Entertainment

Legendary Country Singers: Then & Now

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/ Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Country music has produced countless legendary performers. Artists such as Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn have been a part of the genre for over 50 years.

But before Willie Nelson was The Redheaded Stranger, he was Willie Hugh Nelson, a disc-jockey struggling to sell his original songs. Before Dolly Parton was a household name, she was the singer of "Dumb Blonde" (her first single) and embarking on a new role on The Porter Wagoner Show, where she was initially jilted by an audience who preferred her predecessor, the country singer Norma Jean. And before Loretta Lynn was the Coal Miner's Daughter, she was, well, a coal miner's daughter with a head full of stories and songs waiting to be shared.

Even country icons have to start somewhere. Below, take a look at some of the genre's most beloved artists -- in their early years and today.

 

Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson 1965
CIRCA 1965: Country singer/songwriter Willie Nelson records in the studio in circa 1965. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Willie Nelson
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Singer and activist Willie Nelson is one of the most recognizable faces in country music. During the coronavirus pandemic, he livestreamed several benefit concerts to raise money for people who endured financial difficulties.

Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton
1967: Country singer Dolly Parton with her collaborator Porter Wagoner on the set of his TV show in circa 1967. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton performs at the 2021 Kiss Breast Cancer Goodbye Concert at CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on October 24, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

"I Will Always Love You" singer Dolly Parton is a country-music legend who has been nominated for 50 Grammys, winning 10. The national treasure donated $1 million to help fund research for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks performs for the Parade of Pennies on January 1, 1989 in Nashville, Tennessee (photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)
Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks attends the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The Kennedy Center on May 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

According to the RIAA, Garth Brooks is the top-selling solo artist in the United States with 138 million units sold. That's ahead of Elvis Presley and is second only to the Beatles in total albums overall. In 2021, Brooks performed "Amazing Grace" at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Loretta Lynn
Loretta Lynn poses with her Cracker Barrels Country Legend Award at The Loretta Lynn Ranch on September 13, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images for Cracker Barrel)

Loretta Lynn has a career that spans over six decades. She is known as the "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "The First Lady of Country." She released her 46th solo album, Still Woman Enough, in March 2021.

Shania Twain

Shania Twain
Singer Shania Twain attends the Sixth Annual Billboard Music Awards on December 6, 1995 at New York Coliseum in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Shania Twain
Shania Twain arrives for the ZFF Golden Icon Award ceremony and "Casino" screening during the 17th Zurich Film Festival at Kino Corso on September 25, 2021 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images for ZFF)

Shania Twain has sold over 100 million albums, making her the best-selling female country singer of all time. Some of her most well-known songs include "Any Man of Mine," "You're Still the One" and "That Don't Impress Me Much." Twain lives with her husband in Corseaux, Switzerland, where her son was born.

Vince Gill

Vince Gill
Vince Gill poses for a photo in 1984 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Walter Iooss Jr./Getty Images)
Vince Gill
Vince Gill performs on stage during the Grand Ole Opry's 5000th Show at The Grand Ole Opry on October 30, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Vince Gill became famous as the front man for Pure Prairie League and as a solo artist. As of 2021, he has won 22 Grammys, more than any other male country artist. Gill joined the Eagles after Glenn Frey passed away and serves as co-lead guitarist and singer for the band.

George Strait

George Strait
George Strait during George Strait in Concert - August 20, 1983 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, United States. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
George Strait
George Strait performs during the 2021 iHeartCountry Festival at Frank Irwin Center on October 30, 2021 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

George Strait is known as "The King of Country" and is notable for trying to take country music back to its roots in the 1980s. Notable hits include "Write This Down," "She'll Leave You with a Smile" and "I Hate Everything." Strait released his 30th studio album, Honky Tonk Machine, in 2019.

Clint Black

Clint Black
(Photo by Acey Harper/Getty Images)
Clint Black
Clint Black performs at the Ryman Auditorium on December 02, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Clint Black's debut album, Killin' Time, produced five number-one singles on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. He released his 13th studio album, Out of Sane, in 2020. During that same year he appeared as the "Snow Owl" on the fourth season of The Masked Singer.

 

Related Videos

recommended for you

Legendary Country Singers: Then & Now