realized how special McBryde was to the genre. As a result, McBryde was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2022. Like her 2017 debut, McBryde performed "Girl Goin' Nowhere" — only this time with tears rolling down her cheeks. 

Following the emotional performance, several colleagues including Terri Clark and Eric Church recognized McBryde for her talents. Following this, McBryde gave an emotional speech, deeming her induction the biggest moment of her life (via People). In a video celebrating her induction, McBryde stated what being an Opry member meant to her and how she intended to represent the organization. "I guess I just have to be the next little ambassador that could, and I feel like I'm up to the task," she said. "I'm not here to fill anyone's shoes, but I'm so excited that my shoes are in the circle."

She won her first Grammy alongside Carly Pearce in 2023

Among her several award nominations — including the Country Music Association Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards — Ashley McBryde has been recognized for her musical talents by several organizations each year following her 2017 debut. In addition to getting inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, McBryde would earn yet another massive accolade most musicians only dream of just a year later. At the 65th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, McBryde and country star Carly Pearce won best country duo/group performance for the song "Never Wanted to Be That Girl." The song dove deep into infidelity and made McBryde — according to a 2023 interview with the Recording Academy — feel confident about another Grammy win in the future. "The inner monologue was kind of flirting with it a little bit, saying, 'I will see you again soon.'" she expressed. 

Nonetheless, the moment was pivotal for McBryde, only adding to her long list of achievements. Despite her apparent confidence and gratitude, McBryde later told Jennifer Hudson on "The Jennifer Hudson Show" that the moments leading up to her win were nerve-racking. "I had no idea what I was going to say, which is nice. ... And then I saw Carly coming down the aisle, so I just did the sisterly thing and put my hand out, you know, let's go together," she recalled. "And that kind of — we giggled together, and that kind of calmed us down."

Ashley McBryde kept her sobriety journey a secret from the public

With her long career performing in dive bars and her reputation as a "whiskey-drinking badass," it was expected for Ashley McBryde to get caught up in a hard-partying lifestyle. As McBryde continued her rise to stardom, however, she became warier about her health. After sustaining a severe head injury in a nearly fatal accident in 2021, McBryde gained a new perspective on life and what she could do to feel better physically. In addition to exercising regularly, McBryde also changed her relationship with alcohol. 

In a 2023 interview with People, McBryde stated that she stopped drinking alcohol in 2022 after realizing that it was negatively impacting her. Although she's been open to talking about various topics like her parents' divorce and the confusing dynamics of infidelity, she kept her sobriety a secret from the public. "I decided that I wasn't gonna talk about it at all until at least a year because what I didn't need was people on social media being like, 'Ashley McBryde swears off alcohol!' All people are gonna do is just wait for you to screw up, and that's really annoying," she expressed. "I did it for me. I didn't do it for social media." According to the singer herself, cutting out alcohol not only benefited her physical health but her overall career as well.

She picked up ASL to improve the experience at her live shows

Ashley McBryde has picked up several habits like boxing and attending therapy, which not only improved her quality of life but improved the quality of her music as well. Whether vocally or mentally, McBryde is clearly making decisions for her career based on longevity. In addition to her healthy habits, McBryde added another skill to her resume to improve the experience of her live performances. 

On December 29, 2023, McBryde took to Instagram to share that she's been learning American Sign Language (ASL). "Learning ASL has been an eye-opening experience for us, and I can't wait to learn more in 2024," she wrote. "Send me some ASL creators in the comments." According to the video, this journey started after she underwent surgery on her voice. Because she couldn't speak during this time, McBryde had to resort to other methods of communication. As a result, the singer began to sign for more mundane wants such as "a beer and a shot" — then later for health emergencies and crowd work. Her basic knowledge of the language would be enough until she realized there were people in her audience who would sign back to her. "People would start to sign back to me, and I didn't know what they were saying," she explained. "So now I feel rude, I don't like that. Now I need to learn more ASL."