Country music is a genre that has become polarizing to people over time. Some people don’t feel a connection to its themes and prefer other genres. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for those who get country music, they tend to love it.
Whether they like country music that is about relaxing with friends and enjoying a good time, or they’re more interested in country songs that approach difficult issues like what it means to be successful and how to be happy, there is plenty to love in country music.
Country music has provided us with a wide variety of musicians and subgenres. There are tons of different great country musicians and styles that have developed over time, by many influential performers. Here are twenty of the best musicians from its early roots all the way through the modern day.
1. Johnny Cash
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” is how the legend liked to introduce himself in concert. That’s all that needed to be said when Cash was taking the stage. The name alone provoked the image of strength and passion.
Johnny Cash is a legend of the country music genre whose career went on for decades. His music ranged from themes of God and The Bible to prison and fighting.
It’s in this versatility, as well as his gruff and deep voice, that Cash was able to build up an incredible fanbase and become a legend in the field of country music. Today, many people may know Cash as the figure on t-shirts and posters, but for many he’ll always be the greatest country musician.
2. Chris Stapleton
In the modern country music landscape, no one has a more iconic voice than Chris Stapleton. His deep voice can convey more emotion than just about anyone who is making music, regardless of the genre that they play. He blends this great voice, and his iconic flowing hair and beard, with beautiful songwriting that can be loved by people regardless of their background.
That’s before you consider his fantastic guitar skill. Stapleton fits into the world of country, but his southern rock influences bleed into his music too.
This helps to make him one of the most unique and powerful voices in all the music industry today. Truly, it’s no wonder where Chris Stapleton’s popularity comes from.
3. Luke Combs
There are very few country musicians today who bring as much love to their craft as Luke Combs. He knows that he’s from deep in the heart of the South, and he takes pride in that fact. This love of his home, the culture that surrounds it, and the country music that has inspired him are obvious throughout his career.
Add a love of his family and friends, which he makes sure are evident in his songs where he chooses to prop them up and credit others for his success, and it’s clear to see why Combs was able to storm onto the scene. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s an incredible singing and songwriting talent to begin with.
4. Dierks Bentley
One of the most popular country musicians since his debut album in 2003, Dierks Bentley is well on his way to being an icon in his own right. For Bentley, this is due to his great live performances that are energetic and exciting events. It doesn’t hurt, though, that Bentley’s songs are incredibly fun and oftentimes emotionally powerful.
It’s this range and versatility in his music, which has evolved during his two decades of success that keeps fans coming back. The simple fact is that Bentley never gets stale for his fans. He can get you off your feet to dance, or he can sit you down and make you think about what life is really about.
5. Kenny Chesney
A mainstay in the country music industry, there are few musicians regardless of the genre who can sell out a stadium like Kenny Chesney can. Chesney commands his audiences with an extensive back catalog that can make his audience remember that teenage love that they had from summers long ago or make their dream of an escapist trip.
That’s before you consider that there isn’t anyone who can write a popular country song as well as Chesney. After all his years of success, Chesney is becoming his own brand, with a legion of fans referred to as No Shoes Nation.
6. Willie Nelson
In a genre of music full of iconic figures, there isn’t anyone who can touch the legend that is Willie Nelson. A rebel of a musician, a protestor in a genre known for is conservative politics, there are always going to be imitators, but there will only be one Willie Nelson. Known for his relaxed style of music, Nelson blends a hybrid of jazz and blues to create his iconic country sound.
There are legends around Nelson, like his beloved acoustic guitar Trigger, which he hid from the IRS when he was in debt. It’s from his fantastic musical style and these legends that Nelson has turned himself into a myth of a man in the country music world.
7. Brothers Osborne
Brothers TJ and John Osborne formed their aptly named band Brothers Osborne in 2012. Since then, they’ve released three studio albums to a rapidly growing fanbase. Their fans tend to be drawn towards their lyrics that speak of everything from heartbreak, to finding yourself, mental health, and having a good time with friends.
Recently, the group made headlines as TJ Osborne came out as gay and became the first gay man to be signed to a major record label in the country industry, proving the universality of their music.
8. Garth Brooks
Active in the country music industry since the 1980s, Garth Brooks has put together a career that landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Musicians Hall of Fame. None of that is a surprise to his legion of fans, though, as Brooks has been known for years as an iconic songwriter in the country music industry. Known as an advocate for causes close to his heart, Brooks has proven to be one of the best in the business.
9. Alan Jackson
One of the best-selling country musicians of all time, Alan Jackson has had a career that has spanned more than three decades. Just like many of his fellow country music musicians, Jackson would travel to Nashville for the start of his career.
With a background in gospel music and listening to Hank Williams Jr., Jackson was able to establish his own unique sound and find his voice as a songwriter. Jackson also became known as one of the great touring musicians of all time, which has only added to his popularity over the course of his career.
10. George Strait
Regardless of genre, there are very few musicians who have had as much influence on other performers in their industry as George Strait. That’s probably why the singer and performer was known as the King of Country. Dressed as a cowboy and looking for a way to bring country to its roots and away from the popular sounds that had been on the rise.
