The 20 Most Famous Country Singers of All Time
From Johnny Cash to Dolly Parton and many more, there are many legendary musicians in the world of country music. As one of the most distinct and popular American art forms that combine storytelling with unique banjo and guitar riffs, country music is often called cowboy music of folk heroes.
The country and folk music stars eventually became cultural icons as they often appeared on TV, in movies as well as on stage. From Texas to Nashville, country music is one of the most important building blocks of American culture that shaped generations with their simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies often accompanied by string instruments such as banjo or guitar.
Here are some of the most famous country singers of all time. Of course, this is a subjective list with no specific order, but everyone would agree that the names on this list are all highly respectable figures in the country and American culture.
- 1. Johnny Cash
- 2. Garth Brooks
- 3. Willie Nelson
- 4. Merle Haggard
- 5. Loretta Lynn
- 6. Patsy Cline
- 7. Tim McGraw
- 8. Hank Williams
- 9. Waylon Jennings
- 10. Dolly Parton
- 11. Tammy Wynette
- 12. Jimmie Rodgers
- 13. George Jones
- 14. Buck Owens
- 15. Kitty Wells
- 16. Eddy Arnold
- 17. George Strait
- 18. Shania Twain
- 19. Conway Twitty
- 20. Bob Wills
1. Johnny Cash
When talking about country music, the first name to mention is Johnny Cash without hesitation. Known for his deep, calm bass-baritone voice and train-like chugging guitar rhythms, as well as great lyrics about sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption, The Man In Black is the strongest figure in the country scene.
Cash started his career in the early 50s and became one of the best-selling artists of all time, with record sales of over 90 million worldwide. His signature songs were “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Ring of Fire,” “Get Rhythm,” and “Man in Black, along with “I Walk the Line,” which became legendary songs in the country genre.
Cash’s music can not be described as just one genre as he liked to use influences from many genres such as country, rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel sounds. That is why he is in the Country Music Hall Of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll and Gospel Music Halls of Fame which earned him countless awards, including Grammys.
2. Garth Brooks
Another highly famous figure in country music is Garth Brooks, the first country artist to release a country album that reached number one on the Billboard 200. His third album, “Ropin’ The Wind”, in the early 90s, became one of the most successful country albums worldwide.
Garth Brooks’s style is a great blend of country, pop, and rock, which is the main reason his songs are so popular. He sold over 170 million records worldwide and engraved his name in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2012.
Brooks is the only artist who has nine albums with diamond status, including top-selling albums such as “No Fences” (17× platinum), “Ropin’ the Wind” (14× platinum), and “Double Live” (21× platinum).
3. Willie Nelson
Another highly prolific figure in the country world, Willie Nelson, is one of the most recognizable country artists and is considered the father of the outlaw country. His albums, such as “Shotgun Willie” and “Stardust,” released in the 70s, are considered some of the best country albums ever.
Since he was just a small child, Nelson has been playing and performing music. First, he worked as a songwriter for many famous musicians such as Faron Young and Patsy Cline. Then, he followed his own career, becoming one of the most prolific and famous country musicians. He won numerous awards, including a Grammy.
His famous tunes include “On the Road Again,” “Family Bible,” and “Nothing I Can Do About It Now,” which are all some of the iconic songs of the genre.
4. Merle Haggard
Another successful country singer is Merle Haggard, who released 38 number-one hits on the US country charts from 1960 to 1980. Born in a low-income family, Haggard sang about the working class and against the Vietnam War protests of the time. He strongly supported the war with a patriotic stand.
Some of his hit tunes were “Okie From Muskogee,” “The Fightin’ Side of Me,” and “I Wonder If They Think of Me,” which reflected the Silent Majority thought that goes around the pro-war ideology of the large group in the U.S.
Haggard won countless trophies, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006.
5. Loretta Lynn
With her career of more than six decades in country music, Loretta Lynn played one of the most groundbreaking roles in music history. She released multiple gold albums and won many awards, including 3 Grammy Awards. The movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” told the story of her successful life and career.
Some of her biggest hits are “I Know How,” “I Wanna Be Free,” “One’s On The Way,” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man).” Throughout her career, Loretta Lynn released 24 number 1 hit singles and 11 number one albums, making her one of the most charted artists ever.
