Country music has certainly gone through quite a transformation over recent years with so many young and talented artists bringing new flavor and even more fans to the genre.
Yet, much of its unique quality and influence can still be attributed to the artists that came before them. Here are 20 of the most popular country singers of all-time (based on album sales, honors and awards, crossover appeal, and/or influence on other artists):
20. June Carter Cash
June Carter and her future husband, Johnny Cash, reached number 2 on the U.S. Country charts with their 1967 duet of “Jackson”. Their performance won the 1968 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Performance Duet, Trio, or Group, for their 1970 duet “If I were a Carpenter”. She also won 2000 Grammy Award for Best Tradition Folk Album, for her 1999 album, Press On. The album was a Top 15 success on the Americana chart. She also won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance for the single“Keep on the Sunny Side”. However, Carter’s rise to recent popularity emerged in the 2005 biographical film of Johnny Cash (played by Joaquin Phoenix),Walk the Line. Reese Witherspoon played June Carter in this film that focused on the development of her relationship with Cash over the course of 13 years.
19. Randy Travis
Randy Travis has recorded 20 studio albums and charted more than 50 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, and 16 of these were number-one hits. Travis also has a string of platinum and multiplatinum albums.
18. Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood sold over 16 million albums and 34 million singles worldwide. Underwood rose to fame as the winner of the fourth season of American Idol in 2005. She’s had enormous crossover success of the singles “Jesus, Take the Wheel”and “Before He Cheats” became the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history, the fastest-selling debut country album in Nielson SoundScan history and the best-selling country album of the last 14 years. Underwood has also won three Grammy awards for best-selling country album.
17. Tammy Wynette
Since 1966, Tammy Wynette has recorded and released a total of 42 studio albums. She released 6 music videos. She placed 64 singles on the US country chart, 20 of which reached number one on the Billboard Country Chart. Wynette is one of the country music’s best-known artists of all time and one of the biggest-selling female singers.
16. Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw has recorded 27 albums to date. He has released 12 studio albums and 7 compilation albums for a total of 19 albums. Ten albums have reached number one on the Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay charts.He has been married to singer Faith Hill since 1996, and began singing in a neo-traditional country style. McGraw has developed a more crossover-friendly pop sound, making him one of the first male country singers of his generation to crossover to pop. He has won three Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 11 Country Music Association Awards, 10 American Music Awards, and 3 People’s Choice Awards. His Soul2Soul II Tour with wife Faith Hill is one of the highest grossing tours in country music history, and one of the Top 5 among all genres of music.
15. Alan Jackson
Alan Jackson has sold over 80 million records worldwide, with more than 50 of his singles having appeared on Billboard’s list of the “Top 30 Country Songs”. Of Jackson’s entries, 35 were #1 hits, with 50 in the Top 10.
14. Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks is estimated to have topped 220 million units in sales worldwide, including albums, singles, and home videos. His integration of rock elements into the country genre has earned him incredible popularity in the United States. Brooks has had great success on the country single and album charts, with multi-platinum recordings and record-breaking live performances, while also crossing into pop.
13. Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers has made over 65 albums and sold more than 105 million copies worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. He has topped the country and pop charts for more than 200 individual weeks in the United States. He is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
12. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn has sold over 48 million records worldwide. She is the first female country artist to have a record declared gold, according to Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Since, she has had multiple gold albums over her career of nearly 60 years. She has received numerous awards for groundbreaking role in country music, including awards from both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music as a duet partner and an individual artist. She is the most awarded female country-recording artist.
11. Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty has recorded 110 separate albums and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. he had nearly 50 number one singles on the country and rock charts. He received several awards from the Country Music Association for duets with Loretta Lynn. Twitty is also a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
10. Patsy Cline
Patsy Cline successfully crossed over to pop music and was one of the most influential, successful, and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th century. She appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and received national awards in 1961 and 1962.
She died at the age of 30 in a multiple-fatality private plane crash. “Walking After Midnight,”“I Fall to Pieces,”“Crazy,” and “Sweet Dreams” are among the country hits included in Cline’s ‘best-of,’ which was released four years after the singles 1963 death. It went on to sell 10 million copies.
9. Shania Twain
Shania Twin has sold over 100 million records, making her one of the best-selling female artists in country music history and among the best-selling artists of all time.
8. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton has made 43 solo albums, 4 live albums, 2 holiday albums, 3 Dollywood Exclusive albums, and approximately 184 compilation albums worldwide. Parton has sold more than 100 albums worldwide. In 2016, she earned her first No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart in more than 25 years, as “Pure & Simple” debuted. Parton has also appeared in several movies, including 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. It’s difficult to find a country performer who has moved from her country roots to international fame more successfully than Dolly Parton.
7. Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings began to play guitar at the age of eight and began performing on KVOW at the age of 14. Between 1966 and 1995, Jennings charted 54 albums, with 11 reaching number one. Meanwhile, of his 96-charted singles, 16 were number ones. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001 and was inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Wall in Hollywood, California in 2007. He was also awarded the Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award by the Academy of Country Music. Jennings has a major influence on many neo-traditionalists including, Hank Williams Jr., The Marshall Tucker band, Travis Tritt, and Steve Earle, Jamey Johnson, and John Anderson.
6. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard has released over 63 albums. During his long career, Haggard received numerous awards from the Academy of Country Music, Country Music Association, and National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He was inducted into Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977, the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994, and Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame in 1997. In received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, and was honored as BMI Icon at the 54th BMI Pop Awards that same year. Haggard has earned 48 BMI Country Awards and 9 BMI Pop Awards. Haggard also accepted a Kennedy Center Honor in 2010, from the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts in recognition of his lifetime achievement and “outstanding contribution to American culture.”
5. Hank Williams
Hank Williams is recorded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century. Williams recorded 35 singles that reached the Top 10 Billboard Country and Western Best Sellers chart, including 11 that ranked number one. He was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, inducted into the Music Hall of Fame in 1961, and into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985. Hank is widely recognized as “The King of Country Music,” a title he shares with fellow artists Roy Acuff and George Strait.
4. George Jones
George Jones achieved international fame for his long list of hit records, including his best-known“He Stopped Loving Her Today,” as well as his distinctive voice. He was often referred to as “The Greatest Living Country Singer.” Jones’ album sales increased 1,000% following his death in 2013.
3. George Strait
George Strait has sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. His certifications from RIAA include 13 multi-platinum, and 38 gold albums. Like Hank Williams, he is also known as “The King of Country,” and he is considered to be one of the most influential and popular recording artists of all time.
2. Willie Nelson
Willie Nelson is one of the most recognized artists in country music. His albums have been successful in many countries, especially in New Zealand, Australia, and other European countries. He has sold over 40 million albums in the U.S. alone. Nelson is one of the main figures of outlaw country, a subgenre of country music that developed in the late 1960’s. He has acted in over 30 films, co-authored several books, and has been involved in activism for legalization of marijuana.
1. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s career spanned from 1954 to 2003. He released 96 albums and 153 singles on several record labels, selling nearly 100 million records worldwide. Cash is widely considered one of the most influential popular musicians of the 20th century and he is one of the best-selling music artists of all time. While he is remembered as a country music icon, his crossover songs and sounds embraced rock, blues, folk, and gospel. His crossover appeal won him the rare honor of multiple inductions into the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.