Samuel Timothy McGraw was born in Delhi, Louisiana on 1 May 1967, the son of baseball pitcher Frank Edwin "Tug" McGraw. His parents were unmarried, and he was raised by his mother's relatives in Start, Richland Parish, as "Samuel T. Smith". McGraw did not know his father was a professional athlete, but he loved to play competitive sports, coincidentally including baseball. He attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe on a baseball scholarship, and he met his father when he was eighteen, and the two of them would remain close until his father's death in 2004. In 1990, he signed on with Curb Records while singing for tips in Nashville, Tennessee, and he became a success during the 1990s. In 1994, his second album Not a Moment Too Soon became the best-selling country album that year, and his 1995 album All I Want also reached number one. In 1996, he married fellow country singer Faith Hill, and the two would become major successes. In 2004, after his father died, he released the song "Live Like You Were Dying", which received several accolades to become one of the major hit songs of that year.
During the 2000s, McGraw became involved with charity and politics, donating money to Hurricane Katrina victims and victims of a May 2010 flood in Tennessee. In 2006, he expressed interest in running for the US Senate or Governor of Tennessee as a Democratic Party member, praising Bill Clinton in that same interview. In 2008, he identified as a Blue Dog Democrat, and he supported Barack Obama's candidacy for president.