Though she hit first with “Walkin’ After Midnight” in 1957, Cline’s true influence as an artist stems from only a three-year recording career (1960-1963). However, what she did with that time period continues to inspire countless artists around the world. Take a walk to Nashville’s lower Broadway on any given night, and you will likely hear a rising female singer doing “Crazy” -– something that will likely be the case for another 50 years or so.
In the 1990s, country music became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to Garth Brooks, who enjoyed one of the most successful careers in popular music history, breaking records for both sales and concert attendance throughout the decade. The RIAA has certified his recordings at a combined (128× platinum), denoting roughly 113 million U.S. shipments. Other artists that experienced success during this time included Clint Black, Sammy Kershaw, Aaron Tippin, Travis Tritt, Alan Jackson and the newly formed duo of Brooks & Dunn; George Strait, whose career began in the 1980s, also continued to have widespread success in this decade and beyond. Toby Keith began his career as a more pop-oriented country singer in the 1990s, evolving into an outlaw persona in the late 1990s with Pull My Chain and its follow-up, Unleashed.
It was only a short, exhaustively well-rehearsed and well-recorded step away to the Eagles and Ronstadt (and Asylum Records). Their careers proved central to those of surrounding singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne, Karla Bonoff, and Warren Zevon, whose simultaneous countryesque confessions creatively fed both the band and the singer. For Ronstadt, country rock progressively gave way to a wide variety of other styles, always approached from the point of view of her American sources, always mounted with the painstaking studio finesse exemplified by producer Peter Asher. For the Eagles, working first with the English producer Glyn Johns and later with Bill Szymczyk, the style became so full-blown that the band’s multimillion-selling album Hotel California (1976) both dramatized the Los Angeles milieu that underpinned the country-Hollywood connection and reflected the growing significance of the symbolism of country rock. Surrounding these careers were a number of other key figures. In addition to founding the influential Flying Burrito Brothers, Parsons introduced former folksinger Emmylou Harris to the music of George Jones, spawning her pursuit of a vernacular vocal art of operatic seriousness and intensity. Neil Young, formerly of Buffalo Springfield, began the traditionalist part of a gnarled, varied body of music that grew into a stylistic cosmos of genius unto itself. Like the Dillards, who came to country rock from a bluegrass background, all three chose not to work as commercially as the Eagles, Ronstadt, or Poco, whose driving force, Richie Furay, was another former member of Buffalo Springfield. Instead they preferred to have their music felt over time in ways less direct and less oriented to mass culture.
Country music has been growing as an art from since Eck Robertson’s recording of “Arkansas Traveler” in 1922. From the days of 78 RPM vinyl to digital downloads, fans continue to flock to the format. So who are the 25 greatest country artists of all time? That list might very well be subject to conjecture as the definition of country, but here are the acts that have made an immeasurable mark on the genre. In compiling this list, we took into consideration sales, airplay, and influence upon the genre -- and outside of it. Let the debates commence!
Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas. Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history.
Carrie Underwood was one of several country stars produced by a television series in the 2000s. In addition to Underwood, American Idol launched the careers of Kellie Pickler, Josh Gracin, Bucky Covington, Kristy Lee Cook, Danny Gokey, Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery (as well as that of occasional country singer Kelly Clarkson) in the decade, and would continue to launch country careers in the 2010s. The series Nashville Star, while not nearly as successful as Idol, did manage to bring Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Chris Young to mainstream success, also launching the careers of lower-profile musicians such as Buddy Jewell, Sean Patrick McGraw, and Canadian musician George Canyon. Can You Duet? produced the duos Steel Magnolia and Joey + Rory. Teen sitcoms also have influenced modern country music; in 2008, actress Jennette McCurdy (best known as the sidekick Sam on the teen sitcom iCarly) released her first single, "So Close", following that with the single "Generation Love" in 2011. Another teen sitcom star, Miley Cyrus (of Hannah Montana), also had a crossover hit in the late 2000s with "The Climb" and another with a duet with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, with "Ready, Set, Don't Go." Jana Kramer, an actress in the teen drama One Tree Hill, released a country album in 2012 that has produced two hit singles as of 2013. Actresses Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton began recording country songs as part of their roles in the TV series Nashville.
