That was one of the most devastating tragedies to befall a prominent country music singer. Yet it’s also rarely discussed and about which we know very little. Losing a child in a horrific accident is a life-changing occurrence that sticks with a person forever.

Having it happen just as your career is about to peak would undoubtedly throw many performers off their game. But the way George Strait processed and treated the tragedy was filled with insight, and it had far-reaching consequences for the artist and personality we know as “King” George today.

George Strait and his wife Norma brought their first child, Jenifer, with a single ‘n,’ into the world on October 6, 1972. Strait was barely 20 years old then, having eloped with his high school love Norma Voss to Mexico the previous December.

He’d also enlisted in the US Army as an infantryman and had been sent to the Pacific to be stationed in Hawaii. Jenifer was born in this town.

Strait was born in the tiny hamlet of Poteet, Texas, south of San Antonio. After being discharged from the Army in 1975, he relocated to San Marcos to attend Southwest Texas State University, now known as Texas State University. This is also where he created his Ace in the Hole Band and began performing in surrounding places such as the Cheatham Street Warehouse and New Braunfels’ famed Gruene Hall.

Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, George Strait visited Nashville regularly to obtain a record deal, finally signing with MCA Records and recording albums there. But Strait remained in San Marcos, raising his small family away from the spotlight and hustle of Nashville’s music industry.

George Strait’s first #1 success was “Fool Hearted Memories” in 1982, followed by a couple more in 1983 and 1984 with songs like “You Look So Good in Love” and “Let’s Fall to Pieces Together.” Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind was his first #1 album in 1985, and he was also named CMA Male Singer of the Year. George Strait had risen from obscurity in Texas to become one of the top names in country music by 1986. His career couldn’t be going any better. That’s when disaster struck.

Jenifer Strait was driving through San Marcos with a handful of buddies in a Ford Mustang on June 25, 1986. She was 13 years old and was riding in a car with 16-year-old William Allen McDonald, 17-year-old Joseph Wiley Robbins, and 18-year-old Gregory Wilson Allen. Allen quickly curved onto a side road around 11:55 p.m., causing the automobile to skid and overturn, eventually landing on its top in a ditch.

Gregory Wilson Allen, the driver, walked away from the incident unharmed. William Allen McDonald and Joseph Wiley Robbins suffered minor injuries and were treated and released from a local hospital. On the other hand, Jenifer Strait was partially thrown from the vehicle during the incident and died at the site. None of the passengers were wearing seat belts.

Gregory Wilson Allen was eventually charged with Class A vehicular homicide in Jenifer Strait’s death. An inquiry revealed that the accident was caused by excessive speed but that alcohol was not a factor. Jenifer Strait was laid to rest in Pearsall, TX, following a funeral service at the First United Methodist Church in San Marcos, TX.

Jenifer Strait’s death was an unfathomable tragedy for George Strait and his family. They established the Jenifer Lynn Strait Foundation to benefit children’s charities in the San Antonio region.

And as a result of the tragedy, George Strait made a critical career decision that has influenced how we perceive the country legend: he rarely to never does interviews.

Strait was already a very private individual. That was one of the reasons he stayed in San Marcos, even as his career took off. Facing the prospect of constantly being bombarded with questions about the tragedy, George Strait decided not to grant any interviews afterward.

At a time before the Internet, when magazine interviews and radio station appearances were the primary way an artist promoted, this was a risky move. In one of the few interviews George Strait gave to The New Yorker in 2017, he claimed,

“I just didn’t want to talk about it, so I quit…

I wanted to keep singing. But I was at the point where I’m [like], ‘Alright, if this is going to cost me my career, then so be it, but it’s the only way I’m going to cope with it.’ It just happened to be the way it was. It wasn’t done on purpose.”

George Strait let the music speak for itself, and it spoke volumes. Between 1986 and 1989, amid the tragedy and its aftermath, Strait racked up eleven consecutive #1 singles, which at that time in country music was virtually unheard of.

He was also named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1989 and 1990. One of those #1 singles was the song “Baby Blue.” Though it has never been officially confirmed, it is believed George Strait recorded and sang the song in memory of his daughter Jenifer. The song was written by Aaron Barker and co-produced by Strait with Jimmy Bowen.

Jenifer Strait would have turned 50 years old today, October 6th, 2022. George Strait also has a son, George Strait Jr., who he affectionately calls “Bubba.” They commonly write songs together these days.

But it’s unquestionable that the death of Jenifer Strait just as his career started to peak affected George Strait in ways that are hard to measure. When you think of George Strait, you think of that calm, steady, reserved, and stoic hand on the wheel. Perhaps if it wasn’t for the death of Jenifer, he may have been a bit less inhibited and a bit more outspoken.

But to get through the tragedy of losing his daughter, George Strait had to be the rock for his family, and that’s how he became the rock for country music. George Strait remained composed, and the country as the “Class of ’89” came about with guys like Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt. And that is also how he became known as the current “King” of country music.