In 2002, CMT aired the “40 Greatest Women in Country Music.” I love a good countdown and I apparently need something to do while taking a break from studying so I thought about what my list would consist of today. This special aired before one very important female country artist won American Idol and began to rule country music. So I thought I would give the original list a makeover and do a countdown with my list and give a little information on each artist.
My list is not my “favorites” necessarily (although I’m of course biased to my favorites), but is based on women who changed the landscape of country music. These women had/have great influence, success, and voices. They have made an impact on country music. However, I was born in the 80s and raised on 90s country so my list definitely leans more towards those artists.
Who do you guys think are “the greatest”?
Here is the original list by CMT:
1. Patsy Cline
2. Tammy Wynette
3. Loretta Lynn
4. Dolly Parton
5. Emmylou Harris
6. Reba McEntire
7. Shania Twain
8. Maybelle Carter
9. Connie Smith
10. Trisha Yearwood
11. The Judds
12. Alison Krauss
13. Dixie Chicks
14. Minnie Pearl
15. Kitty Wells
16. Patty Loveless
17. Lee Ann Womack
18. Patsy Montana
19. Faith Hill
20. Tanya Tucker
21. Mary Chapin Carpenter
22. Rosanne Cash
23. Dottie West
24. Anne Murray
25. Martina McBride
26. k.d. lang
27. Lorrie Morgan
28. Brenda Lee
29. Lynn Anderson
30. Pam Tillis
31. June Carter Cash
32. Cindy Walker
33. Crystal Gayle
34. Dale Evans
35. Wanda Jackson
36. Lucinda Williams
37. K.T. Oslin
38. Barbara Mandrell
39. LeAnn Rimes
40. Linda Ronstadt
Now here is my list:
40. The Carter Family
Let’s start at the very beginning, the first family of country music and the genre’s very first stars. The very first incarnation of the family was started in 1927 and consisted of A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and sister-in-law Maybelle. In 1939, children of the founding members joined the group, including Maybelle’s daughter, June, who later married Johnny Cash. There have been different variations of The Carter Family for 90 years and remain to this day.
Signature Song: “Wildwood Flower”
39. Hillary Scott
Hillary Scott is the lone female in the country crossover group Lady Antebellum. Joined by Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, the group has become one of the biggest groups in music by making relatable country/pop music. The group hit it big with their first single, “Love Don’t Live Here,” but it was the title track of their second album Need You Now that made them superstars. Scott is the daughter of Linda Davis who gained fame from her massive duet with Reba McEntire, “Does He Love You.” Scott has won 9 Grammy Awards, 7 with band Lady Antebellum and 2 more for her gospel project, Love Remains, a gospel album made with her parents, Linda and Lang Scott, and little sister Rylee.
Signature Song: “Need You Now”
38. Rosanne Cash
The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, Rosanne charted her own path through country music. Her commercial success began in 1981 with the release of her #1 hit “Seven Year Ache” and continued throughout the eighties. She has been critically acclaimed for her music and writing, which includes four books and articles in publications from The New York Times to Rolling Stone.
Signature Song: “Seven Year Ache”
37. Suzy Bogguss
Suzy Bogguss found success in country music in the early 1990s with her breakthrough album Aces. She scored hits such as “Outbound Plane,” “Letting Go,” and “Hey Cinderella” and even took home the CMA Horizon Award, beating out the favorite Trisha Yearwood.
Signature Song: “Someday Soon”
36. Connie Smith
In 1964, Connie Smith released her first single “Once A Day” and became the first female artist to have her debut single reach #1 and it stayed there for a record eight weeks. The following album was also a smash staying at the top of the country charts for seven weeks. Although Smith had much success in country music, she charted 20 Top 10 singles, she never pursued super-stardom like many of her contemporaries. Smith is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Signature Song: “Once A Day”
35. Dottie West
Dottie West is considered one of the most influential women in country music history. She enjoyed success as a solo artist and had hit duets with artists such as Kenny Rogers, Jim Reeves, and Don Gibson. Although her career began in 1963, she didn’t have her first solo #1 record until 1980’s “A Lesson in Leavin’,” a song that would later become a #1 for Jo Dee Messina. She also had success as a jingle writer for Coca-Cola. One of those jingles, “Country Sunshine,” became so popular she released it as a single and it became a hit that was nominated for two Grammy Awards. Her daughter Shelly also had success as a country artist and is best known for the duet with David Frizzell, “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma”.
Signature Song: “Country Sunshine”
34. Gretchen Wilson
Gretchen Wilson became an overnight superstar and cultural icon upon the release of her debut single, the Grammy-winning, #1 hit “Redneck Woman.” The following album, Here for the Party, became one of the fastest-selling albums in history, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The title track from the follow-up album, All Jacked Up, became the highest debuting single by a female country artist until that record was broken by Carrie Underwood’s “So Small”.
Signature Song: “Redneck Woman”
33. Jennifer Nettles
Best known as the lead singer of the duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles has enjoyed early success with her duet partner Kristian Bush and as a solo artist. Sugarland enjoyed a string of hit singles, starting with the debut “Baby Girl”. Known for high energy performances and fun songs like “Settlin’” and “Something More,” it was Jennifer’s solo-penned “Stay,” an emotional, stark, acoustic ballad that became the duo’s biggest hit, winning the Grammy, CMA and ACM for Song of the Year.