Country music was aided by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Docket 80–90, which led to a significant expansion of FM radio in the 1980s by adding numerous higher-fidelity FM signals to rural and suburban areas. At this point, country music was mainly heard on rural AM radio stations; the expansion of FM was particularly helpful to country music, which migrated to FM from the AM band as AM became overcome by talk radio (the country music stations that stayed on AM developed the classic country format for the AM audience). At the same time, beautiful music stations already in rural areas began abandoning the format (leading to its effective demise) to adopt country music as well. This wider availability of country music led to producers seeking to polish their product for a wider audience. In 1990, Billboard, which had published a country music chart since the 1940s, changed the methodology it used to compile the chart: singles sales were removed from the methodology, and only airplay on country radio determined a song's place on the chart.
Country pop or soft pop, with roots in the countrypolitan sound, folk music, and soft rock, is a subgenre that first emerged in the 1970s. Although the term first referred to country music songs and artists that crossed over to top 40 radio, country pop acts are now more likely to cross over to adult contemporary music. It started with pop music singers like Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry, John Denver, Olivia Newton-John, Anne Murray, B. J. Thomas, The Bellamy Brothers, and Linda Ronstadt having hits on the country charts. Between 1972 and 1975, singer/guitarist John Denver released a series of hugely successful songs blending country and folk-rock musical styles ("Rocky Mountain High", "Sunshine on My Shoulders", "Annie's Song", "Thank God I'm a Country Boy", and "I'm Sorry"), and was named Country Music Entertainer of the Year in 1975. The year before, Olivia Newton-John, an Australian pop singer, won the "Best Female Country Vocal Performance" as well as the Country Music Association's most coveted award for females, "Female Vocalist of the Year". In response George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Jean Shepard and other traditional Nashville country artists dissatisfied with the new trend formed the short-lived "Association of Country Entertainers" in 1974; the ACE soon unraveled in the wake of Jones and Wynette's bitter divorce and Shepard's realization that most others in the industry lacked her passion for the movement.
Many traditional country artists are present in eastern and western Canada. They make common use of fiddle and pedal steel guitar styles. Some notable Canadian country artists include Shania Twain, Anne Murray, k.d. lang, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie, George Canyon, Blue Rodeo, Tommy Hunter, Rita MacNeil, Stompin' Tom Connors, Stan Rogers, Ronnie Prophet, Carroll Baker, The Rankin Family, Ian Tyson, Johnny Reid, Paul Brandt, Jason McCoy, George Fox, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Hank Snow, Don Messer, Wilf Carter, Michelle Wright, Terri Clark, Prairie Oyster, Family Brown, Johnny Mooring, Marg Osburne, Lindsay Ell, Doc Walker, Emerson Drive, The Wilkinsons, Corb Lund and the Hurtin' Albertans, Crystal Shawanda, Dean Brody, Shane Yellowbird, Gord Bamford, Chad Brownlee, The Road Hammers, Rowdy Spurs, Colter Wall and The Higgins.
The sixth generation (2000s–present) has seen a certain amount of diversification in regard to country music styles. The influence of rock music in country has become more overt during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Most of the best-selling country songs of this era were in the country pop genre, such as those by Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line, Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift. Hip-hop also made its mark on country music with the emergence of country rap.
Funding for Country Music was provided by Bank of America, the Annenberg Foundation, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Belmont University, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Rosalind P. Walter and by members of ‘The Better Angels Society,’ including: The Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Schwartz/Reisman Foundation, the Pfeil Foundation, Diane and Hal Brierley, John and Catherine Debs, the Fullerton Family Charitable Fund, the Perry and Donna Golkin Family Foundation, Jay Alix and Una Jackman, Mercedes T. Bass, Fred and Donna Seigel, Gilchrist and Amy Berg, James R. Berdell Foundation, David Bonderman, Deborah P. and Jonathan T. Dawson, Senator Bill and Tracy Frist, Susan and David Kreisman, Rocco and Debby Landesman, Lillian Lovelace, John and Leslie McQuown, Mindy's Hope Foundation, the Segal Family Foundation, Michelle Smith. Major funding was provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.
