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!
Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the most important record producer to emerge in the 80s”, Lanois is one of Canada’s distinguished producers-composers and has worked with the likes of Brian Eno (Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks), Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmyous Harris and is the man behind U2’s Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire. In his famous studio in Hamilton, Ontario, he produced records for Canadian artists such as Martha and the Muffins and Ian and Sylvia. As a solo artist, the multi-instrumentalist and singer released a string of albums that featured his wonderfully atmospheric textures and poetic songwriting.
Often compared to fellow Canadians, The Band, Blue Rodeo are a Canadian country-rock institution. Since forming in 1984, the Toronto-based quintet were a huge hit in Canada in the 90s thanks to their dynamic mix of American pop, country and blues and two-part harmonies reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. With a solid roots-rock sound and two-part harmonies, their 1990 album, Casino, did achieve some stateside success due in part to their hit single, ‘Til I Am Myself Again’. Since then, they’ve become one of Canada’s renowned legacy acts that tour worldwide.
The influence and innovations of Canadian hip hop came to the foreground in Canada when Music videos became an important marketing tool for Canadian musicians, with the debut of MuchMusic in 1984 and MusiquePlus in 1986. Now both English and French Canadian musicians had outlets to promote all forms of music through video in Canada.[100][101] The networks were not just an opportunity for artists to get their videos played—the networks created VideoFACT, a fund to help emerging artists produce their videos.[102]

Alternative country drew on traditional American country music, the music of working people, preserved and celebrated by practitioners such as Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and The Carter Family, often cited as major influences.[8] Another major influence was country rock, the result of fusing country music with a rock & roll sound. The artist most commonly thought to have originated country rock is Gram Parsons (who referred to his sound as "Cosmic American Music"), although Michael Nesmith, Steve Earle[9] and Gene Clark are frequently identified as important innovators.[10] The third factor was punk rock, which supplied an energy and DIY attitude.[9]


The turn of the millennium was a time of incredible nationalism, at least as far as Canadian radio is concerned.[110] The 1971 CRTC rules (30% Canadian content on Canadian radio)[60] finally come into full effect and by the end of the 20th century radio stations would have to play 35% Canadian content.[111] This led to an explosion in the 21st century of Canadian pop musicians dominating the airwaves unlike any era before.[112] In 1996, VideoFACT launched PromoFACT, a funding program to help new artists produce electronic press kits and websites.[113] At about the same time, the CD (cheap to manufacture) replaced the vinyl album and Compact Cassette (expensive to manufacture).[114] Shortly thereafter, the Internet allowed musicians to directly distribute their music, thus bypassing the selection of the old-fashioned "record label".[7][115] Canada's mainstream music industry has suffered as a result of the internet and the boom of independent music. The drop in annual sales between 1999 - the year that Napster's unauthorized peer-to-peer file sharing service launched[116] - and the end of 2004 was $465 million.[117]
Country HQ showcases new talent on the rise in the country music scene down under. CMC (the Country Music Channel), a 24‑hour music channel dedicated to non-stop country music, can be viewed on pay TV and features once a year the Golden Guitar Awards, CMAs and CCMAs alongside international shows such as The Wilkinsons, The Road Hammers, and Country Music Across America.
Singer/songwriter Bill Mallonee changed lineups to his Athens, Ga., outfit like some frontmen change hairstyles, and with the personnel moves came a variety of styles from alt-folk to indie rock and even Americanized Brit-pop. But one of the band’s best album’s was a straight-up alt-country gem. Audible Sigh benefitted from Kenny Hutson’s versatility on mandolin, guitar, pedal steel and dobro, production from Buddy Miller and backing vocals from Emmylou Harris on standout track “Resplendent.” It’s Mallonee’s vivid songwriting that elevates the album to “overlooked classic” status, though. Audible Sigh trades in Dustbowl imagery more than most of his catalog, but he can’t stay completely away from the personal demons he’s spent a career turning into confessional songs, like on “She Walks on Roses”: “They say that pride, well it’s the chief of sins/Well I know all of his deputies, I’m well acquainted with them.” Song titles like “Hard Luck and Heart Attack” and “Black Cloud O’er Me” fit well on the twangiest album of his impressive catalog.—Josh Jackson
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 first commercial recordings of what was considered instrumental music in the traditional country style were "Arkansas Traveler" and "Turkey in the Straw" by fiddlers Henry Gilliland & A.C. (Eck) Robertson on June 30, 1922, for Victor Records and released in April 1923.[23][24] Columbia Records began issuing records with "hillbilly" music (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") as early as 1924.[18]
If there has ever been a manual on how to build a career, Kenny Chesney would be its case study. He started slow -- earning his first top 10 hit in 1995 -- but by the early part of the next decade, Chesney was in the fast lane. He hasn't pulled over since. His records run the gamut from tropical-based hits as "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems" to thought-provoking slices of life as "When I Close My Eyes" or "Don't Blink." Whether it's on record or his stage show, nobody works harder than Kenny Chesney.

