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Top 25 Classic Country Singers

The timeless voices of country music


ull-length portrait of American country singer and songwriter Hank Williams holding a guitar, 1940s.
Archive Photos/Getty Images

Here are the country legends that won't go away -- country music's essential solo artists. This list is based on longevity, sales, and influence.

1. Hank Williams
Essential Album: 40 Greatest Hits
Hank Williams's early death cemented his legend, but it's because of songs like "Lovesick Blues," "Cold Cold Heart," and "Lost Highway" that he continues to captivate listeners.

2. Johnny Cash
Essential Album: Complete Sun Recordings 1955-1958
After a string of hits in the 1950s and '60s, Johnny Cash gained a new following in the '90s with his American Recordings series.

3. Merle Haggard
Essential Album: Down Every Road
Merle Haggard is one of country music's most distinctive voices and gifted songwriters. His prolific songbook includes drinking tunes ("Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"), political screeds ("Okie from Muskogee"), and jailhouse lamentations ("Mama Tried").

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

5. Waylon Jennings
Essential Album: Honky Tonk Heroes
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 of the outlaw country movement that arose in opposition to the Nashville sound.

6. George Jones
Essential Album: 50 Years of Hits
Since his first hard-drinking hit in 1959 with "White Lightning," Jones's operatic voice has had a profound impact on listeners. He returned to form in the '80s with his album I Am What I Am, featuring his signature song "He Stopped Loving Her Today."

7. Dolly Parton
Essential Album: Coat of Many Colors
Dolly Parton's pin-up curves, angelic voice, and affecting songwriting make her a triple threat. Her talent has endured over the decades thanks to her winning personality and, more importantly, classics like "Jolene," "I Will Always Love You," and "9 to 5."

8. Loretta Lynn
Essential Album: Blue-Eyed Kentucky Girl
Born and raised in Kentucky coal country, Loretta Lynn put her hardscrabble history to use in her songs. 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.

9. Willie Nelson
Essential Album: Red Headed Stranger
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.

10. Lefty Frizzell
Essential Album: Lefty Frizzell: Look What Thoughts Will Do
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 its imprint on all who followed.

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