Top country artists: 20 great and famous country music musicians of all time

Top country artists: 20 great and famous country music musicians of all time

Music is a universal language, but that shouldn't be interpreted to mean that all music is the same. Music genres usually represent different communities where they originated from, and this applies to all top country artists. Often, country music is associated with white folks, especially cowboys from the Southeast.

Top country artists
Co-host Dolly Parton speaks onstage during the 57th Academy of Country Music Awards at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo: Kevin Winter
Source: Getty Images

Country music is a string-accompanied American popular music associated with the so-called cowboys. People love the genre for its sweet melodies and because it is simple in form and harmony. All top country music artists maintain the cowboy image by wearing chaparral, boots, and fancy spurs.

Top country artists

The good thing with country music is that it never gets old. As a result, one can start singing at a young age into his old age without the music getting overtaken by time. The list of the top 100 country artists is full of legends of the genre, but the 20 greatest are:

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1. Merle Haggard

Top country artists
Musician Merle Haggard performs onstage during day one of 2015 Stagecoach, California's Country Music Festival, at The Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Photo: Frazer Harriso
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: April 6, 1937
  • Years active: 1963 - 2016
  • Partner(s): Leona Hobbs, Bonnie Owens, Leona Williams, Debbie Parret, Theresa Ann
  • Best songs: Branded Man, Mama Tried and Grandma Harp

The country music legend was a songwriter, singer, guitarist, and fiddler missed since his death in April 2016. He had a troubled childhood following his father's death, after which his youth witnessed several incarcerations. He, however, turned his life around to become one of the greatest country artists.

2. Hank Williams

Top country artists
Hank Williams, Jr. performs at the Fifth annual New Year's Eve Bash on Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Terry Wyatt
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: September 17, 1923
  • Years active: 1937 - 1952
  • Partner: Audrey Sheppard, Billie Jean Horton
  • Best songs: My Son Calls Another Man Daddy, Nobody's Lonesome for Me, and I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Living.

The legend was nicknamed "the King of Country Music" in popular culture. He was so great a personality that the governor of Alabama, Gordon Persons, declared September 21 as Hank Williams Day in the state. The star had 11 number one country hits throughout his career.

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3. Johnny Cash

Top country artists
Country singer/songwriter Johnny Cash poses for a portrait in circa 1976. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: February 26, 1932
  • Years active: 1954 - 2003
  • Partner: Vivian Liberto and June Carter
  • Best songs: “Cry! Cry! Cry!” Hey Porter and I Walk the Line

Johnny Cash is a country artist who partnered with the likes of Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins in an impromptu jam session that created several hits. He is probably one of the richest country singers since he is among the best-selling music artists of all time. In his career, he sold more than 90 million records worldwide.

4. Loretta Lynn

Top country artists
Loretta Lynn poses with her Cracker Barrels Country Legend Award at The Loretta Lynn Ranch in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Brett Carlsen
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: April 14, 1932
  • Years active: 1957 - present
  • Partner: Oliver Lynn
  • Best songs: I Can’t Hear the Music, Country in My Genes, and She’s Got You

Loretta Lynn is one of the greatest country singers with 10 number 1 albums and 16 number 1 singles on the country charts. She was the first solo female country singer to perform at the White House during Richard Nixon's time.

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Her career is furnished with three Grammy Awards, seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards and eight Country Music Association, among many others.

5. The Carter Family

Top country artists
The Carter Family posing for the camera. Photo: @CMPcountry
Source: Getty Images
  • Origin: Maces Spring, Virginia
  • Years active: 1927 - 1956
  • Hall of Fame: 1970
  • Best songs: Will the Circle Be Unbroken, When I’m Gone, and Poor Orphan Child

It was a traditional American folk music group that became the first vocal group to become country music stars. However, their music style impacted country music and gospel, bluegrass, pop, and even rock music. Bristol, Tennessee, is where their first recordings were made.

6. Willie Nelson

Top country artists
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Willie Nelson performs live on stage at the Luck Reunion in Luck, Texas. Photo: Jim Bennett
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: April 29, 1933
  • Years active: 1956 - present
  • Partner(s): Martha Matthews, Shirley Colie, Connie Koepke, Annie D’Angelo
  • Best songs: Pretty Paper, Crazy, and On the Road Again

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Since 1956, Willie Nelson has had a stellar career that has established him as one of the greatest country singers. He is most associated with a subgenre of country music known as outlaw country. Apart from singing, Nelson has appeared in more than 30 films and co-authored many books.

7. Waylon Jennings

Top country artists
Waylon Jennings performs with 'Willie Nelson' at the Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California. Photo: Larry Hulst
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: June 15, 1937
  • Years active: 1949 - 2002
  • Partner(s): Maxine Lawrence, Lynne Jones, Barbara Elizabeth Rood, and Jessi Colter.
  • Best songs: ‘Luckenbach, Texas’, Stranger in My Home, and When Sin Stops (Love Begins)

Jennings is considered the pioneer of the Outlaw Movement of country music. He learnt to play the guitar when he was eight and formed his first band, The Texas Longhorns when he was 12. He struggled with cocaine addiction but overcame it in 1984.