6. Patsy Cline
Cited as one of the most important and influential vocalists of the 20th century, Patsy Cline is the first country artist to use pop elements in country music. She inspired many artists from different genres and styles and became an icon for women in country music. She was also the first woman to be chosen for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
She was active between 1948 and 1963 before tragically passing away at the age of 30 in 1963. “She’s Got You”, “When I Get Through with You”, and “So Wrong” were some of her best-selling records, and she was portrayed two times in major motion pictures in the movies “Sweet Dreams” and “Always…Patsy Cline”.
7. Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw is not only one of the best-known and influential country artists but also a talented guitarist, record producer, and actor. He was among the best-selling musicians of the 90s with his great ballads and love songs. He has ten albums that topped the charts in Top Country Albums lists.
His arguably best ability is to create relatable songs and blend different musical trends with the country sound, making his songs stand out from the rest. Tim McGraw won countless awards throughout his career, including 3 Grammy Awards.
Some of his more popular tunes include “It’s Your Love”, “Just to See You Smile”, and “Live Like You Were Dying”.
8. Hank Williams
One of the most influential, significant, and famous American musicians of the 20th century is undoubtedly Hank Williams. Although he died at the age of 29 in 1953, he is one of the first and biggest country music superstars with 55 singles that reached the top 10 Billboard Country & Western Best Sellers chart.
His songs such as “You Cheatin’ Heart,” “Cold, Cold Heart,” and “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” became legendary tunes that shaped a generation. With his music, style, and controversial life full of alcoholism, back pain, and substance abuse, he inspired many later legendary artists like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, and many more.
His songs are still being covered and performed by many different artists who are trying to pay their respects to him.
9. Waylon Jennings
The pioneer artist of the Outlaw Movement in country music was Waylon Jennings. He collaborated with many legendary musicians such as Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, fighting and winning against the so-called Nashville establishment that dictated the sound of country music.
Waylon Jennings liked to blend Western, honky tonk, and rockabilly influences into his music with rock and folk rhythms. The sound he was after was outside the frame of Chet Atkins, who was one of the main record producers in the Nashville establishment.
One of the first outlaw country albums, “Wanted! The Outlaws,” became the first platinum country music album that topped the country music charts.
10. Dolly Parton
With 11 Grammy Awards and 50 nominations and her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Dolly Parton engraved her name in music history with golden letters. Having started her career as a songwriter, she has composed more than 3000 songs, including big hits like “Jolene” and “I Will Always Love You.”
Dolly Parton is probably the most prolific name in country music as she has produced some of the most iconic tunes ever. Her songs were commercially highly successful as she released 25 songs that reached No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts.
Dolly Parton also was highly successful as an actress. She appeared in many movies, including “9 to 5”, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, and “Rhinestone.” She was even nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in one of her movies.
11. Tammy Wynette
Known as the “First Lady of Country Music,” Tammy Wynette is one of the most influential country music artists with her characteristic vocal style. She received two Grammy Awards in her career and sold over 30 million records. She is also a strong figure in bringing the woman’s perspective to male-dominated country music.
Tammy Wynette’s signature song is “Stand by Your Man,” which created many discussions about women’s loyalty toward their spouses. She was mainly known for her unique vocal style, called “teardrop style” by critics, as she delivered amazing vocal performances with emotional vulnerability.
12. Jimmie Rodgers
“The Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers is one of the first superstars of American music, who became highly famous with his distinctive rhythmic yodeling. He has been inducted into the Country and Rock and Roll Music Hall Of Fame as he inspired many iconic artists of both genres.
“The Singing Brakeman” and “The Blue Yodeler” are other nicknames given to Rodgers during his career between 1910 and 1933. “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” and “Blue Yodel” are some of his most iconic tracks. He is also part of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
13. George Jones
With his long and successful career, George Jones is known as the “The Rolls Royce of Country Music.” His distinctive voice and phrasing made him stand out from the rest, with 60 charted singles to his name. His signature song was “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
George Jones was considered the greatest country figure in the last two decades of his career. Although he never topped the charts or had commercial success, he was always there producing new music for the genre and the culture itself. He was married to another important country singer, Tammy Wynette, for six years in the 70s.
