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Turning a dream into reality

Country music star Phil Vassar (’85) was recognized as one of 100 notable Madison alumni in the "100 Years, 100 Days, 100 Dukes" campaign, leading up to Homecoming 2011: The Alumni Centennial

With lyrics about campfires and “iced-down coolers,” Phil Vassar (’85) helped everyone get in the summer mood with his latest single “Let’s Get Together.” The country music star has come a long way from where he started, creating No. 1 hits and capturing awards along the way. It’s surprising, then, to know Vassar didn’t especially like country music when he was younger.

Phil Vassar

Although country music was present in his hometown (Lynchburg, Va.), Vassar was more preoccupied with sports. In fact, he attended JMU on a track and field scholarship. Vassar studied business administration as an undergrad, but he didn’t especially like that either. To satisfy his craving for a creative outlet, Vassar enrolled in as many music classes as his schedule would allow.

Now with a strong affinity for country music, Vassar definitely considers himself a country artist, but steps outside the box to stretch the genre’s limits. “What is country anyway? I don’t think country would be a very healthy genre if it just stayed the same,” he told Montpelier. “Hopefully, I’m one of the artists that can keep country music moving in a forward direction.”

In 1987 Vassar moved to Nashville to start his musical career and over the next few years expanded his following throughout the city. Before he knew it, country celebrities including Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, JoDee Messina and Colin Raye were coming to Vassar for new songs.

Vassar’s talents earned him the 2002 Academy of Country Music’s award for top new male vocalist. He also captured two ASCAP Songwriter of the Year awards and top honors from Billboard and MusicRow. He recently returned to JMU on Sept. 8, 2010, performing at the opening of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

Vassar is living his dream, but he humbly explains otherwise. “I don't think you ever look in the mirror and say ‘I’ve made it,’” he said. “It’s a marathon; it’s not a sprint. You have to keep putting out song after song after song.”

Check out the JMU Arts website for this season's shows and exhibitions. And read more about Phil Vassar and his rise to fame in Montpelier.