Signature Song: “Stay”
32. K.T. Oslin
K.T. Oslin started her career in the 1970s in New York City, not Nashville. She appeared in productions of West Side Story, Promises, Promises, and Hello Dolly! However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s when Oslin, in her mid-forties, broke in country music. The song “80’s Ladies” became Oslin’s first hit single and won a Grammy, CMA, and ACM Award. It was followed by hits like “Do Ya,” “I’ll Always Come Back,” and “Come Next Monday”. She broke age barriers that are still in place to this day, scoring her first hits at an age when most female artists can no longer receive radio airplay.
Signature Song: “80’s Ladies”
31. Juice Newton
Although Juice Newton was considered a predominately pop artist in her earlier years, she enjoyed quite a bit of country crossover success before eventually “going country” in 1985 with her album Old Flame. She even won a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance in 1983 for “Break It to Me Gently.” Her breakout album was 1981’s Juice, which featured the classic hits “Angel of the Morning,” “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known),” and “Queen of Hearts”.
Signature Song: “Angel of the Morning”
30. Lorrie Morgan
More proof that music is in the blood, Lorrie Morgan is the daughter of country legend George Morgan. She has been married to other country music artists Keith Whitley, Jon Randall, and Sammy Kershaw, causing her personal life to be in the headlines as much as her music. She recorded the song “If You Came Back From Heaven” for the late Keith Whitley. The early 90s proved to be a great time for women in country music with Lorrie joining artists like Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, and Mary Chapin Carpenter in ruling the charts. Lorrie’s breakout was 1991’s Something in Red. She had a string of hit singles throughout the 90s that included “Watch Me,” “Except for Monday,” and “What Part of No,” making her a fan favorite.
Signature Song: “Something in Red”
29. Lynn Anderson
Lynn Anderson began recording in the 1960s and had some success but it wasn’t until the 1970 release of the crossover hit “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden” that made her a star. Anderson had 12 #1 singles and 18 Top 10 hits. She was the first female country artist to win an American Music Award and to sell-out Madison Square Garden.
Signature Song: “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden”
28. Crystal Gayle
Brenda Gail Webb, later known as Crystal Gayle, was born 19 years after older sister Loretta Lynn. Over the 1970s and 80s, Crystal scored twenty #1 hits, but it was 1977’s Grammy-winning crossover hit “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” that made her a household name. Crystal also recorded many duets, her most popular being “You and I” with Eddie Rabbit.
Signature Song: “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”
27. Kitty Wells
The original “Queen of Country Music,” Kitty Wells was the first solo female star in the genre. Known for her song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” an answer song to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life”. The song was originally banned from some radio stations and the Grand Ole Opry due to its controversial content; however, the song went on to become the very first #1 on the country charts by a female artist. Wells charted 29 Top 10 hits and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Signature Song: “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”
26. Kathy Mattea
Kathy Mattea’s musical stylings range from country to bluegrass to Celtic, but she began her mainstream country success in the mid-1980s with her first hit record “Love at the Five and Dime.” She scored #1 hits such as “Goin’ Gone,” “Come from the Heart,” and “Lonesome Standard Time”. It was truck-driving anthem “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” that really caused her star to rise, winning Single of the Year from both the ACM and CMA. Mattea also released one of the most powerful songs in country music history. Co-written by her husband, John Vezner, “Where’ve You Been” told the love story of his parents. It won the Grammy, ACM, and CMA Award for Song of the Year. Kathy is a two-time winner of the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award.
Signature Song: “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses”
25. Mary Chapin Carpenter
Mary Chapin Carpenter found mainstream success with the release of her 1990 album Shooting Straight in the Dark, featuring the hit single “Down at the Twist and Shout”. However, it was 1992’s Come On Come On that spawned seven hit singles and sold over 4 million copies that made Carpenter a star. The single “He Thinks He’ll Keep Her” was nominated for the all-genre Grammy for Record of the Year, an unheard of feat for a country song that did not crossover to the pop charts. Carpenter may not have won that Grammy but she took home the Best Country Vocal Performance – Female four years in a row.
Signature Song: “I Feel Lucky”
24. Pam Tillis
Though she is the daughter of country music legend Mel Tillis, Pam originally wanted to become a rock singer. She began her country career in the early eighties without much success and even eventually became a staff songwriter. That changed in 1991 with the release of the album Put Yourself in My Place which contained three Top 10 singles. Her career peaked with the follow-up album Homeward Looking Angel, which featured the hits “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and “Shake the Sugar Tree”. In 1994, she was named the CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year.
Signature Song: “Maybe It Was Memphis”
23. Tanya Tucker
Tanya Tucker released her first single, “Delta Dawn”, at the age of 13 and became an instant star. She went on to have a rollercoaster career that included country-pop crossover success and lows that found her in the Betty Ford Clinic. Known as country music’s female outlaw, her personal life was like a country song. She had relationships with high profile artists, most notably Merle Haggard and Glen Campbell, which often made headlines. She had tremendous success in the 1970s with singles such as “Would You Lay With Me” and “What’s Your Mama’s Name Child” but the 1980s brought personal problems that stalled her career. However, in the late 80s and early 90s she made a huge comeback with a string of hits that included “Love Me Like You Used To,” “If Your Heart Ain’t Busy Tonight,” “Down To My Last Teardrop,” “It’s A Little Too Late,” and “Two Sparrows In a Hurricane”.
