Entertainment Music Top 25 Classic Country Singers These legends have shown longevity, commercial success, and enduring influence Share PINTEREST Email Print Music Country Music Top Artists Top Picks Rock Music Pop Music Alternative Music Classical Music Folk Music Rap & Hip Hop Rhythm & Blues World Music Punk Music Heavy Metal Jazz Latin Music Oldies Learn More By Robert Silva Robert Silva is an electronics and audiophile hobbyist who writes about entertainment technology and films for more than 20 years. our editorial process Robert Silva Updated May 06, 2019 Country music is filled with new talent, but the songs by these country legends will never disappear. From Hank Williams to Patsy Cline, the biggest solo artists in country music history remain favorites. While many more names could be added to this list, it's been narrowed 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. 01 of 25 Hank Williams Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer Hank Williams' early death at the age of 29 cemented his legacy in country music. Yet it's because of songs such as "Lovesick Blues," "Cold Cold Heart," and "Lost Highway" that he continues to captivate listeners. Essential album: "40 Greatest Hits" 02 of 25 Johnny Cash Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer Johnny Cash's voice is unmistakable and his cache of songs speaks to his long career. After a string of hits and commercial success in the 1950s and '60s, Cash gained a new following in the '90s with his "American Recordings" series. Essential Album: "Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958" 03 of 25 Merle Haggard Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer Merle Haggard had one of the most distinctive voices and was 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" 04 of 25 Jimmie Rodgers Getty Images/Jim McCrary / Contributor 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 was topped off with his signature "blue yodel." After Rogers died of tuberculosis at 35, he became known as the Father of Country Music. Essential Album: "The Essential Jimmie Rodgers" 05 of 25 Waylon Jennings Getty Images/Michael Putland / Contributor Country singer Waylon Jennings brought a rock 'n' roll spirit to country music in the '70s. 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" 06 of 25 George Jones Getty Images/Hulton Archive / Handout Since his first hard-drinking hit in 1959 with "White Lightning," George Jones' operatic voice had a profound impact on listeners. Following a dark, alcohol-fueled period in the '70s, 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" 07 of 25 Dolly Parton Getty Images/Gems / Contributor Dolly Parton's pin-up curves, angelic voice, and affecting songwriting make her a triple threat. Her talent and appeal have endured over the decades, due to her winning personality and, more important, classics such as "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You," and "9 to 5." Essential Album: "Coat of Many Colors" 08 of 25 Loretta Lynn Getty Images/Richard E. Aaron / Contributor Born and raised in Kentucky coal country, Loretta Lynn put her hardscrabble history to work in songs such as "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" 09 of 25 Willie Nelson Getty Images/Rick Diamond / Contributor 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 that his singular style had commercial appeal. Essential Album: "Red Headed Stranger" 10 of 25 Lefty Frizzell Wikimedia Commons Lefty Frizzell'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 leaves an imprint on all who hear it. Essential Album: "Look What Thoughts Will Do" 11 of 25 Buck Owens Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer 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" 12 of 25 Gene Autry Getty Images/Kurt Hutton / Stringer The epitome of the singing cowboy, Gene Autry was a star on records and on screen. His clean-cut persona brought new fans to country music with the help of frontier classics such as "Back in the Saddle Again" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds." Essential Album: "22 Legendary Hits" 13 of 25 Kitty Wells Getty Images/GAB Archive / Contributor 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 not to be trifled with. Essential Album: "Countrypolitan Classics: Kitty Wells" 14 of 25 Kris Kristofferson Getty Images/Bettmann / Contributor 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" 15 of 25 Gram Parsons Getty Images/Harvey Silver / Contributor 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 death in 1973 at just 26 cut his career tragically short. Essential Album: "Grievous Angel" 16 of 25 Glen Campbell Getty Images/Michael Putlan / Contributor 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" 17 of 25 Patsy Cline Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives 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" 18 of 25 Porter Wagoner Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer 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 one of country music's most singular figures. Essential Album: "The Essential Porter Wagoner" 19 of 25 Ernest Tubb Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer Ernest Tubb's folksy delivery and 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" 20 of 25 Tammy Wynette Getty Images/Michael Putlan / Contributo 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 did. Essential Album: "Stand by Your Man" 21 of 25 Chet Atkins Getty Images/David Redfern / Staff 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" 22 of 25 Jim Reeves Getty Images/Keystone / Stringer 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" 23 of 25 Roy Acuff Getty Images/Rob Verhors / Contributor With a voice straight from the Tennessee hills, Roy Acuff brought an old-time 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" 24 of 25 Ray Price Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer Ray Price's songs were the equivalent of a feather bed, with silky arrangements joined by his smooth vocals. "Heartaches by the Number" and "Release Me" are among his best-known songs. Essential Album: "The Essential Ray Price" 25 of 25 Roger Miller Getty Images/Getty Images / Handout Country music's resident satirist is good for more than a laugh. Despite being one of Nashville's unusual acts, Roger Miller 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"