This list breaks down the most famous country singers of all time. From as early as the start of the 20th Century through to contemporary music, these artists were selected based on their awards and accolades, as well as their influence on the genre as a whole.
From the very first country song to hit 1 million sales to singers who are still topping the charts, let’s take a look at the 25 most famous country singers of all time.
25. Martina McBride
Born in Kansas and later moving to Tennessee, Martina McBride has released 14 albums, selling over 14 million copies, and has won the Country Music Association’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” award 4 times.
In 1992, McBride released her debut album The Time Has Come but failed to make waves commercially. However, singles from her second album reached the Top 10, the single ‘My Baby Loves Me’ peaking at No. 2. The third single won Video of the Year and Song of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards and was also nominated for a Grammy.
Although never claiming a Grammy win, Martina McBride has been nominated 14 times and has won several other awards for her contribution to country music.
24. The Chicks
Although The Chicks are a band and not an individual singer, they are deserving of a mention on this list. Forming in 1989, the band failed to find major success, mainly busking on festival circuits and playing at small venues.
Their luck changed in 1997 as they signed with Monument Records Nashville and released their 1998 album Wide Open Spaces which sold 13 million copies, achieving diamond status.
Their subsequent albums followed in Wide Open Spaces’s footsteps achieving multi-platinum statuses and spawning several singles, charting on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts.
With multiple awards under their belts, The Chicks are one of the most exciting country acts for younger fans of the genre.
23. Vernon Dalhart
Although Vernon Dalhart may not be a name familiar to younger country music fans, his 1924 track ‘Wreck of the Old 97’ was the first country song to sell one million copies.
The track shook up record companies, opening their eyes to the market potential of the genre. With a B-Side just as popular, the record reached 7 million sales which was almost unheard of in the 1920s.
Despite initially being interested in becoming an opera singer (and recording a lot of music within the genre), he drifted toward country music as, being born in Texas, felt more true to him. Thanks to Dalhart’s success and pioneering, he paved the way for all future country singers.
22. Glen Campbell
With hits such as ‘Wichita Lineman,’ ‘Rhinestone Cowboy,’ and ‘Southern Nights,’ Glen Campbell is an artist hard to ignore. Sporting a five-decade-long career that reached its peak in the 60s and 70s, Campbell released an impressive 64 albums and sold over 45 million records worldwide.
Campbell got his start as a studio musician which occupied his time for several years before breaking off and going solo. A fine decision indeed as the singer placed 80 tracks in the charts.
He has won 10 Grammys, 4 of which he received just in one year, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and Best Country Song years after his peak in 2014.
21. John Denver
Blurring the lines between folk and country, John Denver is best known for his legendary track ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads,’ one of the most famous country songs that still finds itself on playlists of the younger generation. It is also one of the four official state anthems of West Virginia!
During the 1970s, Denver was without a doubt one of the most popular acoustic artists of the decade. With around 300 songs recorded, the singer has sold an estimated 33 million records.
His popularity comes from his contempt for fast city living, opting instead to sing the praises of a simpler life, a sentiment that resonated with many Americans of the era. He is certainly one of the most famous country singers of all time.
20. Taylor Swift
Most know Taylor Swift as a pop singer first and foremost but, the young talent had a successful country career before reaching superstardom that laid the foundations of her acclaim.
Moving to Nashville at just 14 to become a country singer, Swift signed a songwriting deal with Sony. In 2006, she released her self-titled debut album which went platinum, making her the first female country singer to write or co-write a U.S. platinum-certified album.
In her early career, Swift won several country music awards including the Nashville Songwriters Association’s Songwriter/Artist of the Year award and the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award for Best New Artist.
Thanks to her mainstream success in the world of pop music, Taylor Swift is arguably the most famous country singer of this generation.
19. Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings is perhaps best known for pioneering the genre of the outlaw movement in country music. This movement, formed by those who believe in the destruction of icons, fought for their right to creative freedom outside of the sound that dictated most country music.
Forming a band as a young teenager, Jennings became a radio DJ and performer. After a few unsuccessful recordings, the country singer moved to RCA Victor record label and upgraded his manager. From then on, Jennings recorded several hit albums.
Waylon Jennings had 96 singles appear on Billboard’s Hot Country Single chart, 16 of which reached No. 1 as well as having 11 albums reaching No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums.
18. George Jones
George Jones is known for his distinctive voice and his hit song ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ often named the best country song of all time. He was a strong advocate for keeping the roots of country music strong.
Celebrated especially during the last decade of his life, Jones was musically gifted from a young age, learning guitar at just 9. In 1959, he had his first No. 1 hit with ‘White Lightnin’,’ and continued to write songs for other artists to record.
Within the next few years, Jones’ had developed as an artist and received more success for his own singles, writing and recording many Top 10 hits.
17. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard had a rocky youth after finding himself in and out of prison after the death of his father. He used these experiences to write songs about the struggles of the working class and the cost of war.
After his release from prison in 1960, Haggard began recording with Tally Records. After finding little success, he recorded a cover of Wynn Stewart’s ‘Sing a Sad Song’ which became a national hit. The next year, he had a Top 10 hit with “(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers’ which snowballed his following success.
From the mid-60s through to 2013, Haggard has won multiple awards including Grammys, Academy of Country Music, and BMI Awards.
16. Hank Williams
Regarded as one of the most influential American singer-songwriters of the 20th century, Hank Williams has been dubbed ‘the King of Country Music.’
Never learning to read music, Williams wrote music based on his life, busking with his guitar outside of the WSFA radio station who then invited him to play on air. His success on the radio kickstarted his music career as Williams went on to form his own band. Williams’ career grew in the 40s, signing a record deal and releasing multiple hits.
Hank Williams has now got a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, awarded to him after his death. His enormous contribution to country music has made him one of the most influential and most famous country singers ever.
15. Loretta Lynn
With a career spanning 6 decades and 11 No. 1 albums, Loretta Lynn wrote over 160 songs and was the first woman to be named “Entertainer of the Year” by the Country Music Association.
After marrying young, Lynn began singing in clubs in the 1950s, soon forming her own band. The singer was soon snapped up by Zero Records with whom she began releasing music. She had her first No. 1 hit in 1967 with ‘Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)’ and her success snowballed.
Loretta Lynn had 10 No. 1 albums on the country chart and won several awards, allowing her to become and remain the most awarded woman in country music history.
14. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline was one of the first artists to transition from country music into pop music. Despite only recording music for a brief 8 years, her untimely death cutting her career far too short, Cline is considered to be one of the greatest vocalists of all time.
Many artists on this list have cited Cline as an inspiration and her haunting, emotional voice helped define Nashville’s style of country music. What makes Cline’s music so impactful is her ability to tell a story through song.
Still now, years after her death, artists rave about her ability to make you feel her song, not just hear it. This has helped her to become one of the most influential, most celebrated, and most famous country singers ever.
13. Shania Twain
For those of us born in the late 1990s, Shania Twain holds a special place in our hearts. Her hits ‘Man! I Feel Like a Woman!’ and ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ will get us half millennial, half Gen Z-ers straight up on the dance floor.
Twain got her start touring with a cover band across Ontario while taking up singing lessons. In 1993, she released her debut self-titled album which gained buzz outside of Canada for the first time.
Her following two albums are what broke Twain into the Top 10, gaining No. 1 hits and selling millions of copies. Taylor Swift herself has credited Shania Twain as an influence.
Twain was certainly one of the most famous country singers of the 90s, and indeed one of the best-loved country singers of all time.
12. Reba McEntire
Dubbed “the Queen of Country,” Reba McEntire has had 25 No. 1s on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart and sold over 100 million albums.
After hearing McEntire’s demo, Mercury Records signed the singer and started making her first recordings. After several failed releases, McEntire teamed up with fellow country singer Jacky Ward and achieved her first Top 20 single. This gave her career some momentum and soon, she decided to have more control over her music and found mainstream success.
Although it took almost 2 decades for McEntire to break into stardom, her records have become a huge influence on young country singers, and her popularity within the genre remains.
11. Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers’ music spanned multiple genres throughout his career but he found a home with a county audience.
After releasing a few hits whilst in a group, Rogers decided to go solo, signing to United Artists, and released his debut album. It wasn’t until his 1977 hit ‘Lucille’ when Rogers found significant success, selling over 5 million copies and reaching No. 1. Triumph continued and the artist soon became a staple country singer.
With over 100 million records sold worldwide, Kenny Rogers is one of the best-selling artists of all time and received a lifetime achievement award for a 6-decade long career.
10. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is more than a country singer. Dipping his toes in the world of acting, writing, and activism, Nelson’s career has spanned over 6 decades. His diverse career has helped him to become one of the most famous country singers ever.
Nelson made his first record in 1956, a work that completely flopped. The artist continued working on the radio and singing in clubs. After working various tedious jobs, he moved with his family to Tennessee and finally saw his first taste of success in 1961. He gained his first two Top 10 singles and by 1966, he was finding himself consistently in the Top 25.
Now, Willie Nelson has sold over 60 million records and has 10 Grammy Award wins to his name.
9. Keith Urban
With 11 studio albums under his belt, Keith Urban went from admiring the talents of Mark Knofler and Lindsey Buckingham, to releasing his own line of guitars.
After signing with EMI, Urban released his debut album in 1991, exclusive to Australia, which only reached No. 98. It wasn’t until 1999 released his American debut album Keith Urban, which contained his first No. 1 hit ‘But for the Grace of God.’