Strait was also one of the most influential figures in the Neotraditional Country movement. This was a choice to use more of an instrumental background and bring back more traditional themes.
It really shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone that George Strait is in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is a legend after all.
11. Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean has been one of the top country musicians for more than two decades as he came onto the scene in the late 1990s. Known for his fantastic live shows that are an incredible party for all in attendance, Aldean has hits that consistently have been reaching number one on the country charts. For many people, Aldean’s sound is the first thing that they think of when they think of the country genre.
12. Hank Williams
One of the earliest legends of the country music world, Hank Williams is someone who every fan of music, let alone country music, should know. With thirty-five hit singles that made the top-10 on the charts, not to mention his eleven singles to reach number one, Williams has more than a few songs for fans to love.
His lifestyle had a major impact on both his health and his reputation, though. His alcoholism cost him his job and eventually his life, but it also helped cement Williams as an icon. Now a figure in popular culture, there are very few people in the world who don’t at least know the name Hank Williams, even if they’ve never heard any of his music.
13. Dolly Parton
In the 21st century, Dolly Parton has become a figure in country music that has taken on almost mythic proportions. That can happen when you open up your own theme park that you name after yourself, in Dollywood. That’s before you consider all of her films and musicals, such as 9 to 5, which helped to make her one of the most famous country musicians of all time.
In all of this, it’s easy to overlook how talented of a musician that Parton is in the industry. Still, her music is excellent and songs like Jolene made her famous for good reason. Today, her influence and popularity are still apparent, as she has seen a revival and reimagining of her musical career over the course of her career that goes all the way back to 1956.
14. Hank Williams Jr.
The son of the legendary Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr. was a major influence in advancing the country music genre forward. He did this by blending Southern Rock and the blues with a more traditional country sound. Williams Jr. would include everything from the steel guitar, the piano, fiddle, and banjo.
His career started in the mid-1960s with the album Your Cheatin’ Heart, a song his father made famous, to 2016 with It’s About Time. All of this culminated in a career that had made Williams Jr. almost as iconic as his legendary father.
15. Lady A
Formerly known as Lady Antebellum, Lady A is a three-person country music group from Nashville that blends pop music into their original country sound. The name change was due to a controversy over the world Antebellum glorifying the South during a time when slavery was legal. The band itself is known for their music that fits well into country music radio and is easy to listen to and get caught in your head.
16. Waylon Jennings
There are very few country musicians who can be considered as influential as Waylon Jennings. That’s because Jennings was one of the found and most important figures in the outlaw country movement. This was the subgenre of country music that had themes focusing on criminals and prison, giving them a sense of toughness that was cut through by the humanity behind these people that society had often been overlooked or left behind by society as a whole.
In a lot of ways, this type of music was about blending folk roots and modern thinking. Jennings was also an important part of the country music supergroup, The Highwaymen, which produced three albums. Over the course of his career, Jennings had 96 singles appear on the country music charts.
17. Carrie Underwood
One of country music’s most influential women of the 21st century is Carrie Underwood, who became famous after winning the singing competition show, American Idol. Immediately, she was incredibly popular, with her first single hitting number one on the charts. This made her the only country musician to debut in this top spot ever, while she’s the only country musician to have a number one single in the 21st century.
Immediately, and on the back of her singles that had popularity with pop fans as well as country fans, her first and second albums were met with incredible success. Underwood’s ability to blend her country voice and themes with pop music has given her staying power that a lot of other musicians aren’t lucky enough to benefit from over time.
18. Zac Brown Band
Zac Brown Band is a country music band from Atlanta that is named after its front man, Zac Brown. In the country music world, Zac Brown Band fits into a popular role of the escapist country band. Their songs aim to make the listener feel like they’re on a beach or in the backyard enjoying a beer and time with their friends.
This light sound has made them incredibly popular with a wide variety of country music fans and has consistently put them at the top of the country music charts. Zac Brown Band Over the course of their career, the Zac Brown Band has won multiple Grammys and CMT Awards.
19. Old Dominion
A country band from Nashville, Old Dominion is known as one of the most popular country music groups of the 21st century. Their blend of country, with influences from rock and pop music, makes them easy to listen to and enjoy no matter who you are.
The original purpose of Old Dominion was actually to showcase songs by their individual band members, but over time they became more popular and stronger together as a group than they ever could have been alone. To date, Old Dominion has released three albums and been nominated and won multiple awards for their music.
20. Eric Church
There may not be a bigger country musician today than Eric Church. For his fans, it often comes down to the power and meaning behind his songs, which he always sings with passion. His songs can you bring back to that last summer before the real world starts or make you remember just how powerful a song can impact a certain time in your life.
Other times, Church can make you see the power and impact a country music song can have on the world. Of course, Church’s popularity isn’t just in his lyrics, though, it’s in the passion that he sings and performs with.
Church is versatile too, as he has already been known to reinvent his own sound and style, keeping the country music world and his fans on their toes. To put it simply, Church is a top dog of the genre.