From the yodeling of Jimmie Rodgers to the soaring vocals of Patsy Cline, country music has always been defined by its best singers. While it can be a daunting task to try to come up with a narrow list of the greatest country singers, here we take a look at 25 of the best famous country singers to ever step up to the microphone.
1. Jimmie Rodgers
“The Father of Country Music,” Jimmie Rodgers got his big break in 1927 when he and his band were discovered at the famous Bristol Sessions held by the Victor Talking Machine Company and won the opportunity to record an album with the company. Famously, he had an argument with the band and showed up to the recording session with no backing band. It didn’t matter though, as his iconic yodeling style made him one of country music’s first big stars.
With hits like “In The Jailhouse Now” and “Blue Yodel No. 1,” Rodgers influenced all country musicians that came after him. His career was cut short when he died from tuberculosis-related complications in 1933 after his final recording session.
2. Hank Williams
You can’t talk about country music without mentioning Hank Williams. With over fifty top 10 country hits, including “Move It On Over” and “Jambalaya,” he is considered by many to be the greatest country singer of all time.
After getting his start on the radio, MGM Records signed Williams in 1947. Soon after, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and would go on to put out a prolific catalog of music. Sadly, at just 29 years of age, he passed away as his hard-drinking lifestyle finally caught up with him. His son and grandson, Hank Jr. and Hank the Third, carry on his musical legacy.
3. Patsy Cline
The Virginia-born Patsy Cline is one of the greatest country singers of all time. After making her way up through local radio and television programs, she made it big on the national stage in 1957 with a televised performance of “Walkin’ After Midnight.”
A near-fatal car accident in 1961 almost derailed her promising career, but she returned with vigor to the Grand Ole Opry stage six weeks later. With hits like “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy,” Cline became one of the first country stars to crossover to the pop music charts. In 1963, she began to tell close friends she had a sense she didn’t have long left to live and, tragically, she was correct, passing away in a plane crash on March 5 of that year.
4. Roy Acuff
Dubbed “The King of Country Music,” Roy Acuff was instrumental in moving the country genre from its traditional “hoedown” format into the singer-driven sound we are accustomed to today. Hank Williams reportedly said that Acuff had more drawing power in the South than God.
Acuff got his start in the 1930s with the Smoky Mountain Boys and was a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1938. He remained a central figure here, and in the 1940s, he co-founded Acuff-Rose Records, one of the most important labels in country music, with clients including Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, and Roy Orbison.
5. Kitty Wells
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, in a house full of musicians, Kitty Wells broke down barriers for women in country music when she released “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” in 1952. The song was a huge success on the country and pop charts, propelling her straight to superstardom.
For the next 14 years, Wells’ name was on top of the charts and a consistent award winner. She was only the 3rd country singer to ever win the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, following Hank Williams and Roy Acuff. Her career rightfully earned her the title of the “Queen of Country Music.”
6. George Jones
The “White Lighting” singer George Jones is considered by many to be the greatest country singer to ever stand before a microphone. Listening to him was an immersive experience that would draw the listener into the emotion of the song.
With 160 singles reaching the country charts, Jones earned his nickname as “The Rolls Royce of Country Music.” While the 70s found him struggling with alcoholism, he returned with vigor when he released “He Stopped Loving Her” in 1980, a tune that would turn out to be his greatest hit.
7. Marty Robbins
Few country singers have been as prolific as “Big Iron” singer Marty Robbins. From the 1940s to the early 1980s, he recorded over 500 songs, garnering him multiple Grammy awards and countless top hits.
Robbins’ music was a hit with both pop and country audiences, and his work inspired big names like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Not only that, but he also had a fairly successful career as a NASCAR driver, including several top-ten finishes.
8. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton was always bound for fame and glory. Born fourth of twelve children in a one-bedroom cabin, she got her start playing music on local radio and even appeared on the Grand Ole Opry at age 13.
While it would take a bit more time for her career to take off, Parton has had 25 number-one country singles and is a beloved, cultural icon. She is perhaps the most successful country-pop crossover act, with a successful acting career, and has led countless philanthropic efforts through The Dollywood Foundation.
9. Brenda Lee
“Little Miss Dynamite” Brenda Lee was the country star of the 1960s. Nobody had more top-ten hits over the decade besides her other than Elvis, The Beatles, and Ray Charles. While she was always the shortest person in the room, she had the biggest voice on the radio.
Perhaps her most iconic track to this day is her tune “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree,” though it was her 1960 song “I’m Sorry” that she is best known for. For all her accomplishments, Lee received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll and Country Music Hall of Fame.
10. Johnny Cash
With that crystal-clear baritone, Johnny Cash is the most infamous outlaw country singer to ever grace the stage. With a guitar that chugged along like a freight train and somber and sorrowful tunes to match, “The Man In Black” singer rose to fame with tunes like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk The Line.”
Whether playing for inmates or hosting his own television program, Cash was always a voice for the disenfranchised. Famously married to June Carter Cash, he remained prolific musically all the way until his death.
11. Wanda Jackson
Right in between country and rock and roll emerged rockabilly, and this style needed its queen. That’s where Wanda Jackson came in. With her biting vocals, she came to prominence in the 1950s opening for Elvis Presley.
Not only is Jackson the role model for female rock singers, but she produced an excellent catalog of country tunes such as “Right or Wrong.” There are also a few vocalists who have displayed the range and ability of Jackson.