Signature Song: “Delta Dawn”
22. Anne Murray
Anne Murray paved the way for Canadians in country music. Although known just as much as a pop artist as a country artist, Murray became the first Canadian to win the CMA for Album of the Year for 1983’s A Little Good News. Artists such as Shania Twain and Celine Dion site her as an influence. Anne Murray’s career was launched with the release of the single “Snowbird” in 1969. It became a #1 Canadian hit and reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970. Throughout the 70s and 80s, Murray had success on the pop, country, and adult contemporary charts with songs such as “Danny’s Song,” “You Needed Me,” and “I Just Fall in Love Again”. She has won four Grammy Awards and holds the record for the most Juno Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammys) with 24.
Signature Song: “Could I Have This Dance”
21. LeAnn Rimes
LeAnn Rimes released the single “Blue” in 1996 at the age of 13 and became a phenomenon. The song was originally written for Patsy Cline by Bill Mack, but Cline passed away before recording it. Mack discovered LeAnn while working as a disc jockey in Dallas. Rimes became the first country artist to win the Grammy for Best New Artist and, at 14, was the youngest person to win a Grammy as well as a CMA Award. At the time, she had the biggest-selling debut album by a female country artist but that record was broken in 2006 by Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts. Rimes went on to have crossover success with singles like “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” and her biggest hit, the record-breaking “How Do I Live” which spent 69 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100. She was also the first artist to have a #1 album on the pop, country, and Christian charts with her gospel album You Light Up My Life: Inspirational Songs.
Signature Song: “Blue”
20. Brenda Lee
Brenda Lee, also known as Little Miss Dynamite, became a star at an early age and was one of the first artists to have success on both pop and country charts. In 1958, at the age of 13, she released her biggest-selling single, the Christmas classic “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” Lee set a record in 1962 by scoring her ninth consecutive Top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100, “All Alone Am I”, a record not broken until 1986 by Madonna. Brenda Lee is a member of the Rock & Roll, Country Music, and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.
Signature Song: “I’m Sorry”
19. Barbara Mandrell
Barbara Mandrell is a musical virtuoso who plays eight instruments, often times playing all in the same song. Along with being an instrumentalist, she is a singer and actress who had success on pop and country radio along with her own weekly television variety show Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters and the Las Vegas show The Lady Is a Champ. She was the first female artist to win the CMA Award for Entertainer of the Year and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her television series. Barbara is known for crossover hits such as “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed” and “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right”. She has won multiple Grammy, ACM, CMA, and People’s Choice Awards and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Signature Song: “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”
18. Taylor Swift
In a very short period of time, Taylor Swift became force to be reckoned with in music. She became the first country music artist to use social media to launch a career. Swift’s first single, “Tim McGraw” became a country hit while her second, “Teardrops on My Guitar,” became the first of many singles to crossover to the pop charts. Her third single, “Our Song,” which was written as a show and tell performance at her high school, made Swift the youngest person to have a solo-penned #1 hit on the Hot Country Songs chart. With her second album, Fearless, she became the first person to sweep Album of the Year at the Grammys, American Music Awards, ACM and CMA Awards. Swift became the only country artist win an MTV Video Music Award. Her third album, Speak Now, sold over 1 million copies in its first week. She was the only second country artist to achieve this feat, following Garth Brooks’ Double Live. Swift’s accomplishment was the all the more impressive considering the decline in overall album sales. Swift began to focus more on pop with her fourth album Red and then left the country genre in 2014 with the album 1989.
Signature Song: “Love Story”
17. Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris has had a storied career that has spanned five decades. She has collaborated with artists such as Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Willie Nelson, and Roy Orbison. Her most famous collaborations, however, were those with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt (known as ‘Trio’). The Trio album was extremely successful and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys and won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. She later won the Grammy for Album of the Year as part of the culture phenomenon that was the soundtrack to the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? In fact, Emmylou has won 13 Grammys out of an incredible 46 nominations. Much of Emmylou’s career was based on reinterpreting the works of other artists. She had hits with Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” Dolly Parton’s “To Daddy,” and Patsy Cline’s “Sweet Dreams,” just to name a few.
Signature Song: “Two More Bottles of Wine”
16. Patty Loveless
Patty Loveless began her career in the mid-1980s and showed promise with her second album If My Heart Had Windows but it was her third album, 1988’s Honky Tonk Angel that brought her commercial success. The album produced a string of hits including “Chains,” “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” and “Don’t Toss Us Away”. This success continued until 1992 when Patty was sidelined by vocal problems and had to undergo surgery. In 1993, Loveless returned with new music and a new record label. Switching labels was a positive step for Loveless as the first two albums on Epic, Only What I Feel and When Fallen Angels Fly, were the biggest of her career – the latter winning the CMA Award for Album of the Year. Some of Patty’s most beloved songs followed including the stirring ballads “How Can I Help You To Say Goodbye,” “Here I Am,” and “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am”. Patty has won the ACM and CMA Female Vocalist of the Year awards.