Another subgenre of country music grew out of hardcore honky tonk with elements of Western swing and originated 112 miles (180 km) north-northwest of Los Angeles in Bakersfield, California, where many "Okies" and other Dust Bowl migrants had settled. Influenced by one-time West Coast residents Bob Wills and Lefty Frizzell, by 1966 it was known as the Bakersfield sound. It relied on electric instruments and amplification, in particular the Telecaster electric guitar, more than other subgenres of the country music of the era, and it can be described as having a sharp, hard, driving, no-frills, edgy flavor—hard guitars and honky-tonk harmonies. Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.
A self-described “torch and twang singer”, k.d. lang was never going to be a traditional country star. With her androgynous looks and tear-in-the-throat vocals that could make a man cry, this Canadian singer-songwriter from Edmonton, Alberta was propelled to fame in the 90s with her breakout album, Ingénue. Since starting out in a Patsy Cline tribute band, Lang was a true country kid with hits like ‘Crying’ and ‘I’m Down to My Last Cigarette’ before finding crossover success with the pop single, ‘Constant Craving’. She also has collaborated with the likes of Roy Orbison, Tony Bennett and even Cline’s former producer, Owen Bradley on 1989’s Shadowland.
Described by AllMusic as the "father of country-rock", Gram Parsons' work in the early 1970s was acclaimed for its purity and for his appreciation for aspects of traditional country music. Though his career was cut tragically short by his 1973 death, his legacy was carried on by his protégé and duet partner Emmylou Harris; Harris would release her debut solo in 1975, an amalgamation of country, rock and roll, folk, blues and pop. Subsequent to the initial blending of the two polar opposite genres, other offspring soon resulted, including Southern rock, heartland rock and in more recent years, alternative country. In the decades that followed, artists such as Juice Newton, Alabama, Hank Williams, Jr. (and, to an even greater extent, Hank Williams III), Gary Allan, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn, Faith Hill, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash and Linda Ronstadt moved country further towards rock influence.
More convincingly than anyone in the last decade, Welch and her partner David Rawlings dipped their ladle into the pot of old-timey American music. On the reflective Time (the Revelator), as their striking vocals wrap tautly around each other, a hushed epic unfolds. The spirited “Red Clay Halo”—a gorgeously simple rumination on poverty, sin and redemption—captures the essence of the duo’s timeless songs: “And it’s under my nails and it’s under my collar / And it shows on my Sunday clothes / Though I do my best with the soap and the water / but the damned old dirt won’t go.” Welch and Rawlings can’t seem to get the dirt out of their music, either. And thank goodness for that.—Kate Kiefer
RCA released his first single in 1965 without the obligatory publicity photo -– unheard of for a new artist. But, Pride was unheard of -- an African-American man singing country music. However, it wasn’t before long that Pride quickly became one of the biggest stars in the format. He won the 1971 Entertainer of the Year award from the CMA, and his sales eclipsed everyone else on the RCA label for a time in the 1970s -– even Elvis Presley.
The idea of a band in country music had never really succeeded on a commercial level -- until Alabama kicked in the door in 1980. RCA rolled the dice on them, and it was an investment that paid off quite well –- over 30 No. 1 singles, 75 million in album sales, and the only band (so far) to win the CMA Entertainer of the Year award three times. To further underscore their success story, all of their singles for RCA in the 1980s -– save 1987’s “Tar Top” -- found their way to the pinnacle of the charts.
The appropriately titled Identity Crisis is by far the most eclectic record Lynne’s ever made. It moves from the jazzy pop of opener “Telephone” straight into the boogie-woogie gospel of “10 Rocks.” There’s also the noisy scrawl of “Gotta Be Better,” the electric blues of “Evil Man” and the shimmering acoustic pop of “One With the Sun.” Lynn also taps into her country roots with the folky “Baby” and the Owen Bradley-esque Nashvegas sound of “Lonesome”—a remarkable song featuring the slip-note piano of Little Feat’s Billy Payne.—Stuart Munro
The Great Migration of Canada from 1815 to 1850, consisting largely of Irish, British and Scottish immigrants, broadened considerably the Canadian musical culture. 1844, Samuel Nordheimer (1824–1912) opened a music store in Toronto selling pianos and soon thereafter began to publish engraved sheet music. Samuel Nordheimers store was among the first and the largest specialized music publisher in the Province of Canada. They initially had the sole right to publish copies of Alexander Muir's "The Maple Leaf Forever" that for many years served as an unofficial Canadian national anthem.