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.
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.
"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.
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 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 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 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 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'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.