Signature Song: “Blame It On Your Heart”
15. Martina McBride
Martina McBride is one of the most awarded female vocalists in country music history, but began her career selling T-shirts for Garth Brooks. Her big break came when Brooks heard her sing and offered her the role of his opening act even before she had a recording contract. Martina had mild success with her first album The Time Has Come but it was the follow-up, The Way That I Am, which truly launched her career. The album’s first two singles “My Baby Loves Me” and “Life #9” were Top 10 hits but it was the third single, “Independence Day,” that made her a star. The song which deals with spousal abuse, and presumably murder, did not reach the Top 10 due to being banned by some radio stations due its content, but has become a country music classic. Martina’s career reached a new level with the 1997 album Evolution which featured the crossover ballad “Valentine” and “A Broken Wing,” another anthemic power ballad but this time she reached #1. McBride built her career by performing message driven anthems such as “Love’s The Only House,” “Concrete Angel,” and “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”. Martina is a 4-time CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.
Signature Song: “Independence Day”
14. Lee Ann Womack
An ambassador of traditional country music, Lee Ann Womack made no apologies about bringing tradition to the forefront with her self-titled debut album and its first single, “Never Again, Again”. Lee Ann quickly won over the country music community and won the ACM Top New Female Artist and the CMA Horizon Award. It was the title track from her third album, I Hope You Dance, however, that brought her crossover success. The song is a beautifully crafted love letter to her children and struck a chord with parents everywhere. It took home the Grammy, ACM and CMA for Song of the Year, and helped win Lee Ann the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award. The follow-up album, Something Worth Leaving Behind, was a departure from the traditional sound Lee Ann had normally recorded and was not a commercial success. In 2005, however, Lee Ann returned to tradition with There’s More Where That Came From, a throwback country album featuring the gorgeous lead single, “I May Hate Myself in the Morning”. The pair won Album and Single of the Year at the CMA Awards. Lee Ann may never have reached the level of commercial success again that she did with “I Hope You Dance,” however, she has continued to make critically acclaimed country music that is steeped in tradition.
Signature Song: “I Hope You Dance”
13. Faith Hill
As is the story for many country music artists, Faith Hill was discovered while performing at Nashville’s Bluebird Café. Her first single, “Wild One,” was a runaway hit and the first single in 30 years by a female country artist to spend 4 weeks at #1. Hill’s first albums, Take Me As I Am and It Matters To Me, were multi-platinum successes on the country charts, but it was her third album, Faith, that brought crossover success thanks to the lead single, “This Kiss”. Through all these albums, Faith projected a wholesome, girl next door image, but with the release of the “Breathe” video, an all grown-up Faith emerged. The Breathe album’s first two singles, the title track and “The Way You Love Me,” were huge crossover hits that helped Breathe sell over 8 million copies and establish Faith a global star. Faith has also found huge success in collaborating with her husband, fellow country superstar Tim McGraw, on tracks such as “It’s Your Love,” “Just To Hear You Say That You Love Me,” and “Like We Never Loved At All.” Faith has won 5 Grammys, 6 American Music Awards, 15 ACM Awards, and 3 CMA Awards.
Signature Song: “Breathe”
12. Dixie Chicks
It’s hard to imagine the Dixie Chicks without lead vocalist Natalie Maines, but when the group formed in 1989, the lead singer was Laura Lynch. Lynch left in 1992, Maines joined and the rest is country music history. The Dixie Chicks’ success grew with each single release from their 1998 debut album, Wide Open Spaces, which spawned three #1 singles and sold over 12 million copies. The Chicks’ quirky songs, energetic performances and colorful personalities made them a phenomenon. They broke all rules of probability by selling the amounts they sold without ever crossing over to pop. It seemed almost an impossible feat to match the success of their debut, but the follow-up Fly did just that and sold over 10 million copies. The album featured the hits “Ready To Run,” “Cowboy Take Me Away,” and the controversial, “Goodbye Earl,” a song about killing an abusive husband. Thanks to the album’s massive success and a huge tour, the Chicks won Entertainer of the Year from the ACM and CMA Awards. A legal battle with their record label caused the group to take an extended hiatus but they returned in 2002 with a new sound: bluegrass. Again, the Chicks’ broke the rules and it paid off with enormous sales thanks to the lead single “Long Time Gone,” the Fleetwood Mac cover “Landslide,” and the beautiful “Travelin’ Soldier”. The album’s sales were hurt due to the backlash from disparaging comments made by Maines at a concert in England about the U.S. President. The album went on to sell over 6 million copies but after the incident, the Chicks left country music. Their last album,2006’s Taking The Long Way, was a departure from their former style but went on to win five Grammy Awards, including all-genre Album, Record, and Song of the Year for “Not Ready To Make Nice,” making their total 13 awards.