14. Buck Owens
The creator of the “Bakersfield sound” and one of the pioneers of “American music,” as he calls it, Buck Owens is another significant member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was the founder and leader of the band Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, which had more than 20 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country music charts.
The band was well-known for its style with simple storylines, catchy choruses, twangy electric guitar tones, riffs, two-part vocal harmonies, and strong drum grooves. They were the genre pioneers and inspired many important musicians like The Beatles, Johnny Rivers, Emmylou Harris, and many more.
15. Kitty Wells
The first female superstar of the country scene was Kitty Wells, who removed the limits for women in country music with her hit song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” in 1952. It was the first single of a woman country musician to top the charts in the U.S., and it was one of the first pop crossover hits.
Kitty Wells has the record of winning the top female vocalist award for 14 years consecutively. She was the main inspiration for many women in the music and country scene to pursue their dreams until the mid-1960s.
As a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, she was also awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for her prolific, courageous and inspirational career.
16. Eddy Arnold
Having performed for over six decades, Eddy Arnold is one of the most commercially successful country artists in history. With over 85 million records sold worldwide and 147 songs on the Billboard charts, he was highly popular and successful. He is often called the Nashville sound innovator.
“Make the World Go Away,” “What’s He Doing in My World,” and “That’s How Much I Love You” are some of his best-charted singles. He is known for contributing to the Nashville Sound, a combination of pop and country sound.
He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and is considered one of the most important artists in country music history.
17. George Strait
Nicknamed “The King Of Country,” George Strait was one of the best-selling country artists in the 80s and 90s, with over 100 million records sold worldwide. He was the pioneer artist of the neotraditional country movement and became famous for his cowboy image as well as traditional sound.
His most successful single was “Unwound,” which charted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. He was one of the main country figures in the 80s and 90s, and he helped significantly revive western swing and honky-tonk music. With his new approach to country, combining traditional roots with modern pop influences, he pioneered a new subgenre and became highly popular.
18. Shania Twain
The best-selling female country artist, Shania Twain, is called “The Queen Of Country Pop” due to her huge popularity and 100 million records sold worldwide. She is well-known for her lyrics content on feminism and female empowerment, as well as her unique style combining country and pop.
There are many discussions on if Shania Twain is a pop or a country star, and many critics do not consider her in the country scene. However, her sound and musical approach have many country elements, and she blends genres impressively. Billboard named her the most important figure in the 90s country-pop crossover scene.
“Any Man of Mine,” “From This Moment On,” and “You’re Still the One,” are only some of Twain’s most successful hits. She has 5 studio albums, earning her many awards, including 5 Grammy Awards.
19. Conway Twitty
Known for his duets with Loretta Lynn and his use of romantic themes in his songs, Conway Twitty is a multi-genre star who had success in many genres, including country, rock and roll, R&B, and pop. He is a member of both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Conway Twitty liked to use religious themes and stories in his songs, which resulted in him being called “The High Priest of Country Music.”
Some of his most successful hits were “Hello Darlin’,” and “Linda on My Mind.” The prolific musician released 55 songs that reached number 1 on the Billboard lists, which was a big record at the time.
20. Bob Wills
The founder of Western Swing, Bob Wills, is another Country Music Hall of Fame member and one of the important figures in the country scene. His way of combining jazz-like arrangements with country influences earned him national fame in the 1940s.
Often cited as “The King of Western Swing,” Bob Wills released many hit tunes such as “Steel Guitar Rag,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Smoke on the Water”, and “Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima.”
His compositions and musical approach inspired Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and The Strangers, while his sound helped shape the musical style known as the Bakersfield Sound.
Country music has a rich history with many amazing singers, songwriters, instrumentalists, and bands. All of the members of the country’s culture helped to enrich and expand the limits of the genre and culture, creating unique sounds and approaches to music.
With traditional country roots mixed with influences from different genres and modern touches, the country’s sound and structure evolved slowly, which enriched the sound and culture significantly. There is something for everyone in the genre.
Garth Brooks Featured Image (Bottom-Right) by – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Washington D.C, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Loretta Lynn Featured Image (Bottom-Left) by – Anna Hanks from Austin, Texas, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Dolly Parton Featured Image (Top-Right) by – Curtis Hilbun, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons