50 Greatest Country Music Stars of All Time

50 Greatest Country Music Stars of All Time

Country music is uniquely American, taking elements from the blues, bluegrass, and folk music from the South and Southwest, and more recently incorporating elements of pop and even hip-hop. It rocketed to prominence during the 1920s and hasn’t lost a beat since then. According to industry data analytics firm MRC Data and Billboard, country music ranked fourth as a category in on-demand audio streams in 2020 at 7.5%, behind only hip-hop/R&B (30.7%), rock (16.3%), and pop (13.1%).

Famed documentarian Ken Burns took note of its popularity and significant role in American culture when he produced an eight-part miniseries on the genre. Airing in 2019, the series garnered an average of 6.8 million viewers per episode across all platforms.

But it’s the stars that make country music so vital. Legends like Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline, who died far too young, remain among the 50 most popular country stars even today, proving the enduring allure of the genre. Their notable songs — like Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Cline’s “Crazy” (the latter written by another country legend, Willie Nelson) — continue to stir the heartstrings of music lovers today. (These are the 40 most popular country music albums of all time.)

Like any other art, country music has changed over the years and incorporated elements of other musical genres. Stars like Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks have crossed over to pop music, and in the case of Parton and Reba McEntire, among others, found success acting in movies and television. What also makes country music stars so intriguing is their real-life stories. (After all, Loretta Lynn was the subject of the No. 1 film on our list of best movies for country music fans.)

To identify the 50 most popular country music stars of all time, 24/7 Tempo used data from the music analytics site Chartmetric to create an index measuring the relative popularity of a wide range of artists based on their Spotify followers, YouTube channel views, and Pandora lifetime streams as of June 2021.

To that list, the editors added a number of older artists widely considered to have been key in the development of country music, but whose popularity on contemporary platforms may be modest, as they are lesser-known to younger listeners. Artists are listed alphabetically.

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Roy Acuff

An early country music star, singer and fiddler Roy Acuff rose to fame in the 1930s with his band The Smokey Mountain Boys. Best known for his hit “Wabash Cannonball,” Acuff was an active supporter of the Grand Ole Opry. He was also a music publisher. In 1942, he co-founded Acuff-Rose Music with Fred Rose, a label that went on to sign Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers, among other luminaries.

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Jason Aldean

With 22 of his 35 reaching No. 1 on the country charts, Jason Aldean’s star has risen steadily on the country music scene. Several of his albums have earned platinum status. Aldean is also an active philanthropist, having raised $4 million for cancer research.

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Eddy Arnold

A performer for over six decades, Eddy Arnold had his first hit record in 1946, with “That’s How Much I Love You.” From there, his career blossomed, with 147 songs making the Billboard country music charts, placing him second only to George Jones. His style blended both country and popular music.

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Garth Brooks

A breakout star, Garth Brooks integrates country with pop and rock. In the process, he achieved crossover success, with nine albums garnering diamond status in the U.S., surpassing the Beatles’ record of six. Not bad for a guy who says he has “Friends in Low Places.” Brooks is married to fellow country star Trisha Yearwood.

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Luke Bryan

Luke Bryan’s first 10 albums produced 23 No. 1 hits, and in 2013 he was named “Entertainer of the Year” by both the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Country Music Association. In addition to his musical career, Bryan has been a judge on “American Idol” since 2018.

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Glen Campbell

The original Rhinestone Cowboy, Glen Campbell crossed over to mainstream success with his music and acting (he had a supporting role in 1969’s “True Grit” with John Wayne). He sold more than 45 million records worldwide, including 12 gold albums. Campbell succumbed to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2017.

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Johnny Cash

“The Man in Black” is firmly cemented as a legend of country music. Johnny Cash rose to prominence in the 1950s, with hits “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” and “Ring of Fire.” His 1968 album “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison,” recorded live in front of inmates at that institution, went triple Platinum.

Although he battled addiction most of his life, Cash performed, wrote, and even did some acting. In 2005, his life was the backdrop for a movie, “Walk the Line,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon.

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The Charlie Daniels Band

Charlie Daniels passed away last year, but his unique blend of Southern rock, country, and bluegrass lives on in his band. His signature song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” earned him a Grammy in 1979. Daniels performed well into his 80s, performing his final concert four months before his death in March 2020.

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The Chicks

Multi-instrumentalist sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer founded The Chicks in 1989, later bringing in lead singer Natalie Maines. Originally known as the Dixie Chicks, the group dropped Dixie because of its racist connotations. The group has earned 13 Grammy awards, including one for the group’s 2007 album, “Taking the Long Way.”

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Eric Church

Eric Church’s first album, “Sinners Like Me,” saw three singles climb the Billboard country charts — “How ‘Bout You,” “Two Pink Lines,” and “Guys Like Me.” Church and his wife are also philanthropists. Their organization, the Chief Cares Fund, has donated to underprivileged families in Tennessee, North Carolina, and overseas in Nepal and Haiti.

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Patsy Cline

A plane crash took the life of Patsy Cline at the young age of 30. Yet in her eight-year career, she rose to become one of country’s music’s most popular and influential vocalists. She was one of the first to cross over into pop music, with hits like “Crazy” (written by Willie Nelson) and “She’s Got You.” In 1985, Cline was the subject of a feature film, “Sweet Dreams.”

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David Allan Coe

Other country music stars may call themselves outlaws, but David Allan Coe is the real deal. According to his website biography, Coe was inspired to pursue a musical career when he met Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in prison. After being released from prison in 1970, he recorded his first album, aptly titled, “Penitentiary Blues.”

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Joe Diffie

Joe Diffie died of complications of COVID-19 in 2020 at the age of 61. But before his death, Diffie placed 35 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with five reaching No. 1 — including “If the Devil Danced (in Empty Pockets)” and “Bigger Than the Beatles.” He was also a successful songwriter, having co-wrote singles for Holly Dunn, Tim McGraw, and Jo Dee Messina.

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Lefty Frizzell

One of country music’s early stars and a contemporary of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell popularized the honky-tonk style of country music. His first hit came in 1950 with “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time).”

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Vince Gill

Vince Gill began his musical career with the country rock band Pure Prairie League in the 1970s before going solo in 1983. He’s recorded more than 20 studio albums and had more than 40 singles on the Hot Country Songs chart. In 2017, he joined the Eagles to replace the late Glenn Frey. Gill is married to fellow country star Amy Grant.

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Merle Haggard

After surviving a troubled youth that saw him incarcerated in San Quentin, Merle Haggard went on to become one of country’s music’s legendary stars. From the 1960s to the 1980s, he had 38 No. 1 hits. One of his most famous songs, “Okie From Muskogee,” was released in 1969 at the height of the anti-war movement. Haggard reportedly gave two interpretations of the song: one was that it was a satire and the other that it was meant to be taken seriously as a political statement.

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Faith Hill

Having sold more than 40 million albums worldwide, Faith Hill is firmly established as a country superstar. But she also has enjoyed crossover success with the songs, “Breathe,” and “The Way You Love Me.” She’s performed several duets with husband, country star Tim McGraw.

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Alan Jackson

Singer-songwriter Alan Jackson began his career in the mid-1980s, and quickly skyrocketed to the top of the charts with his No. 1 single, “Here in the Real World,” in 1990. In 1991, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and in 2017 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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Waylon Jennings

Waylon Jennings began performing at age 12, forming his own band, the Texas Longhorns. A founding member of the “outlaw country” movement, Waylon Jennings joined fellow stars Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and Johnny Cash to form the supergroup The Highwaymen.

His 1976 duet with Willie Nelson, “Good-Hearted Woman,” won the Country Music Association Vocal Duo of the Year award, and his collaboration the same year with Nelson, Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser on “Wanted! The Outlaws” became country music’s first Platinum album. For all his accomplishments, Jennings’s career might have been cut short: In 1958, he gave up his seat on the plane that crashed and killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

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George Jones

A true legend in country music, George Jones had 160 chart singles from 1955 to his death in 2013, including his best known song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” During his career, he battled alcoholism, but reached sobriety by 1999. He had a turbulent marriage to country singer Tammy Wynette, but both continued to perform together even after their divorce.

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Sammy Kershaw

Sammy Kershaw’s style has shifted from traditional country to country pop over his career, and it’s earned him 24 singles on the Top 40 on Billboard Hot Country Songs, including his No. 1 hit, “She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful.” Outside of music, Kershaw ran for governor of his native Louisiana in 2007 and 2010, but lost in the primaries.

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Alison Krauss

Alison Krauss began recording at age 14, and hasn’t stopped since. She’s gone on to receive 27 Grammys, making her one of the most awarded female singers of all time. But you don’t have to buy her albums to hear his mixture of country and bluegrass. Krauss performed on the soundtrack for two movies, “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” and “Cold Mountain.”

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Kris Kristofferson

Now retired, singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson is probably best-known for the songs he wrote that became hits for other vocalists, including “Me and Bobby McGee,” “For the Good Times,” and “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” (He briefly dated Janis Joplin, whose version of “Bobby McGee” is considered a classic.) With fellow country stars Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, he formed a supergroup called The Highwaymen — key in the so-called “outlaw country” movement. Kristofferson also had a successful acting career, most notably with 1976’s “A Star is Born,” which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Actor.

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Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert launched her career with an independently produced, self-titled album in 2001. But her second album, “Kerosene,” produced by a major label, featured the hit singles, “Me and Charlie Talking,” “Bring Me Down,” “Kerosene,” and “New Strings.” Those hits made her the most honored artist in Academy of Country Music Awards history. Her personal life made the headlines when she divorced fellow country star Blake Shelton in 2015.

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Loretta Lynn

Although “Coal Miner’s Daughter” Loretta Lynn stopped touring after a six-decade career in 2017, her musical influence has inspired a generation of female country artists. She ranks as the most awarded female country recording artist with 24 No. 1 singles and 11 No. 1 albums. Lynn was named the ACM Artist of the Decade for the 1970s. Her songs, “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” drew on her own troubled marriage.

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Martina McBride

Country-pop singer Martina McBride has sold more than 14 million albums, earning her some of the top honors in country music. She’s won the Country Music Association’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” award four times (tied with Reba McEntire for the third-most wins) and the Academy of Country Music’s “Top Female Vocalist” award three times.

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Reba McEntire

Like Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire has achieved fame in both music and acting. She’s sold more 75 million albums worldwide, but in the 1990s she branched into the movies, television, and Broadway. She appeared in the film “Tremors” in 1990, starred in “Annie Get Your Gun” on Broadway in 2001, and had her own television show, “Reba,” from 2001-07.

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Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw’s first big album, “Not a Moment Too Soon,” was 1994’s top country album. Winner of three Grammys, he has sold more than 80 million records around the globe, making him one of the best-selling singers of all time. Like several country music stars, Tim McGraw has crossed over into acting, with prominent roles in “The Blind Side” and “Friday Night Lights.” He is married to fellow country star Faith Hill, and the couple has three daughters. McGraw’s father was the late major league baseball star Tug McGraw.

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Roger Miller

Known more for his novelty songs, “King of the Road,” “Dang Me,” and “England Swings,” Roger Miller also wrote notable songs for other people, including “Billy Bayou” for Jim Reeves and “Invitation to the Blues” for Ray Price. Miller performed and wrote the songs for the 1973 Disney film, “Robin Hood,” and the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical “Big River, in which he also acted. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame three years after his death in 1992.

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Willie Nelson

Musician, singer, songwriter, and activist, Willie Nelson still performs at age 88. He pioneered the “outlaw” style of country music which rebelled against the strict conventions of Nashville. Earlier in his career, his songs were made famous by other artists, mostly notably “Crazy” by Patsy Cline. On his own, he achieved stardom with his standards, “On the Road Again,” “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and “To All the Girls I Love Before.” He has won 13 Grammys and countless American Music Awards and CMA Awards.

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Brad Paisley

In 1999, Brad Paisley released his first album, “Who Needs Pictures?” His career took off from there, with him garnering three Grammy awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards, and two American Music awards. Paisley has contributed several songs for the soundtrack of the successful “Cars” movie franchise.

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Dolly Parton

Singer, songwriter, and movie star, Dolly Parton can claim professional accomplishments and hit songs are too lengthy to detail here. But did you also know of her charitable work? In 2020, Dolly (she is one of the few people who can be recognized by only her first name) donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University, which helped fund the development of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

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Charlie Pride

Charlie Pride switched from baseball to country music, becoming one of the few African-American performers in the genre. He is one of three African-Americans in the Grand Ole Opry, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000. “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” is his signature song. Pride died of complications from COVID-19 in 2020.

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Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed can be remembered both as a popular country singer, songwriter, and guitarist, and as an actor as well. He appeared in a dozen films, including “Smokey and the Bandit,” and “Gator.” But Reed is just as well known for his hit songs, “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot,” and “Amos Moses.”

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Jimmie Rodgers

If country music owes its rise and popularity to one man, it’s Jimmie Rodgers (not to be confused with the pop singer of the same name who had hits in the ’50s and ’60s). Known as “the Father of Country Music” and also “the Singing Brakeman” — as he’d been a longtime railway employee — Rodgers rose to fame in the 1920s with his rhythmic yodeling. Sadly, he died at the age of 35, but his legacy lives on with the musical style he created.