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
Beginning in the mid-1950s, and reaching its peak during the early 1960s, the Nashville sound turned country music into a multimillion-dollar industry centered in Nashville, Tennessee. Under the direction of producers such as Chet Atkins, Bill Porter, Paul Cohen, Owen Bradley, Bob Ferguson, and later Billy Sherrill, the sound brought country music to a diverse audience and helped revive country as it emerged from a commercially fallow period. This subgenre was notable for borrowing from 1950s pop stylings: a prominent and smooth vocal, backed by a string section (violins and other orchestral strings) and vocal chorus. Instrumental soloing was de-emphasized in favor of trademark "licks". Leading artists in this genre included Jim Reeves, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, The Browns,[59] Patsy Cline, and Eddy Arnold. The "slip note" piano style of session musician Floyd Cramer was an important component of this style.[60] The Nashville Sound collapsed in mainstream popularity in 1964, a victim of both the British Invasion and the deaths of Reeves and Cline in separate airplane crashes. By the mid-1960s, the genre had developed into countrypolitan. Countrypolitan was aimed straight at mainstream markets, and it sold well throughout the later 1960s into the early 1970s. Top artists included Tammy Wynette, Lynn Anderson and Charlie Rich, as well as such former "hard country" artists as Ray Price and Marty Robbins. Despite the appeal of the Nashville sound, many traditional country artists emerged during this period and dominated the genre: Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Porter Wagoner, George Jones, and Sonny James among them.
All controversy aside, the trio of Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, and Emily Robison managed to create a musical sound that appealed to a mixture of traditional minded fans, as well as newcomers to the format. In a time period where many artists were starting to sound alike, the Dixie Chicks managed to stay true to their Texas sound –- giving the country format some of its’ most outstanding music of the period.

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!

Just as Loretta Lynn sang about female empowerment in the 1960s, so did Tammy Wynette. The one-time hairdresser turned her marital strife into musical gold via such classics as “Apartment # 9,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and “Stand By Your Man” –- and that was before she married George Jones. No other female singer sang about heartbreak with as much conviction and power -- influencing generations to come in the process.
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.

During the 1930s a number of “singing cowboy” film stars, of whom Gene Autry was the best known, took country music and with suitably altered lyrics made it into a synthetic and adventitious “western” music. A second and more substantive variant of country music arose in the 1930s in the Texas-Oklahoma region, where the music of rural whites was exposed to the swing jazz of black orchestras. In response, a Western swing style evolved in the hands of Bob Wills and others and came to feature steel and amplified guitars and a strong dance rhythm. An even more important variant was honky-tonk, a country style that emerged in the 1940s with such figures as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. Honky-tonk’s fiddle–steel-guitar combination and its bitter, maudlin lyrics about rural whites adrift in the big city were widely adopted by other country musicians.