12. Willie Nelson
With his soft, soothing voice, Willie Nelson is one of the most beloved acts of the outlaw country movement. He initially got his start writing songs, such as Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” in the 1960s but shot to prominence in the 1970s with albums including Shotgun Willy and Stardust. He has played the same guitar, Trigger, for nearly his entire career and says that he will hang up his hat and retire when Trigger can’t be played anymore.
13. Jean Shepard
Born in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma, Jean Shepard took honky-tonk country mainstream. She rose to stardom with her 1953 hit “A Dear John Letter.”
In 1955, she was invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, and she went on to record 24 albums over the next 25 years. Her national appearances on the Grand Ole Opry have led her to become a household name, making her one of the very first female country superstars.
14. Conway Twitty
With 55 number-one hits, like “Hello Darlin’,” Conway Twitty was one of the best to ever sing country. He could’ve played pro baseball—he was offered a contract by the Phillies but had to turn it down.
After his pop-rock hit “It’s Only Make Believe” propelled him to stardom, Twitty transitioned into a prolific country music career, recording nearly 60 studio albums, such as “The High Priest of Country Music.”
15. Loretta Lynn
The “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Loretta Lynn’s career as a country singer spanned over 60 years. From her classic duets with Conway Twitty to her 10 number one country albums, Lynn is one of the greatest to ever sing a country tune. No female country singer has received more awards than her, which were 3 Grammy wins and 18 nominations.
16. Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris’ storied career began with her collaboration with Gram Parsons. After her debut album Pieces of the Sky introduced her to the country world, her second, Elite Hotel, propelled her to the top of the country charts.
Harris’ collaborations with other artists, such as Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt, are just as notable as her solo accomplishments. She has won 14 Grammys and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry.
17. Tanya Tucker
At just the age of 13 years old, Tanya Tucker was slungshot to superstardom with her 1972 hit “Delta Dawn.” Unlike many child stars, she has remained prolific and successful into her later years.
With that country twang in her voice, Tucker’s music has brought a rock and roll sound to outlaw country. While she has won many awards, in 2020, she won her first two Grammys for Best Country Album and Best Country Song. Fifty years into her country career, and she is still one of the best at doing it!
18. George Strait
There are only two acts with more gold and platinum albums in modern music history than George Strait—Elvis Presley and The Beatles. It all started with his 1981 hit “Unwound” and Strait simply never slowed down.
In the 1980s, he released 7 number-one country albums. By 2009, he surpassed Conway Twitty’s record for most number-one country singles. Strait is one of the most successful country singers in history, with some of his live shows attracting more than 100,000 people.
19. Alison Krauss
Alison Krauss may not have been the commercial sensation as all the others on this list, but she is by far the most decorated. With 27 Grammys to her name, only Beyoncé, Quincy Jones, and Georg Solti have won more. The leader of Alison Krauss & Union Station was instrumental in producing the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and has a successful music partnership with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant.
20. Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire is so famous you only need to say her first name. The “Queen of Country Music,” she has 25 number-one country singles to her name and her own television show. With a powerful country voice true to its roots, McEntire has released 33 studio albums with no signs of slowing down. She has over 90 music awards and accolades.
You surely cannot talk about country music without talking about her! She continues to incorporate modern sounds, evolving with the times and making the times evolve with her.
21. Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks redefined what it meant to be a country superstar. With the ability to pack the largest stadiums in the world, the Oklahoma-born singer is the most successful country singer of all time. He broke The Beatles’ record of 6 diamond albums with 9 (nine!) of his own.
Since 1989, there has not been a more popular or successful act in country music. His drawing power hasn’t diminished—in 2019, he drew an audience of 140,000 at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Brooks was also a talented baseball player with spring training and minor league stints with various clubs.
22. Tim McGraw
Husband of Faith Hill, Tim McGraw has been on top of the country charts since the 1990s. The Louisiana-born has 25 number-one singles and 10 number-one albums. With hits like “Just to See You Smile,” McGraw has one of the most recognizable voices in country music today.
With 3 Grammys to his name and countless other awards, he has also had an accomplished career as an actor too. And he has shown no signs of slowing down as his 2020 album, Here on Earth, netted him another number-one country album. And without McGraw, we might not have Taylor Swift—her first single was actually titled “Tim McGraw.”
23. Shania Twain
Things did not look good after Shania Twain’s self-titled debut album did not do well at all. The Canadian-born country star turned her fortunes around with her Grammy award-winning follow-up “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You)” in 1995.
It was her 1997 album Come On Over that catapulted her to megastardom. With hits like “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “You’re Still the One,” Twain redefined what it meant to be a pop-country superstar, including her use of music videos. She is the only woman in any genre to have three consecutive diamond albums.
24. Chris Stapleton
There are few voices in modern country music more powerful and well-known than that of Chris Stapleton. Starting off as the lead singer of The SteelDrivers, he has proven to be one of the most successful country acts of the past decade. With 14 awards from the Country Music Association, 10 from the Academy of Country Music, and 8 Grammy wins, he has shown that he can do no wrong.
With mega-hits like “Tennessee Whiskey” and his debut album Traveller, Stapleton established himself as one of the best singers in the game. He has also shown that he is not anywhere near being finished, as his 2020 album Starting Over won the Grammy for Best Country Album.
25. Taylor Swift
Is anyone bigger than Taylor Swift? The pop music sensation hit the country scene with her 2006 self-titled album. She followed these up with smash success Fearless and Speak Now. These albums produced pop-country anthems like “You Belong With Me” and “Love Story.”
She has received 11 Grammys over the years and countless other awards. While much of her later music has drifted into the realm of pure pop, the Taylor Swift music empire began with just a girl and her guitar singing about Tim McGraw.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.