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Chris Stapleton

A prolific songwriter, Chris Stapleton, has written or co-written more than 170 songs, including six number-one country songs, including Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More,” Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” George Strait’s “Love’s Gonna Make It Alright,” and Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer.” On his own, he released his highly acclaimed studio album, “Traveller,” in 2015. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200.

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George Strait

Called the “King of Country,” George Strait bucked the trend of the pop-infused country music trend of the 1980s and brought the style back to roots with what is known as neotraditional country. It apparently struck a chord with audiences because seven of his albums reached the top of the country charts in the 1980s. Strait was named CMA Entertainer of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 2013.

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Randy Travis

Known for his distinctive deep bass voice, Randy Travis recorded 20 studio albums and scored 50 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, with 16 reaching No. 1. Unfortunately, Travis suffered a stroke in 2013 that has kept him from performing.

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Travis Tritt

Blending mainstream country and Southern rock, Travis Tritt has charted five No. 1 hits on the Hot Country Songs chart — “Help Me Hold On,” “Anymore,” “Can I Trust You with My Heart,” “Foolish Pride,” and “Best of Intentions.” His acting career includes roles in “The Cowboy Way” and “Sgt. Bilko.”

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Ernest Tubb

Considered a country music pioneer, Ernest Tubbs scored his first hit, “Walking the Floor Over You” in 1941. Also known as the Texas Troubadour, Tubbs popularized the honky-tonk style of singing. His last appearance was in 1982 at the Grand Ole Opry.

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Conway Twitty

Throughout his career, Conway Twitty straddled the musical genres of country, R&B, pop, and rock ‘n’ roll, signified by his membership in both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. His duets with fellow legend Loretta Lynn earned him several Country Music Association awards in the 1970s.

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Kitty Wells

Barrier-breaker Kitty Wells was one of the first female artists to achieve success in country music. In 1952, she recorded his signature song, “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” launching her as one of the industry’s superstars. Her influence can be heard in many of today’s female country singers.

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Keith Whitley

Keith Whitley’s career was brief — died at age 34 in 1989 — and he recorded only two albums. Yet he charted 12 singles on the Billboard country charts, including “Miami, My Amy,” “I’m No Stranger to the Rain,” and “When You Say Nothing at All.”

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Don Williams

Don Williams launched his solo career in 1971, finding hits with such ballads as “I Wouldn’t Want to Live if You Didn’t Love Me” and “We Should be Together.” A 2020 inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, this deep-voiced singer had 17 No.1 country hits. Outside of his music, he worked with Burt Reynolds in the movie “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings.”

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Hank Williams

Hank Williams was only 30 years old and at the height of his popularity when he died in 1953, robbing country music of one of its legends. Among his classic hits are “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” In 2010, Williams was awarded a Pulitzer Prize posthumously for his songwriting that transformed “country music into a major cultural force in American life.”

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Hank Williams, Jr.

Although Hank Jr. has followed in his father’s footsteps, he has created his own distinctive style that combines country, blues, and rock. And like his father, he is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, having been inducted last year.

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Bob Wills

One of the founders of country swing, Bob Willis was a songwriter, singer, fiddler, and band leader who combined his love of the blues, jazz, and big band swing into his music. His “San Antonio Rose” and “Take Me Back to Tulsa” are considered country music standards.

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Lee Ann Womack

Emerging as a country star in the late 1990s, Lee Ann Womack achieved crossover success with her 2000 single, “I Hope You Dance,” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Chart and the top 15 of the Billboard Hot 100. She’s received five Academy of Country Music Awards, six Country Music Association Awards, and a Grammy Award.

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Tammy Wynette

Along with Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette gave country music a strong female point of view. From the late 1960s to the early 1970s, Wynette charted 20 No. 1 songs, including her well-known anthem, “Stand By Your Man.” She and George Jones, who later divorced, formed one of country music’s super couples along with Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.

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Dwight Yoakam

Hitting the charts in the mid-1980s, Dwight Yoakam has recorded 20 albums, sold more than 30 million records, and has had 30 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Just as impressive as his musical career, Yoakam has racked up some notable movie credits, including the abusive boyfriend in “Sling Blade” 1996, a killer in “Panic Room” in 2002, and a police detective in “The Minus Man” in 1999.

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