Formed in 2001, when Win Butler, Josh Deu and Régine Chassagne met while at university in Montreal, Arcade Fire went from being local favourites to the toast of the music press in the space of only three albums. Blending baroque pop with harder indie rock sounds, the Canadian outfit gained international fandom with new-classic hits, ‘No Cars Go’ and ‘Wake Up’ and now headline festivals around the world.
One of the most commercially successful country artists of the late 2000s and early 2010s has been singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. Swift first became widely known in 2006 when her debut single, "Tim McGraw," was released when Swift was only 16. In 2006, Taylor released her first studio album, Taylor Swift, which spent 275 weeks on Billboard 200, one of the longest runs of any album on that chart. In 2008, Taylor Swift released her second studio album, Fearless, which made her the second-longest Number One charted on Billboard 200 and the second best-selling album (just behind Adele's 21) within the past 5 years. At the 2010 Grammys, Taylor Swift was 20 and won Album of the Year for Fearless, which made her the youngest artist to win this award. Swift has received ten Grammys already. Buoyed by her teen idol status among girls and a change in the methodology of compiling the Billboard charts to favor pop-crossover songs, Swift's 2012 single "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" spent the most weeks at the top of Billboard's Hot Country Songs chart of any song in nearly five decades. The song's long run at the top of the chart was somewhat controversial, as the song is largely a pop song without much country influence and its success on the charts driven by a change to the chart's criteria to include airplay on non-country radio stations, prompting disputes over what constitutes a country song; many of Swift's later releases, such as "Shake It Off," were released solely to pop audiences.[101][102][103]
In 2005, country singer Carrie Underwood rose to fame as the winner of the fourth season of American Idol and has since become one of the most prominent recording artists of 2006 through 2016, with worldwide sales of more than 65 million records and seven Grammy Awards.[99] With her first single, "Inside Your Heaven", Underwood became the only solo country artist to have a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the 2000–2009 decade and also broke Billboard chart history as the first country music artist ever to debut at No. 1 on the Hot 100. Underwood's debut album, Some Hearts, became the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history, the fastest-selling debut country album in the history of the SoundScan era and the best-selling country album of the last 10 years, being ranked by Billboard as the #1 Country Album of the 2000–2009 decade. She has also become the female country artist with the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991–present), having 14 No. 1s and breaking her own Guinness Book record of ten. In 2007, Underwood won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist, becoming only the second Country artist in history (and the first in a decade) to win it. She also made history by becoming the seventh woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, and the first woman in history to win the award twice, as well as twice consecutively. Time has listed Underwood as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2016, Underwood topped the Country Airplay chart for the 15th time, becoming the female artist with most number ones on that chart.
Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family are widely considered to be important early country musicians. Their songs were first captured at a historic recording session in Bristol, Tennessee, on August 1, 1927, where Ralph Peer was the talent scout and sound recordist.[33][34] A scene in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? depicts a similar occurrence in the same timeframe. Rodgers fused hillbilly country, gospel, jazz, blues, pop, cowboy, and folk, and many of his best songs were his compositions, including "Blue Yodel",[35] which sold over a million records and established Rodgers as the premier singer of early country music.[36][37] Beginning in 1927, and for the next 17 years, the Carters recorded some 300 old-time ballads, traditional tunes, country songs and gospel hymns, all representative of America's southeastern folklore and heritage.[38]
For decades, CBC’s TV, radio, and online programming, along with other initiatives such as the CBCMusic.ca Festival and Searchlight competition, have provided a platform for Canadian artists to reach a larger audience. It’s often the first, and sometimes only, outlet that will play their music and conduct interviews for a national audience. It’s a vital part of the music ecosystem in this country.
In 2010, the group Lady Antebellum won five Grammys, including the coveted Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "Need You Now".[100] A large number of duos and vocal groups emerged on the charts in the 2010s, many of which feature close harmony in the lead vocals. In addition to Lady Antebellum, groups such as Herrick, The Quebe Sisters Band, Little Big Town, The Band Perry, Gloriana, Thompson Square, Eli Young Band, Zac Brown Band and British duo The Shires have emerged to occupy a large portion of the new country artists in the popular scene along with solo singers Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert.
Hailed by Rolling Stone as “the most important record producer to emerge in the 80s”, Lanois is one of Canada’s distinguished producers-composers and has worked with the likes of Brian Eno (Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks), Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Emmyous Harris and is the man behind U2’s Joshua Tree and The Unforgettable Fire. In his famous studio in Hamilton, Ontario, he produced records for Canadian artists such as Martha and the Muffins and Ian and Sylvia. As a solo artist, the multi-instrumentalist and singer released a string of albums that featured his wonderfully atmospheric textures and poetic songwriting.

In Ireland, TG4 began a quest for Ireland's next country star called Glór Tíre, translated as "Country Voice". It is now in its sixth season and is one of TG4's most watched TV shows. Over the past ten years country and gospel recording artist James Kilbane has reached multi-platinum success with his mix of Christian and traditional country influenced albums. James Kilbane like many other Irish artists are today working closer with Nashville. A recent success in the Irish arena has been Crystal Swing. In Sweden, Rednex rose to stardom combining country music with electro-pop in the 1990s. In 1994, the group had a worldwide hit with their version of the traditional Southern tune "Cotton-Eyed Joe". Artists popularizing more traditional country music in Sweden have been Ann-Louise Hanson, Hasse Andersson, Kikki Danielsson, Elisabeth Andreassen and Jill Johnson. In Poland an international country music festival, known as Piknik Country, has been organized in Mrągowo in Masuria since 1983. There are more and more country music artists in France. Some of the most important are Liane Edwards, Annabel [fr], Rockie Mountains, Tahiana, and Lili West. French rock and roll superstar Eddy Mitchell is also very inspired by Americana and country music. In the Netherlands there are many artists producing popular country and americana music, which is mostly in the English language, as well as Dutch country and country-like music in Dutch language. The latter is mainly popular on the countrysides in the northern and eastern parts of the Netherlands and is less associated with his American brother, although it sounds sometimes very similar. Well known popular artists mainly performing in English are Waylon, Danny Vera, Ilse DeLange and the band Savannah. The most popular artist in Dutch is Henk Wijngaard.
The alt-country movement had plenty of pre-cursors in the folk-rock of Gram Parsons and the renegade country of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. But 1985 was really a watershed moment for the genre with Green on Red, Jason & The Scorchers and Mekons all exploring traditional country through the lens of punk rock. The ’90s kicked off with the first album from Uncle Tupelo, No Depression, which became synonymous with “alt-country” thanks to the magazine of the same name.