8. Dolly Parton

Top country artists
Dolly Parton performs on stage at ACL Live during Blockchain Creative Labs’ Dollyverse event at SXSW during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas. Photo: Michael Loccisano
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: January 19, 1946
  • Years active: 1956 - present
  • Partner: Carl Dean
  • Best songs: I Will Always Love You, Jolene and Coat of Many Colors

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She started her career as a songwriter for other artists and eventually made her debut as a singer in 1967. She has sold more than 100 million records worldwide and is among the most successful artists in the genre. In her career, she has composed more than 3,000 songs.

9. George Jones

Top country artists
Country music singer and songwriter George Jones performs at Fanfair in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Beth Gwinn
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: September 12, 1931
  • Years active: 1953 - 2013
  • Partner: Dorothy Bonvillon, Shirley Ann Corley, Tammy Wynette, Nancy Sepulvado
  • Best songs: White Lightning, Why Baby Why, and Yearning

George Jones served in the United States Marine Corps before being discharged in 1953 and transitioning into music. His career almost ended due to alcoholism which compromised his health, but he bounced back after a divorce. He died in 2013 at the age of 81 from hypoxic respiratory failure.

10. Garth Brooks

Top country artists
Garth Brooks speaks onstage during 2021 CMT Artist Of The Year at Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Terry Wyatt
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: February 7, 1962
  • Years active: 1985 - present
  • Partner: Sandy Mahl, Trisha Yearwood
  • Best songs: Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old), If Tomorrow Never Comes and Not Counting You

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Garth Brooks is one of the winners of the Billboard Music Award for Top Country Artist. He is decorated with nine albums achieving diamond status in the USA. In addition, he is one of the world's best-selling artists, with more than 170 million record sales.

He has won several other awards, including 2 Grammy Awards, 17 American Music Awards and the RIAA Award for best-selling solo albums artist of the century.

11. Jimmie Rodgers

Top country artists
Photo of Jimmie Rodgers performing on stage. Photo: Jim McCrary
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: September 8, 1897
  • Years active: 1910 - 1933
  • Partner: Carrie Cecil Williamson
  • Best songs: Blue Yodel No. 9, You Are My Sunshine, and The Soldier’s Sweetheart

Jimmie Rodgers began travelling shows when he was 13 years old. His first job was on the railroad, where he was exposed to the work chants of African American railroad workers. After getting diagnosed with tuberculosis, he left the railroad job and started singing. His first performance on a radio show came in April of 1927.

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12. Patsy Cline

Top country artists
Patsy CLINE posing for a portrait. Photo: GAB Archive
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: September 8, 1932
  • Years active: 1948 - 1963
  • Partner: Gerald Cline, Charlie Di*k
  • Best songs: "A Church, a Courtroom, Then Goodbye", I've Loved and Lost Again, and Walkin’ After Midnight

She is undoubtedly the most influential vocalist of the 20th century and among the earliest country music singers to cross over into pop music. She produced many hits in her 8-year recording career, including two number-one hits on the Billboard Hot Country and Western Sides chart. She remains a respected figure in the country circles even after her death.

13. Buck Owens

Top country artists
Buck Owens during Buck Owens in Concert at Chicago Theater in Chicago, Illinois, United States. Photo: Paul Natkin
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: August 12, 1929
  • Years active: 1945 - 2006
  • Partner: Bonnie Campbell Owens, Phyllis Buford, Jana Jae Greif, Jennifer Smith
  • Best songs: Second Fiddle, Under Your Spell Again and Above and Beyond

Born as Alvis Edgar Owens Jr., Buck Owens was the lead singer for Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. He is the pioneer of the famous Bakersfield sound, which is a subgenre of country music. He also co-hosted the CBS variety show, Hee Haw, from 1969 to 1986.

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14. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys

Top country artists
American Country and Western Swing musician Bob Wills (1905 - 1975) (centre) play the guitar with his group, the Texas Playboys, Texas, circa 1950. Photo: Underwood Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: March 6, 1905
  • Years active: 1929 - 1973
  • Partner: Mary Helen Brown, Edna Posey, Ruth McMaster, Mary Louise Parker, Betty Anderson
  • Best songs: Bob Wills Is Still the King, Steel Guitar Rag, and Mean Mama Blues

Bob Wills was born on a cotton farm in Kosse, Texas, where he had country music influences throughout his childhood. His father was a statewide champion fiddle player, and many of his siblings also played musical instruments. He was also influenced by blues songs from African American families who worked in the cotton fields.

