From Hank Williams to Tim McGraw, George Strait to Chris Stapleton, country music has been shaped by the vocal talents of many frontmen. Here we take a look at 21 of the most famous male country singers to ever grab that microphone and sing a cowboy song.
1. Jimmie Rodgers
Whether you know him as “The Father of Country Music,” “The Singing Brakeman,” or “The Blue Yodeler,” without Jimmie Rodgers, there wouldn’t be country music as we know it today. He was discovered at the famous Bristol Session auditions held by the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1927, which was when he began his illustrious, though brief, career.
Some of his most famous tracks include “Blue Yodel No. 1” and “In The Jailhouse Now.” Just about every country singer looks up to Rodgers as the father of it all! Sadly, at only the age of 35, he succumbed to tuberculosis after a New York City recording session in 1933.
2. Roy Acuff
Roy Acuff, “The King of Country Music,” joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938 on his prowess as a singer and fiddle player. Hank Williams once said that “For [crowd] drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.” With his band The Smoky Mountain Boys, Acuff helped transform American folk music into the country form we are accustomed to today. Only a few individuals had a great influence on the foundations of modern country music.
He went on to found the Acuff-Rose Records publishing company, which would go on to sign and record acts including Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and The Everly Brothers.
3. Hank Williams
The legend himself, Hank Williams, had fifty-five top 10 country singles—twelve of which reached number 1 on the Billboard Country & Western Charts. After getting his start hosting a radio program and touring, he was signed by MGM Records in 1947 and released one of his first big hits, “Move It on Over.”
Over the next several years, Williams put out countless iconic tunes and performed as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Sadly, his heavy drinking lifestyle caught up with him at the young age of 29. His son Hank Williams Jr. and grandson Hank Williams III have carried on the family legacy.
4. Ernest Tubb
“The Texas Troubadour” was one of the first big country stars, bringing with Ernest Tubb the rise of honky tonk music. After befriending Jimmie Rodgers’ widow, she helped him land a recording contract with RCA in 1936. It was his 1940 single “Walking the Floor Over You” that moonshot him to stardom, selling over a million copies. In 1943, he was welcomed into the Grand Ole Opry.
Over the next decades, Tubb would surround himself with the best musicians around, presenting high-quality honky tonk to the masses. Notably, he sang duets like “Sweet Thang” with an up-and-coming Loretta Lynn in the 1960s to great success and appeared in her film, Coal Miner’s Daughter.
5. Bill Monroe
Credited with being the “Father of Bluegrass,” Bill Monroe was not only a talented mandolinist and band leader, but it was his high, clear singing that changed the sound of country music forever. As a staple of the Grand Ole Opry for over half of a century, his voice has been central to the story of country music.
While bluegrass itself branched into its own genre of music, Monroe’s vocal styling has influenced countless artists and continues to shape country music’s sound to this day. He is perhaps best known for his classic waltz “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” famously covered by Elvis Presley.
6. Bob Wills
The undisputed “King of Western Swing,” Bob Wills brought the Texas sound first to the West Coast and then the whole world. With his 20-plus piece band, the Texas Playboys, he made his Grand Ole Opry debut in 1944—though it would not allow the drummer or horn players in the band to perform, causing a stir.
Wills’s swing sound influenced greats like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard and was fundamental in the evolution of the so-called Bakersfield Sound that sprung out of the Southern California region he frequented in his heyday. Musicians across genres, including Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino, cited Wills and the Texas Playboys as inspirations. Outlaw Waylon Jennings wrote and performed the number one country hit “Bob Wills Is Still King” as a tribute to Wills and his impact on country music.
7. Buck Owens
Along with his backing band The Buckaroos, Buck Owens had twenty-one number 1 country hits. He pioneered the Bakersfield sound, inspired by the great Bill Wills. This sound would evolve to produce bonafide country acts such as Emmylou Harris, Gram Parsons, The Burrito Brothers, and Dwight Yoakam.
Unlike East Coast country, his style featured twangy electric guitars and a driving drum track. For nearly twenty years, Owens also hosted the variety show, Hee Haw, with Roy Clark.
8. George Jones
George Jones, “The Rolls Royce of Country Music,” is considered to be the greatest country singer of all time. With 160 singles reaching the country charts, few have been as prolific and beloved as him.
While it seemed that alcoholism would limit his career in the ’70s, Jones proved to have a whole lot more in store for the world when he released his greatest hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” Only a few individuals have left a greater mark on country music than Jones.
9. Marty Robbins
One of the first outlaw country singers, the “Big Iron” singer Marty Robbins’ prolific career lasted over 40 years, recording more than 500 songs.
He found success with pop and country audiences, inspiring acts like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. When he wasn’t singing western hits, Robbins was racing on the NASCAR circuit and had six top 10 finishes in his racing career.
10. Johnny Cash
No outlaw country singer is more infamous than “The Man in Black” Johnny Cash. He wore his signature all black in honor of the poor and hungry and always stood as a champion of the downtrodden. From touring with Elvis Presley to playing at Folsom Prison, few artists have ever been more undefinable, prolific, and beloved than Cash.
He also hosted The Johnny Cash Show, led The Highwaymen, played gospel tunes, and covered the Nine Inch Nails. His struggles with drugs make him all the more human—and the love story between him and June Carter Cash, of the famous Carter Family, remains one of the most enduring tales of devotion in country music history.
