Country music is uniquely American, taking elements from the blues, bluegrass, and folk music from the South and Southwest, and more recently incorporating elements of pop and even hip-hop. It rocketed to prominence during the 1920s and hasn’t lost a beat since then. According to industry data analytics firm MRC Data and Billboard, country music ranked fourth as a category in on-demand audio streams in 2020 at 7.5%, behind only hip-hop/R&B (30.7%), rock (16.3%), and pop (13.1%).
Famed documentarian Ken Burns took note of its popularity and significant role in American culture when he produced an eight-part miniseries on the genre. Airing in 2019, the series garnered an average of 6.8 million viewers per episode across all platforms.
But it’s the stars that make country music so vital. Legends like Hank Williams Sr. and Patsy Cline, who died far too young, remain among the 50 most popular country stars even today, proving the enduring allure of the genre. Their notable songs — like Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and Cline’s “Crazy” (the latter written by another country legend, Willie Nelson) — continue to stir the heartstrings of music lovers today. (These are the 40 most popular country music albums of all time.)
Like any other art, country music has changed over the years and incorporated elements of other musical genres. Stars like Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks have crossed over to pop music, and in the case of Parton and Reba McEntire, among others, found success acting in movies and television. What also makes country music stars so intriguing is their real-life stories. (After all, Loretta Lynn was the subject of the No. 1 film on our list of best movies for country music fans.)
To identify the 50 most popular country music stars of all time, 24/7 Tempo used data from the music analytics site Chartmetric to create an index measuring the relative popularity of a wide range of artists based on their Spotify followers, YouTube channel views, and Pandora lifetime streams as of June 2021.
To that list, the editors added a number of older artists widely considered to have been key in the development of country music, but whose popularity on contemporary platforms may be modest, as they are lesser-known to younger listeners. Artists are listed alphabetically.