Signature Song: “Wide Open Spaces”
11. Linda Ronstadt
Linda Ronstadt is considered the biggest female artist of the 1970s and the first female superstar able to fill arenas. Although she may be more known for her pop success than country, she was named the “Queen of Rock,” Ronstadt’s flawless vocals and classic songs had an influence on artists from Stevie Nicks and Bonnie Raitt to Trisha Yearwood and Carrie Underwood. She began her career with a folk-rock trio called The Stone Poneys and had a hit with the song “Different Drum”. Her first solo albums were considered to be the first alt-country albums by a female artist. Those early records may not have been commercial successes but laid the groundwork for what would be her sound. In her early years, Linda’s backing band was a bubbling under band called The Eagles. She even helped launch their career when she popularized their song “Desperado”. Although her albums Linda Ronstadt and Don’t Cry Now were gold certified hits, Linda’s breakthrough album was 1974’s Heart Like A Wheel. The album’s first single, “You’re No Good,” became Linda’s first #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100. What came after is line of hit singles and albums that made Linda the voice of a generation. She went on to record country records such as Trio with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, went new wave with Mad Love, relived standards with What’s New, and even Mariachi with Canciones De Mi Padre. Linda Ronstadt sold over 100 million albums, won 11 Grammys, and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Signature Song: “Blue Bayou”
10. Alison Krauss
Alison Krauss has perhaps the most pure and angelic voice to ever grace a song. She made a name for herself as a prodigy in bluegrass music before breaking out into mainstream country with her stunning cover of Keith Whitley’s “When You Say Nothing At All”. Together with her band Union Station, Alison has become arguably the most popular bluegrass artist of all-time by infusing bluegrass with a mix of pop sensibilities to appeal to a wider audience. In 1994, Alison was already a multi-Grammy Award-winning bluegrass artist but had yet to break into the mainstream. Her duet with country group Shenandoah, “Somewhere In The Vicinity of the Heart,” reached the Top 10 on the country charts and won a Grammy. The next year Alison released Now That I’ve Found You: A Collection, the album contained the Grammy-winning “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and the CMA Single of the Year “When You Say Nothing At All”. Not only did Alison take home the CMA’s Single of the Year, she also won the Horizon Award and Female Vocalist of the Year. In 2001, Alison was a key part of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack and won her first Grammy for Album of the Year. Her second win was for her duet album with Robert Plant, Raising Sand. The duo also took home the all-genre Record of the Year for “Please Read The Letter”. Alison is the most awarded female artist in the history of the Grammys with a staggering 27 wins.
Signature Song: “When You Say Nothing At All”
9. Tammy Wynette
Tammy Wynette was known as the “First Lady of Country Music,” a title received due to her marriage to George Jones, who was called “The President of Country Music.” Tammy’s success in country music began before she married George, however. In 1966, Tammy released her debut single, “Apartment No. 9”. The song did not make the Top 40, but Wynette’s second single, “You’re Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” became a hit, making it all the way to #3 on the country chart. 1968 proved to be a good year Wynette, releasing the hits “Take Me To Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and one of the biggest country songs of all-time, “Stand By Your Man”. The next year one of the most important events in the history of country music occurred, George Jones and Tammy Wynette were married. The duo recorded several hit duets throughout the 1970s, including “We’re Gonna Hold On” and “Near You”. Although the couple divorced in 1975, they still recorded together and put out one of their most beloved songs, “Golden Ring”. Tammy Wynette had success various projects in and outside of music throughout the 1980s and until her passing 1998, even voicing the character of Tilly Hill on the cartoon King Of The Hill. She is a Grammy, ACM, and CMA Award winner and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Signature Song: “Stand By Your Man”
8. Trisha Yearwood
Trisha Yearwood became a star with the release of her first single “She’s In Love With The Boy”. The song was an immediate smash and a showcase for one of the best voices in the history of music. Trisha learned her craft by listening to Linda Ronstadt records and that education is showcased in her vocals and styling with songs such as “Wrong Side of Memphis,” blending country, rock, and soul. Yearwood’s voice is always the star of the show but she also has a track record of picking great songs. Trisha is known for well-written, heartfelt ballads such as “Walkaway Joe,” “The Song Remembers When,” and “Like We Never Had A Broken Heart,” the latter featuring background vocals from future husband Garth Brooks. Trisha has also done many backing vocals for Brooks including the famous run on his hit “Shameless”. In 1997, LeAnn Rimes recorded the song “How Do I Live” for the movie Con Air, but producers of the movie felt her version was not mature enough and asked Trisha to record it. She did and it became one of the biggest hits of her career and won a Grammy for it while Rimes’ version became a major pop hit. In 2005, Trisha married Garth Brooks. In 2008, Yearwood published her first cookbook and that led to her own television cooking show, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, for which she won an Emmy. Trisha is a multiple Grammy, ACM and CMA Award winner.
Signature Song: “She’s In Love With The Boy”
7. The Judds
Mother and daughter duo, Naomi and Wynnona Judd, took listeners back to a more innocent and simple time with their music. That was never more apparent than in their most popular song, “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout The Good Old Days)”. For eight years the duo ruled country music, winning Duo (or Group) of the Year for seven years in a row at both the ACM and CMA Awards, while also winning five Grammy Awards. Their first single, “Had A Dream (For The Heart),” was minor hit, reaching the Top 20; however, it was their second single that stopped people in their tracks. “Mama He’s Crazy” was milestone in country music and helped usher in more a traditional sound when country music was going through the more pop influenced Urban Cowboy movement. The song became their first of fourteen #1 hits and won them their first Grammy. The next single was just as popular. “Why Not Me” hit #1 and won the pair their second Grammy and the CMA Award for Single of the Year. Throughout the 1980s, the Judds released a string of hits that included “Love Is Alive,” “Rockin’ With The Rhythm Of The Rain,” and “Have Mercy”. In 1991, the Judds went on a Farewell Tour due to Naomi was diagnosed with Hepatitis C she contracted while working as a nurse. The last song they performed together at their Farewell Concert was “Love Can Build A Bridge,” a song Naomi wrote to say goodbye to her fans. Wynonna went on to an extremely successful solo career. Her first three singles, “She Is His Only Need,” “I Saw The Light,” and “No One Else On Earth,” all reached #1 and her debut album sold over 5 million copies.