11. Charley Pride
Professional baseball player and country star Charley Pride had thirty number 1 country hits during the prime of his career from 1966-1987. After a stint playing pro baseball and gigging around his home in Montana, Chet Atkins discovered Pride’s demo tape and signed him to a record deal. It was his tune “Just Between You and Me” that slungshot him to stardom.
While Pride had to navigate racism as one of the few prominent Black country stars, he always let the music do the talking, with an endless slew of hits including his best-selling tune “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’.” A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Pride passed away in 2020.
12. Merle Haggard
From the 1960s through the 1980s, few country singers were bigger than Merle Haggard. After being released from San Quentin State Prison in 1960, he gained popularity singing working-class country tunes.
With thirty-eight number 1 country hits and iconic collaborations with Willie Nelson, Haggard was one of the greatest country singers to play the game. With hits like “Mama Tried,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” and “Pancho And Lefty,” he remains one of the most iconic voices in country music history.
13. Kenny Rogers
While Kenny Rogers got his start with The First Edition, his career skyrocketed when he went solo. Scoring over sixty top 40 hit singles, he released iconic tracks like “Lucille” and “The Gambler,” elevating him to the top of the country charts.
His duets with country legends like Dottie West and Dolly Parton cemented his place as one of country music’s greatest performers. The Texas-born found success in just about every genre he touched, including folk, pop, jazz, and soft rock, scoring countless top hits in addition to his country contributions to music.
14. Willie Nelson
Few musicians have had the cultural influence that outlaw Willie Nelson had. He got his start as a songwriter, with credits including Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.” In the 70s, along with his trusty guitar Trigger, Nelson rose to stardom with his albums Shotgun Willy, Red Headed Stranger, and Stardust. In particular, his release of Stardust, a collection of American pop standards including the iconic “Georgia On My Mind,” cemented his place as a treasure of country and American music.
The sweet-singing Texan image has become intertwined with marijuana, as he has long been an advocate for its legalization and even has his own cannabis brand. He is still playing today and says he will hang it up for good once his well-worn guitar, Trigger, can no longer be played.
15. Conway Twitty
“The High Priest of Country Music,” Conway Twitty had fifty-five number 1 hits over his illustrious career, including “Hello Darlin'” and “Linda on My Mind.” Like Charley Pride, Twitty was a talented baseball player but had to refuse a Major League contract when he was drafted into the United States Army.
He initially got his big break with the pop-rock hit “It’s Only Make Believe,” although from the mid-60s until 1990, just about every country tune Twitty crooned was a hit. His duets with Loretta Lynn remain timeless classics of the country genre. With nearly 60 studio albums to his name, he remains one of the most prolific musicians in country music history.
16. Waylon Jennings
Outlaw Waylon Jennings began his music career under the guidance of Buddy Holly, gaining relative success throughout the 1960s. It was in the 1970s that Jennings pioneered the outlaw country and rose to superstardom. Tunes like “This Time” and “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” hit the top of country charts.
As a member of The Highwaymen and narrator of Dukes of Hazzard, Jennings’s voice remains an iconic part of country music history. His signature outlaw look, bearded with long hair, arose after he was hospitalized with hepatitis—his new manager Neil Reshen told him to keep the unkempt look after he was released.
17. George Strait
The “King of Country,” few artists have been more successful and prolific as Texan George Strait. Starting with his 1981 hit single “Unwound,” he could do no wrong—during the 1980s alone, he had 7 albums reach the top of the country charts.
In 2009, he broke Conway Twitty’s record for most number 1 country singles. Only Elvis Presley and The Beatles have had more gold and platinum albums than him in music history. Strait has also set records for his gigantic live shows, with over 100,000 fans in attendance for the final night of his The Cowboy Rides Away Tour in 2014.
18. Randy Travis
With sixteen number 1 country hits and over fifty singles hitting the country charts, Randy Travis is one of country music’s greatest voices. His 1986 album Storms of Life shot him to superstardom on the strength of his traditional baritone voice.
The 7-time Grammy award winner also enjoyed a successful career as an actor, including working alongside stars such as Matt Damon and Patrick Swayze.
19. Garth Brooks
Few music artists of any genre have been more successful than Garth Brooks. The Oklahoma-born singer brought elements of pop and rock music into country music’s sound, helping to define the current sound of the genre.
With nine records reaching diamond status, Brooks broke the record of six previously set by The Beatles. Like Charley Pride and Conway Twitty before him, he also took a shot at big league baseball. He continues to draw gigantic audiences, including 140,000 in attendance at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in 2019.
20. Tim McGraw
The Louisiana country star Tim McGraw has been one of the most successful singers since the 1990s. With ten number 1 albums and twenty-five number 1 singles, he is one of the most recognizable voices in modern country music. Husband of Faith Hill, McGraw keeps the new music coming—his 2020 album Here on Earth reached the top of the Billboard country charts.
With hit tunes like “Just to See You Smile,” his influence cannot be understated. In fact, without him as inspiration, a young Taylor Swift may not have gotten her big break, as her very first hit single was titled “Tim McGraw.”
21. Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton, the lead singer of the SteelDrivers, has established himself as modern country music’s biggest voice. With 8 Grammys, 10 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 14 Country Music Association Awards, he is writing his place in the country music pantheon as we speak.
His first solo album, Traveller, reached the top of the U.S. Billboard 200, which he followed up with the mega-hit “Tennessee Whiskey.” His 2020 album Starting Over garnered him his 3rd Grammy for Best Country Album.
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