"Everybody was telling us not to," Thomas Rhett tells PEOPLE as "Die a Happy Man" took home the Single of the Year CMA Award

By Eileen Finan
November 13, 2016 10:10 PM

It started as a little love letter to his wife.

“I really did just wake up one day and was like, ‘I have yet to write a song about her.’ That’s just one of those cheesy things you do for your girlfriend when you’re 16, but I decided to do it when I was 25,” Thomas Rhett tells PEOPLE of writing the tune “Die a Happy Man” for his wife, Lauren.

The two were high school sweethearts and married in 2012 at 22. “Everybody was telling us not to … but we just fell in love at a young age,” he says. “The first year she was on the bus with me 285 days, sharing a bunk, which is smaller than a twin bed. It’s been five years on the road now.”

Since then, the singer, now 26, has scored six No. 1s and at the ceremony earlier this month, took home his first CMA Award for Single of the Year for “Die a Happy Man. “It was just a very, very humbling experience, so my wife and I both were shocked,” says Rhett. “To be at the CMAs on the 50th anniversary and win that award was life-changing. Very special.”

Credit: Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Another stand-out moment from the night? Hanging backstage with Jay Z. The two first met about a month ago at Budweiser’s Made in America festival in Philadelphia.

Through connections with TR’s manager, “we somehow got past security and we were there on Beyoncé‘s birthday, taking a shot with Beyoncé for her birthday!” he recalls. “Me and Lauren were like, ‘Is this real life?’ So now to actually see Jay Z and him being like, ‘What’s up man?’ And he knows who you are?! It’s a really, really cool feeling. He’s a really wise person, him and Beyoncé both – they are so smart and just genuinely kind people.”

Adds Rhett, “It’s insane that they were at the CMA Awards. Not only did we have country music royalty here, but to have hip hop royalty in the house was crazy.”