Signature Song: “Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Old Days)”
6. Carrie Underwood
Carrie Underwood has been called the voice of her generation and the “Reigning Queen of Country Music,” not bad for the winner of the fourth season of American Idol. Movie star looks, down to earth personality, and one of the most powerful voices of all-time made Carrie the early favorite on American Idol. Simon Cowell famously predicted she would win the show and go on to outsell every other winner. He was absolutely correct. Although, it is not probable that anyone could have imagined the level of success that she would achieve in a very short period of time. Her winner’s single, “Inside Your Heaven,” debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her first official country single, “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” was an immediate smash staying at the top of the country chart for 6 weeks and winning two Grammys. She became only the second country artist, after LeAnn Rimes, to win the Grammy for Best New Artist and took home the CMA Horizon Award and Female Vocalist of the Year in the same year. Carrie found crossover success with the third single from her debut album Some Hearts. “Before He Cheats” crossed over to the pop charts and even received a nomination for Best New Artist at the MTV Video Music Awards. It won the CMA Award for Single of the Year. Some Hearts, at 8x platinum, is the biggest selling debut album by a female country artist of all-time and took home the ACM Award for Album of the Year. Carrie is known for powerful vocals and powerful songs. She is known for taking risks from the dark content of “Blown Away” and “Two Black Cadillacs” to wearing her faith on her sleeve with songs like “Temporary Home” and “Something In The Water”. Carrie has been nominated for over 300 major awards and taken home over 150 including multiple Grammys, American Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards, CMT Awards, ACM Awards and CMA Awards.
Signature Song: “Before He Cheats”
5. Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn was born in Butcher Hollow, a coalmining community in Kentucky. Loretta was the second of eight children and had six of her own. She became famous by singing about the real-life struggles that working class people go through. That was never more evident than in her signature song “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” an homage to her parents and childhood home. Her marriage to “Doolittle” Lynn provided even more material, although, it was not always positive. Songs like her first #1 single “Don’t Come Home A Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind),” along with “Fist City” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” were about a strong woman not letting her man walk over her and not letting other women have a chance with him. Some songs were even banned from radio, such as “The Pill” about birth-control, “Rated X” about divorce, and “Wings Upon Your Horns” about losing your virginity. Loretta is a big reason people say country songs are songs about real life. Loretta sang of the lavish lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Jackie Kennedy as compared to life of a mother in Topeka in the classic “One’s On The Way”. Conway Twitty was a constant collaborator. Together they performed some of the biggest duets of all-time including “Lead Me On,” “After The Fire Is Gone,” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man”. In 1981, Sissy Spacek won an Oscar portraying Loretta in the biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter. Loretta was the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards, won Entertainer of the Year and “Artist of the Decade” from the ACM Awards, is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame, was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Signature Song: “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
4. Patsy Cline
Widely considered one of the greatest singers of all-time, Patsy Cline’s story is the stuff of legend. In only six short years, Patsy Cline changed country music and influenced nearly every singer that followed. It is incredible to believe Patsy only released three albums during her lifetime. It is a true lesson in the importance of great songs. Cline’s hits transcended genre barriers but that was not what she set out to accomplish. Some thought that Cline’s voice was meant for pop but she refused to sing anything but country. Her breakout single, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” was released in 1957 and became a #2 country hit and even reached #16 on the pop charts, a rare feat in that day. A year later Patsy had a child and did not release more music until 1961. The comeback song was “I Fall To Pieces”. Once again, Patsy had success on multiple charts reaching #1 country, #12 pop, and #6 adult contemporary. She became a star beyond country music. Cline capitalized on that success by her releasing her biggest single “Crazy”. It was a Top 10 pop hit and #2 on country and adult contemporary. This success allowed Patsy to become the first female country artist able to headline her own shows. Cline’s final album, Sentimentally Yours, featured the hit “She’s Got You”. It would be her last crossover hit. In her last days she recorded the haunting “Sweet Dreams (Of You)”. It was released a month after her death. On March 5, 1963, the plane carrying Patsy Cline crashed due to bad weather just outside of its destination of Nashville, Tennessee. Cline was 30 years old.