On the surface, the definition of country rock should be relatively simple. When people think of country rock music and country rock songs, they imagine country singers making the dreaded switch to play rock music. However, many of the best country bands made the switch from rock to play country-infused rock songs, thus the name of country rock. Bands would record using a pedal steel, sing about themes commonly associated with country and by the beginning of the 1970s, country rock became a genre that became popular in the mainstream.
Though some younger fans might not truly appreciate just what Eddy Arnold brought to the format, his down-home personality along with his slightly more sophisticated tone made him one of the format’s most bankable crossover stars. With a reign on the country top 40 that lasted for close to four decades, Arnold managed to keep a career going from the days of 78 RPM to the digital age.
Restoring funding for the CBC and allowing it to continue being an incubator of Canadian music is not a controversial policy. A 2014 Nanos Research poll showed that a very large majority of Canadians, 87 per cent, oppose funding cuts to the CBC. Then-candidate Justin Trudeau took note of this and made a promise to reverse funding cuts and even add additional funding for the public broadcaster.  
Sometimes it takes a bunch of Canadians to write some of the most quintessential American songs in music history. While the band is 80 per cent Canadian (with one Arkansan in drummer Levon Helm), they remain one of the most influential acts in 60s rock and their concert film, The Last Waltz, stands as one of the greatest moments in rock history. With their 1968 debut, Music From Big Pink, the Canadian troubadours (Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel) gave definition to the genre of ‘Americana’ with their blues-meets-country-infused R&B. Even the most casual music fan knows the chorus to ‘The Weight’ and their song, ‘The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down’ is one of the best rock songs ever put to tape about the Civil War.
These Brits played weirdo punk rock for years before releasing this weirdo record whose country influences are subtle to say the least. The dystopian feel of Fear and Whiskey is definitely more “alt” than “country,” but songs like “Abernant 1984/5” and the aptly titled “Country” are boozy strolls across wind-swept plains on far way planets. Guitarist Jon Langford’s love of country music continued to grow, and he went on to form The Waco Brothers and also appeared on alt-country stalwarts Old 97’s classic Wreck Your Life album.—Mark Lore
The Great Migration of Canada from 1815 to 1850, consisting largely of Irish, British and Scottish immigrants, broadened considerably the Canadian musical culture.[38] 1844, Samuel Nordheimer (1824–1912) opened a music store in Toronto selling pianos and soon thereafter began to publish engraved sheet music.[1] Samuel Nordheimers store was among the first and the largest specialized music publisher in the Province of Canada.[39] 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.[40]
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.[52] Leading practitioners of this style were Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Tommy Collins, Gary Allan, and Wynn Stewart, each of whom had his own style.[63][64]
In 1980, a style of "neocountry disco music" was popularized by the film Urban Cowboy,[78] which also included more traditional songs such as "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" by the Charlie Daniels Band.[79] It was during this time that a glut of pop-country crossover artists began appearing on the country charts: former pop stars Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers), "England Dan" Seals (of England Dan and John Ford Coley), Tom Jones, and Merrill Osmond (both alone and with some of his brothers; his younger sister Marie Osmond was already an established country star) all recorded significant country hits in the early 1980s. Sales in record stores rocketed to $250 million in 1981; by 1984, 900 radio stations began programming country or neocountry pop full-time. As with most sudden trends, however, by 1984 sales had dropped below 1979 figures.[78]
The first generation emerged in the early 1920s, with Atlanta's music scene playing a major role in launching country's earliest recording artists. New York City record label Okeh Records began issuing hillbilly music records by Fiddlin' John Carson as early as 1923, followed by Columbia Records (series 15000D "Old Familiar Tunes") (Samantha Bumgarner) in 1924, and RCA Victor Records in 1927 with the first famous pioneers of the genre Jimmie Rodgers and the first family of country music The Carter Family.[18] Many "hillbilly" musicians, such as Cliff Carlisle, recorded blues songs throughout the 1920s.[19]
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