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.
By the end of the 1970s, punk and new wave pushed country rock out of the pop charts and the media limelight. The 1980s saw a resurgence of the genre, more geared to rockabilly force than folk and country balladry. Christened “roots rock,” it yielded underground champions like Nashville’s Jason and the Scorchers, ultimately manifesting itself in the mainstream work of Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and others. Also by the end of that decade, country music in Nashville had begun to adapt some of the riskier guitar tones and rhythms for its less traditional artists. Elsewhere a new wave of young country rockers, notably Son Volt and Wilco, lumped together under the banner “alternative country” in the 1990s, tried to resurrect the less glitzy side of the movement. But country rock in the most popular sense became a period style, left to evoke the 1970s, a time when artists dressed up deep aesthetic and personal concerns in music that only sounded soft.
More important than recordings for the growth of country music was broadcast radio. Small radio stations appeared in the larger Southern and Midwestern cities in the 1920s, and many devoted part of their airtime to live or recorded music suited to white rural audiences. Two regular programs of great influence were the “National Barn Dance” from Chicago, begun in 1924, and the “Grand Ole Opry” from Nashville, begun in 1925. The immediate popularity of such programs encouraged more recordings and the appearance of talented musicians from the hills at radio and record studios. Among these were the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, whose performances strongly influenced later musicians. These early recordings were of ballads and country dance tunes and featured the fiddle and guitar as lead instruments over a rhythmic foundation of guitar or banjo. Other instruments occasionally used included Appalachian dulcimer, harmonica, and mandolin; vocals were done either by a single voice or in high close harmony.
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]

Edward Balthasar Moogk (1975). Roll Back the Years: History of Canadian Recorded Sound and Its Legacy, Genesis to 1930. National Library of Canada. N.B.: In part, also, a bio-discography; the hardback ed. comes with a "phonodisc of historical Canadian recordings" (33 1/3 r.p.m., mono., 17 cm.) which the 1980 pbk. reprint lacks. ISBN 0-660-01382-7 (pbk.)
Alt-country is such a hard genre to define that the wonderful music magazine devoted to it proclaimed itself the “alternative-country (whatever that is) bi-monthly.” For our best alt-country albums list, we’ve chosen to focus on albums with significant country elements operating outside of the mainstream country music industry. So country stars we love like Kacey Musgraves and Chris Stapleton didn’t make the cut. Neither did folky Americana acts like Josh Ritter, The Civil Wars or First Aid Kit, though we’re huge fans of all three.

The Kentucky band’s sprawling major-label debut did nothing to alter the independent spirit of singer-songwriter Jim James and his cohorts. The country-rock base retained elements of Memphis soul, classic ’70s rock and neo-psychedelic sounds, all drenched in salubrious washes of reverb. Besides, nothing says complete artistic freedom like 12 songs that average six minutes in length, many of which were recorded in a grain silo to give the reverb more reverb. Styles mix wantonly, songs meander but never go quite where you expect them to. What begins as an acoustic-driven folk song (“Magheeta”) morphs into a hard-rocking power ballad; a funkified homage to R&B clubs (“Dance Floors”) becomes an Exile on Main Street-era block party, powered by a propulsive horn section straight out of “Tumbling Dice”; and the minor-key melancholia of Neil Young’s Crazy Horse epics (think “Cortez the Killer”) forms the backbone of “Run Through” until it mutates at the chorus into the early ’80s Manchester sound reminiscent of New Order. Is it alt-country? That’s as good a descriptor as anything else.—John Schact
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.
In the 2010s, the alt-country genre saw an increase in its critical and commercial popularity, owing to the success of artists such as The Civil Wars, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Lydia Loveless and Margo Price. In 2019, Kacey Musgraves - a country artist who had gained a following with indie rock fans and music critics despite minimal airplay on country radio - won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year for her album Golden Hour.[98]
Breaking through in the traditional era of the 1960s, Lynn was anything but conventional. She wrote and performed songs that were very much different from the other women of the time. Hits like “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin” and “The Pill” spoke to a generation that was going through the same exact thing. Her success with a more feisty approach led to her becoming the first female winner of the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year award -– as well as the cover of Newsweek -- and her influence can still be heard today from such artists as Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves.
In the 1990s, country music became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to Garth Brooks,[86][87][88] 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.[89] 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.
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.
From the opening song, which finds Steve doing his best Dylan impersonation in calling for the spirits of Woody Guthrie and Jesus to return and scour the land free of crooked politicians, to the last song, “Fort Worth Blues,” which finds Steve spinning a heartbreaking tale of wanderlust and an unnameable malaise, El Corazon shot like a bullet to my heart. Earle slides effortlessly between folk, Neil Young-like guitar anthems, country weepers, bluegrass workouts and bone-crunching rock ‘n’ roll. And throughout he writes brilliantly, offering up story songs with remarkable economy, using not a single wasted word.—Andy Whitman

Some might recognize Owens better for his 17-year run as the host of Hee Haw. While his run in Kornfield Kounty did make him a household name, Owens was a musical maverick in the 1960s. His Bakersfield style -- a mixture of pure honky-tonk and California rock-and-roll attitude -- served in stark contrast to the more smooth sounds coming out of Nashville at the time. He influenced not just country artists, but also John Fogerty, Ray Charles -– who recorded eight of his classics -- and The Beatles, who requested that Capitol send them each an Owens album upon its release.


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 first American country music video cable channel was The Nashville Network, launched in the early 1980s as a channel devoted to southern culture. In 2000, after it and CMT fell under the same corporate ownership, the channel was stripped of its country format and rebranded as The National Network, then Spike, and finally Paramount Network. TNN was later revived from 2012 to 2013 after Jim Owens Entertainment (the company responsible for prominent TNN hosts Crook & Chase) acquired the trademark and licensed it to Luken Communications; that channel renamed itself Heartland after Luken was embroiled in an unrelated dispute that left the company bankrupt.

By the end of World War II, "mountaineer" string band music known as bluegrass had emerged when Bill Monroe joined with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, introduced by Roy Acuff at the Grand Ole Opry. That was the ordination of bluegrass music and how Bill Monroe became to be known as the "Father of Country Music." Gospel music, too, remained a popular component of bluegrass and other sorts of country music. Red Foley, the biggest country star following World War II, had one of the first million-selling gospel hits ("Peace in the Valley") and also sang boogie, blues and rockabilly. In the post-war period, country music was called "folk" in the trades, and "hillbilly" within the industry.[46] In 1944, The Billboard replaced the term "hillbilly" with "folk songs and blues," and switched to "country" or "country and Western" in 1949.[47][48] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyNAvdnZ5Ec

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