Signature Song: “Crazy”
3. Shania Twain
It did not take too long for Shania Twain to prove that breaking the rules can pay off in droves. A Canadian not familiar with the way things work in Nashville, Shania was not comfortable with scheduled writing sessions and being boxed in with what she could perform. That is probably why her self-titled debut album was not the success her predecessors became. After producer R.J. “Mutt” Lange saw her video on television, he called her on the phone to inquire about working together and so became one of the greatest partnerships in music history. It was an unlikely pairing for success in country music. “Mutt” Lange produced rock music and artists including Bryan Adams and AC/DC, but the two came out of the gate married and with one of the most successful albums of all-time. The first single from The Woman In Me narrowly missed the Top 10, making it to #11 on the country chart. It was not an easy task getting radio to play Shania’s first “Mutt” Lange productions because they were totally different than anything else out there. However, the second single, “Any Man Of Mine,” was undeniable and became a huge #1 hit. Shania used the music video like no other artist before her to get her music to the public. This would be even more important for her next album. The Woman In Me was a massive success selling 12 million copies and becoming the biggest-selling album by a female country artist in history, surpassing Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits. The album spawned eight singles, half of which reached the top of the charts, and won a Grammy for Best Country Album. Twain’s second album, Come On Over, would shockingly totally eclipse the success of its precursor by eventually going 20X platinum in the U.S. and selling over 40 million copies worldwide. It became the biggest-selling country album of all-time, the biggest-selling album ever by a female artist, won four Grammy Awards, and spawned more singles than any album in history with twelve. Although her earlier album had flirted with crossover success, Come On Over had as much impact on pop radio as it did country. This began with the album’s third single, “You’re Still The One,” which made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songs like “From This Moment On,” “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” would follow its lead. Shania became known as the “Queen of Country-Pop”. She is the only female artist to have three diamond albums – meaning her albums sold over 10 million copies each. Despite being considered an outsider and largely ignored at country music award shows, Shania won the Entertainer of the Year award from both the ACM and CMA in 1999 and has won over 180 major awards. She has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Signature Song: “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”
2. Reba McEntire
Reba McEntire was not an overnight success. She released her first single in 1976 but it would not be until 1980 before she had her first Top 10 single “You Life Me Up (To Heaven)” and not until 1983 before she finally reached #1 with “Can’t Even Get The Blues”. Real momentum began in 1984 when she released My Kind Of Country that featured the hits “How Blue” and “Somebody Should Leave”. After its success, McEntire won her first major industry award, CMA Female Vocalist of the Year, the first of four in a row. Her career continued on an upward tread and reached a pinnacle with her ninth album, 1986’s Whoever’s In New England. Reba won a Grammy for the effort and became only the fourth female artist to win the CMA award for Entertainer of the Year. In 1989, McEntire again hit a new career high with the release of Sweet Sixteen which spent an appropriate 16 weeks at #1 on the country chart and featured the #1 single “Cathy’s Clown”. A year later McEntire would take her career to superstar status with Rumor Has It. The album sold three million copies and featured hits such as the title track, “You Lie,” “Fallin’ Out Of Love,” and her career-defining song “Fancy”. Reba’s career was at a level that very few country singers had seen but what was about to happen would cause her to reevaluate whether she wanted to continue. On March 16, 1991, a plane containing eight members of McEntire’s band crashed. All on board were lost. The album that followed was a dedication to those lost. For My Broken Heart does not contain a happy song but is widely regarded as the best work of her career. It features the title track and Reba classics “Is There Life Out There,” “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” and “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”. McEntire tapped Vince Gill for the hit duet “The Heart Won’t Lie” and then paired with her backup singer Linda Davis to record “Does He Love You”. The duet became one of the biggest hits of McEntire’s career winning a Grammy and CMA for Vocal Collaboration. McEntire had continued success with the release of Read My Mind featuring “Why Haven’t I Heard From You”. Reba began acting in 1990 in the movie Tremors and had been in various projects over the years but in 2001 she starred in her own hit television series Reba. That same year Reba made her Broadway debut in Annie Get Your Gun. In 2017, in her 42nd year in music, McEntire released her first gospel album Sing It Now!: Songs Of Faith And Hope reaching #1 on the country and Christian charts. McEntire is one of the most celebrated and awards artists in country music history.
Signature Song: “Fancy”
1. Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is a one woman empire. Never has the phrase “from rags to riches” been truer. Dolly was raised in poverty in east Tennessee, a theme that has been very prevalent in Dolly’s music. The day after she graduated from high school she moved to Nashville. Dolly became a successful songwriter having songs recorded by artists such as Kitty Wells and Hank Williams, Jr. Her record label tried to pitch Dolly as a pop artist but Dolly was set on becoming a country music singer. Dolly’s first singles to country radio became minor hits but the biggest thing to come of them was catching the ear of Porter Wagoner. In 1967, Wagoner invited Dolly to join his weekly television series The Porter Wagoner Show. The pair’s first single, “The Last Thing On My Mind,” became a Top 10 hit, a streak that would continue for six years. While the duo was having major success even winning Vocal Group of the Year at the CMA Awards, Dolly still was struggling with solo success on country radio. Porter recommended doing a cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mule Skinner Blues,” which worked. The song reached #3 and was followed by Parton’s first #1 hit, “Joshua”. Dolly had solid success throughout the early 1970s releasing some of the biggest hits of her career like “Jolene,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” and “Coat Of Many Colors”. In 1974, Dolly decided it was time to leave The Porter Wagoner Show and focus on her solo career. In order to say goodbye, Dolly penned one of the most well-known songs in history, “I Will Always Love You”. Dolly was becoming a major force in the mid-seventies. Her songs were covered by people from Linda Ronstadt to Olivia Newton-John and from 1976 to 1977 she even starred in her own television variety show, Dolly! In 1977, Dolly released Here You Come Again and began crossing over to the top of the pop charts. She had country and pop success throughout the seventies with hits like “Two Doors Down,” “It’s All Wrong But It’s All Right,” and “You’re The Only One”. In 1980, Dolly made her big screen debut in the film 9 to 5. The film became a major hit as did the song “9 To 5” which Dolly wrote for the movie. It reached #1 on the country, pop, and adult contemporary charts and was nominated for an Academy Award. Kenny Rogers offered Dolly another career milestone when he asked if she would record the “Islands In The Stream,” a song he was recording as a solo vocal, as a duet. The song was another #1 country and pop hit and became one of the most popular duets of all-time. Always thinking beyond what is expected, in 1986 Dolly opened her own theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood. In 1987, Dolly joined friends Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris to record Trio. The album was a Grammy-winning critical and commercial success. The eighties closed with Dolly finding more success at the box office with the Oscar-nominated hit film Steel Magnolias. Dolly continued to have mainstream country success into the early-nineties with hits such as “Why’d You Come In Here Looking Like That,” “Romeo,” and “Rockin’ Years,” a duet with Ricky Van Shelton. The single “I Will Always Love You” found renewed success in 1992 due to Whitney Houston covering it for The Bodyguard soundtrack. It spent a remarkable 14 weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of the biggest records in history. In 1993, Dolly joined another pair of friends and country legends Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette to record Honky Tonk Angels. Although this era signaled the end of Dolly’s success at mainstream radio, she was still able to sell records and found a new sound with bluegrass. Her 1999 release The Grass Is Blue won a Grammy and rejuvenated her career. In the late 2000s, Dolly wrote all the music for Broadway adaptation of her film 9 to 5 with 9 to 5: The Musical. Dolly has won over 150 major awards including being a rare artist nominated for an Emmy, Academy Award, Tony, and Grammy. Aside from winning Grammys, American Music Awards, ACM and CMA Awards, she received honors from the Kennedy Center and is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and won the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Signature Song: “Coat Of Many Colors”
I found this video from the early 90s on You Tube that features a lot of the artists on the list. Great concert!
