Top 25 Classic Country Singers

The Legends of Country Music

Country music is filled with new talent, but the songs of these country legends will never disappear. From Hank Williams to Patsy Cline, the biggest solo artists in country music history remain our favorites.

While many more names could certainly be added to this list, we've narrowed it down based on longevity, commercial success, and enduring influence. If you're looking for a forgotten favorite, add these essential artists and albums to your list.

Hank Williams' early death at the age of 29 cemented his legacy in country music. Yet, it's because of songs like "Lovesick Blues," "Cold Cold Heart," and "Lost Highway" that he continues to captivate listeners.

Essential Album: ​"40 Greatest Hits"

Johnny Cash's voice is unmistakable and his cache of songs speak to his long career. After a string of hits and commercial success in the 1950s and 60's, Johnny Cash gained a new following in the 90's with his "American Recordings" series.

Essential Album: ​"Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958"

Merle Haggard had one of the most distinct voices and is one of music's most gifted songwriters. His prolific songbook includes drinking tunes ("Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"), political screeds ("Okie from Muskogee") and jailhouse lamentations ("Mama Tried").

 Essential Album: "Down Every Road 1962-1994"

Jimmie Rodgers was the first country music star, providing the blueprint for solo artists to come. His charismatic mix of folk, blues, and Tin Pan Alley songs were topped off with his signature "blue yodel." After Rogers died of tuberculosis at the age of 35, he became known as the Father of Country Music.

Essential Album: "The Essential Jimmie Rodgers"

Country singer Waylon Jennings brought a rock 'n' roll spirit to country music in the 70's. Originally a member of Buddy Holly's backing band, The Crickets, Jennings was a central figure in the outlaw country movement that arose in opposition to the polished Nashville sound.

Essential Album:  "Honky Tonk Heroes"

Since his first hard-drinking hit in 1959 with "White Lightning," Jones' operatic voice had a profound impact on listeners. Following a dark period in the 70's, he rose like a phoenix from the ashes in 1980 with the album "I Am What I Am," which features his signature song "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

Essential Album: "50 Years of Hits"

Dolly Parton's pin-up curves, angelic voice, and affecting songwriting make her a triple threat. Her talent has endured over the decades due, in part to her winning personality. More importantly, classics like "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You," and "9 to 5" added to her legendary status.

Essential Album: "Coat of Many Colors"

Born and raised in Kentucky coal country, Loretta Lynn put her hardscrabble history to use in songs like "Coal Miner's Daughter." In the 1970s, the flinty singer courted controversy with the songs "Rated X" and "The Pill." In 2004, she made a comeback with the Jack White-produced stunner "Van Lear Rose".

Essential Album: "Blue-Eyed Kentucky Girl"

Willie Nelson's idiosyncratic phrasing and jazz-influenced fretwork set him apart from his contemporaries. His songs "On the Road Again" and "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain" showed his singular style had commercial appeal.

Essential Album:  "​Red Headed Stranger"

Lefty's honky-tonk classics "Look What Thoughts Will Do," "I Love You a Thousand Ways," and "The Long Black Veil" rival those of his contemporary, Hank Williams. Frizzell's warbling singing voice left an imprint on all who hear it.

Essential Album: "Look What Thoughts Will Do"

Buck Owens was the ambassador of the Bakersfield Sound and a co-host for the TV show, "Hee Haw." His amped-up honky-tonk sound gave Nashville a run for its money, electrifying the charts with the songs "Act Naturally" and "Tiger by the Tail."

Essential Album: "The Buck Owens Collection 1959-1990"

The epitome of the singing cowboy, Gene Autry was a star both on record and on screen. His clean-cut persona brought new fans to country music with the help of frontier classics like "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

Essential Album:  "22 Legendary Hits"

The "Queen of Country Music," Kitty Wells set the mold for female country singers in 1952. "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels" broke down barriers, proving female country singers were commercially viable and weren't to be trifled with.

Essential Album: "Countrypolitan Classics - Kitty Wells"

Kris Kristofferson's gem-cut lyrics earned him a reputation as a songwriter's songwriter—country music's answer to Bob Dylan. Janis Joplin ("Me and Bobby McGee") and Johnny Cash ("Sunday Morning Coming Down") performed his songs before his gravelly voice proved itself a worthy instrument.

Essential Album:  "Kristofferson"

Gram Parsons pioneered country rock as a member of multiple bands, among them The Flying Burrito Brothers. After the group dissolved, he came into his own as a solo artist in the 1970s with a pair of classic albums. He died in 1973, cutting his career short.

Essential Album: ​"Grievous Angel"

In the 1960s, Glen Campbell brought a pop sheen to country music. His honey voice and orchestral arrangements yielded the  No. 1 hits "Wichita Lineman," "Galveston," and "Rhinestone Cowboy."

Essential Album: ​"Glen Campbell - The Capitol Years 1965-1977"

Patsy Cline took country music into the pop charts with her full-throated vocals on "Crazy," "Walkin' After Midnight," and "I Fall to Pieces" Her life was cut short by a plane crash in 1963. 

Essential Album: "Gold"

Porter Wagoner did more than help introduce Dolly Parton to the world ("I Will Always Love You" was dedicated to him). As host of his own TV show and singer of "Carroll County Accident," he was also one of country music's most singular figures.

Essential Album: ​"The Essential Porter Wagoner"

Ernest Tubb's folksy delivery and ubiquitous lead guitar put him in the lineage of Jimmie Rodgers. He was country music's next big star, whose lovelorn "Walkin' the Floor Over You" stomped all over the charts in 1941.

Essential Album: ​"The Singer, the Writer, the Country Pioneer"

Best known for "Stand by Your Man," Tammy Wynette was one of country's biggest female stars in the 60s and 70s. Her embattled marriage with George Jones made her life as much of a soap opera as her music.

Essential Album: "Stand by Your Man"

Chet Atkins was a highly influential producer, music exec, and guitar player. His distinctive picking is heard on hundreds of country recordings, including his own as a solo artist. "Mister Sandman" and "Boo Boo Stick Beat" are among the best.

Essential Album:  "The Essential Chet Atkins"

Jim Reeves' smooth country stylings make him a trademark example of the Nashville sound. His popularity was only strengthened after his death, thanks to the canny handling of unreleased recordings by his widow.

Essential Album:  "Anthology"

Roy Acuff's voice is straight from the Tennessee hills. He brought an old-timey dimension to every song he performed. He was also a notable songwriter and music industry figure, who played a significant role in the careers of Hank Williams and Roy Orbison, among others.

Essential Album: ​"​The Essential Roy Acuff 1936–1949"

Ray Price's songs were the equivalent of a feather-stuffed bed, with silken arrangements pinned by his smooth vocals. "Heartaches by the Number" and "Release Me" are among his best-known songs.

Essential Album: ​"The Essential Ray Price"

Country music's resident satirist is good for more than a laugh. Despite being one of Nashville's unusual acts, he managed to crack the Top 10 with songs like "King of the Road" and "Dang Me."

Essential Album: ​"King of the Road: The Genius of Roger Miller"