15. Ray Price

Top country artists
Ray Price performs at the annual Willie Nelson 4th of July concert at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in San Antonio, Texas. Photo: Gary Miller
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: January 12, 1926
  • Years active: 1948 - 2013
  • Partner: Janie Price
  • Best songs: Diamonds in the Stars, Jealous Lies, and Invitation to the Blues

Ray had a wide-ranging baritone regarded as one of the best male voices in country music. Even though he started singing and playing the guitar in his teenage years, he wanted to be a veterinary. However, he was not allowed to pursue his ambition to be a veterinarian because he was considered too small to work with large cattle and horses.

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16. Tammy Wynette

Top country artists
Tammy Wynette country music singer-songwriter, singing into a microphone and playing the guitar during a live concert performance at the Country Music Festival. Photo: David Redfern
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: May 5, 1942
  • Years active: 1966 - 1998
  • Partner: Euple Byrd, Don Chapel, George Jones, Michael Tomlin, George Richey
  • Best songs: Justified and Ancient, Apartment No. 9, and Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.

Tammy started as a hairdresser before transitioning into music. She did a duet with David Houston called My Elusive Dreams, and it became her first number one. Her career was at its peak from 1968 to 1969, when she had five number-one hits.

17. Glen Campbell

Top country artists
Country star Glen Campbell recorsds at the Capitol Records studios in Los Angeles, California. Photo: Jasper Dailey
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: April 22, 1936
  • Years active: 1958 - 2013
  • Partner: Diane Marie Kirk, Billie Jean Nunley, Sarah Barg Davis, Kimberly Woollen
  • Best songs: Universal Soldier, Wichita Lineman, and Southern Nights

The accomplished singer Glen Campbell was also the host of The Glen Campbell Goodnight Hour on CBS and one of the best country artists of all time. Before his solo career, he used to play with a group of instrumentalists known as "The Wrecking Crew". He managed to put 80 different songs on various top charts in his solo career.

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18. Eddy Arnold

Top country artists
Country singer Eddy Arnold poses for a portrait sitting in a chair in circa. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: May 15, 1918
  • Years active: 1937 - 2005
  • Died: 2008
  • Best songs: Each Minute Seems A Million Years, That's How Much I Love You and Make the World Go Away.

The country singer performed for six decades before his death in 2008, making him one of the old country singers alive at the time. His 147 songs on the Billboard country music charts make him second to George Jones.

He was a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2003 he was ranked the 22nd on the Country Music Television’s “The 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.”

19. Roger Miller

Top country artists
American country singer, songwriter and musician Roger Miller playing the guitar on stage, 1960s. Photo: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: January 2, 1936
  • Years active: 1957 - 1992
  • Partner: Barbara Crow, Leah Kendrick, Mary Arnold
  • Best songs: Dang Me, England Swings, and King of the Road

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Miller grew up in Oklahoma and served in the United States Army before launching his music career in the 1950s. He wrote and performed several songs for Disney’s Robin Hood film. He also wrote the music for the 1985 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Big River.

20. George Strait

Top country artists
George Strait performs on stage during ATLive 2021 concert at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo: Paras Griffin
Source: Getty Images
  • Born: May 18, 1952
  • Years active: 1976 - present
  • Partner: Norma
  • Best songs: Love Without End, Amen, I’ve Come to Expect It From You, and So Much Like My Dad

Nicknamed the "King of Country", George Strait is one of the most influential and popular recording artists. He is one of the pioneers of the neotraditionalist country movement. Seven of his albums reached number 1 on the country charts in the 2000s; hence he was named the artist of the decade.

Frequently asked questions

  1. Who is the top country artist today? Morgan Wallen is the top country artist in 2022.
  2. Who are the top 10 country artists? The top 10 country artists are Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, The Carter Family, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, George Jones and Garth Brooks.
  3. Who are the top 10 new country singers? Some new country artists include Avery Anna, Boy Named Banjo, BRELAND, Carter Faith, Chapel Hart, Chayce Beckham, Conner Smith, Drake Milligan, Gabe Lee, and Jonathan Hutcherson.
  4. Do we have black country singers? Yes; there are many black country singers. Some of them include Charley Pride, Mickey Guyton, and Tina Turner.
  5. Who is the best country artist of all time? According to Rolling Stone magazine, Merle Haggard is the best country artist of all time.
  6. Who has sold the most country albums of all time? Garth Brooks has sold the most country albums of all time, reaching certified sales of 156.1 million record sales.
  7. Who is the true king of country music? George Strait, nicknamed the "King of Country", is considered the true king of the genre.

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New country artists will always have big shoes to fill as they seek to match the talents of the likes of Merle Haggard and Hank Williams. These legends epitomize the mettle all top country artists are made of. They deserve all the praise because their music touches millions and millions of lives.

Yen.com.gh shared an interesting article about the top 20 dancehall artists in the world. In the 21st century, dancehall is one of the major genres. Although its origin was in Jamaica in the late 1970s, it has spread globally and gained billions of lovers.

Music lovers that enjoy dancehall music also love Jamaican culture. Fans worldwide travel to the Caribbean country to enjoy the Jamaican experience and get in touch with the locals.

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Source: YEN.com.gh

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