Alison Krauss and Martina McBride are in the audience and look like babies. So young! haha
Wow, you put a lot of thought into that list! I'll have to take time to read it thoroughly when I'm not at work.
"Thank you for that ‘Captain Obvious’ sense of humor because you know what, we not only hit the high notes, you forgot to mention we generally hit the ‘right’ notes as well."-Kelly Clarkson to Scott Borchetta about American Idol artistsThanks so much Danielle!
Wow you put a lot of work into this. I'm really excited about both the lists and I'm going to use them to try and fill some apparent gaps in my country music knowledge.
^Awesome! Country has such a rich heritage and I learned a lot compiling this list.
I'm really enjoying this thread, and I'm impressed with the research and detail Twaintrain has put into the resumés for each artist.
This is International Women's Day - which makes the thread especially appropriate. (I think most people would look forward to the time when a special "day" is not necessary - but, sadly, that time can hardly be said to have arrived yet in the general appreciation and time given to women performers in any of the branches of Country Music (with perhaps the honourable exception of modern Progressive Bluegrass) - despite the wealth of talent that these lists celebrate. The limited numbers who are accorded star attention are, indeed, often lauded as Queens of the genre - but it's a steep, narrow and slippery path for the numbers trying to make a mark (and the contrast with the greater numbers of often seemingly unexceptional and generic male performers who get radio and major touring opportunities can be particularly galling)
I'm hoping to add some thoughts over the next couple of days - but before I get into the American and Canadian artists, I'd like to celebrate the "international" aspect with a couple of posts on the person I think is the greatest Country Musician (of either sex) that my nation has produced - Sarah Jory. I can't claim that her overall influence in the genre as a whole has been anything like the names on the two lists - but many fans here grew up on her live performance over the decades since the '80s - and she has also made a very big contribution to spreading Country Music to its (mainly North-Western) Continental strongholds.
Sarah pulled off the notable feat of winning Female Vocalist of the Year for nine consecutive years at the British CMAs in the '80s and '90s. This video comes from that era - the song is Buck Owens' classic "Together Again" (a song which impressed the Beatles, but is engrained in the hearts of many Country fans here in the trademark version by Emmylou). Sarah accompanies herself on pedal steel (an instrument she's played since the age of five)
Sarah Jory also won the Entertainer title in the Country Rock section several times. This side of the genre doesn't seem to be featured on the board as much as Country Pop, but, as Carrie is featuring more "twang" in the Storyteller era, I hope people will enjoy it as much as I do. This video comes from 2005 (about 18 years later than the first one), and it's a version of "Amazing Grace". Sarah swaps pedal steel for electric slide - and the treble notes between four and five minutes are out of this world! Also impressive is the way she lets herself become fully at one with the melody.
One thing that struck me about the original CMT list is that it does include two women who were not primarily celebrated as singers - I think their inclusion is certainly justified, since they represent the many women who made strong contributions to the genre in other fields.
"Cousin Minnie Pearl" (the stage name of Sarah Cannon) was best known as a comedienne, actually a well-educated woman, who specialized in "Hillbilly humour", with her flower-and-fruit hat with the price tag still attached, and her high pitched introductory call of "howdy". She was a regular stage act at the Opry - but what is less widely known is that, behind the scenes, she played a strong role in modernizing and popularizing the repertoire. k d lang called her "the liberal genius who ruled the Opry", and the encouragement she gave to a wider variety of artists, breaking into what was a very traditional and rural-based medium should not be under-estimated
Cindy Walker was one of the greatest songwriters this largely songwriting-based genre ever produced. She was particularly influential in the golden era of the Western movies, and in the transition from honky-tonk to the Nashville Sound. It's been estimated that at least 400 of her songs charted in the top 40. As an example of the breadth of her influence, one of her songs, "Blue Canadian Rockies" was included on one of Country Rock's seminal albums, "Sweethearts of the Rodeo", by the Byrds. Her best-known song was "You Don't Know Me", one of Country Music's all time greatest - Willie Nelson recorded a tribute album of her songs around that title a few year's ago.
I noticed that on CMT's list they put Minnie Pearl and Cindy Walker. While they no doubt had a huge place in country music, I chose to focus on vocalists. Maybe next time I'll do the men as CMT made that list as well. I'm afraid that will be an even harder task since there have been more men overall in country music.