As his career continues, Urban has received 18 No. 1s, worked with a huge array of stars from Pink to Dolly Parton, 4 Grammy Awards, fifteen Academy of Country Music Awards, and was a judge on the Australian versions of both The Voice and American Idol.
8. Blake Shelton
Oklahoma singer Blake Shelton has had 28 No. 1s throughout his career, 17 of which were consecutive. His debut single ‘Austin’ went straight to No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and remained there for 5 weeks.
Shelton was born to a beauty salon owner and car salesman but music always ran through his blood. He began singing and playing the guitar in his early teens, and even started writing his own music. Soon, Shelton was picked up by Giant Records, now dissolved, and released his debut single.
Since his debut, Shelton has received critical acclaim, being nominated for 9 Grammy Awards and 10 Country Music Association Awards.
7. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is where your mind wanders when you think of more mainstream country music. With gigantic hits such as ‘Jolene,’ ‘9 to 5,’ and her magnum opus ‘I Will Always Love You,’ Dolly Parton is a musical force of nature.
Parton’s career began after being invited to be a regular on The Porter Wagoner Show. Wagoner conceived his label to sign Parton to which they agreed, releasing multiple top 10 singles as a duo. Despite releasing her own music, she was mostly ignored as a solo artist until she recorded a ‘Mule Skinner Blues’ cover that shot to No. 3.
Now, Dolly Parton is one of the most-honoured female country music singers of all time, with countless award nominations and over 100 million record sales, making her one of the best-selling female artists of all time.
6. Luke Bryan
Born in 1976, Luke Bryan kick-started his career by writing songs for other performers. He later signed a recording contract with Capitol Nashville, but still continued to write for both himself and others.
In 2007, Bryan released his debut album I’ll Stay Me to humble success, his single ‘Country Man’ peaking at No. 10. Despite a less-than-explosive start, the country singer can brag 27 No. 1 hits, all contained within his first 10 albums.
With over 75 million records sold, Luke Bryan is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. He has won the Academy of Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year 5 times and won 3 Billboard Music Awards.
5. Carrie Underwood
Blending country music with mainstream pop, Carrie Underwood continues to bring a younger audience to country. She is amongst the most famous female country singers of our time.
Underwood got her start after winning American Idol in 2005. Her hit singles ‘Before He Cheats’ and ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ allowed her debut album Some Hearts to become the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history. She was also the only country artist to have a No. 1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 in the noughties.
Throughout her successful career, and only 39 years old, Carrie Underwood has won 8 Grammy Awards, sold over 70 million records worldwide, and won 3 Entertainment of the Year Awards from the Academy of Country Music.
4. Garth Brooks
Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Garth Brooks gained popularity by incorporating mainstream genres into his country sound.
Initially interested in more traditional rock and roll music, Brooks heard George Strait’s ‘Unwound’ and decided country was for him. His debut album, Garth Brooks, was a huge success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. After opening for Kenny Rogers on tour, Brooks released his second album which remained at No. 1 for 23 weeks.
Brooks, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, is the best-selling solo album artist in the United States, selling more than the King of Pop himself, Elvis Presley.
3. Johnny Cash
The late, great Johnny Cash has blessed us with such hits as ‘I Walk the Line,’ ‘Ring of Fire,’ and the devastating Nine Inch Nails ‘Hurt’ cover.
Although initially studying to become a radio announcer, Cash visited the Sun Records studio in the hopes of a recording contract but was turned away. Cash reinvented his style, revisited the studio with his rockabilly revamp and released his first recording.
You can easily pluck a Johnny Cash song out of a line-up thanks to the singer’s deep bassy baritone voice. This style helped the artist sell 90 million records worldwide and was inducted into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.
A legend of country music, and one of the most famous country singers of all time.
2. George Strait
Texas-born George Strait is widely considered one of the most influential music artists of all time, not just with his genre. With his cowboy boots and hat, Strait gained the title of the ‘King of Country Music.‘
When Strait released his first single ‘Unwound’ in 1981, mainstream ears pricked up and thus ignited the neotraditional country movement, a sub-genre that called upon the traditional stylings of country music in the 1940s.
Coming third to only Elvis and The Beatles, Strait has the most gold and platinum albums in the history of music, with over 70 million record sales in the United States alone.
1. Tim McGraw
Tim McGaw is everything that’s exciting about country music. With 10 albums reaching No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart, and 25 singles reaching No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs chart, McGaw is a veteran in his field.
After getting the cut of his first demo in front of Curb Records executives, the country singer released his debut single which didn’t cause the storm it expected to. It wasn’t until the release of his second album that people took notice, becoming the best-selling country album of 1994.
Tim McGaw has sold over 80 million records, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time, and has been nominated for 20 Grammy Awards, 3 of which he has won. Without a doubt one of the most successful, and one of the most famous country singers ever.
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