John Marty Stuart was born to John and Hilda Stuart on September 30, 1958 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. He began teaching himself to play the guitar and began playing the mandolin in his early childhood. His mom and dad took Marty to see Bill Monroe perform. Marty's prized possession as a kid was one of Bill Monroe's mandolin picks. Marty first saw Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass at Bill Monroe's Bean Blossom Festival in 1971. Marty also met Roland White a member of Lester's band. Marty's early performances were with the bluegrass band The Sullivans. They played festivals and Pentecostal churches in the South. Marty would travel and perform with them on weekends and during the summer. It was during one of these festivals that Marty ran into Roland again. This time Roland gave Marty his phone number and told him to call him if Marty could ever come out on the road with them for a weekend. Marty's parents sent their son to Nashville on a bus to meet with Lester's band. He was 13 when Lester offered Marty a full-time job with his bluegrass band.
After Lester Flatt's death in 1979, he played with fiddler Vassar Clements and Doc Watson before becoming the guitarist for country legend Johnny Cash. Stuart recorded his own solo album in 1982 with Busy Bee Cafe on the independent Sugar Hill label. That led to a deal with Columbia Records and his first Top 20 hit in 1985 with "Arlene," followed in 1986 by the album Marty Stuart.