From the plains of the Mississippi River to the mountain regions of the Ozarks, Arkansas’s landscape has been influential in developing incredible talent in all genres of music.
However, Arkansas has a very rich history of country music, and over the years, many country singers have called it home. From Johnny Cash to Conway Twitty, these artists have made a major impact on the country music scene.
Whether they were born or started their careers there, these country stars all have one thing in common: They’re proud to come from the Natural State. So read on as we take a look at 10 of the most famous country singers from Arkansas.
1. Johnny Cash
Up first, we have the legend Johnny Cash, who was born in Kingsland, Arkansas, in 1932. Cash debuted on the Country Music scene in Memphis in the mid-1950s.
Backed by his band, Tennessee Three, Cash’s distinct rhythmic, train-like sound of his guitar and clear bass-baritone voice made him stand out among other singers. He dressed all in black and introduced himself before every show.
“I Walk the Line” was his most famous song. This was followed closely by “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Ring of Fire.”
His career was so varied that he was inducted into three very different Halls of Fame: Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel.
2. Conway Twitty
Although he was born in Mississippi, Harold Lloyd Jenks, also known as Conway Twitty, moved with his family to Helena, Arkansas, at age 10. Helena is just across the Mississippi River from Memphis and the music scene that influenced his career.
Dubbed the “High Priest of Country Music,” Twitty was renowned for his songs’ sentimental, romantic themes. Twitty succeeded in rock and roll, R&B, and rockabilly, yet he will always be considered a quintessential country music star.
His duets with Loretta Lynn earned him a series of awards. He had 55 number-one hits, and he topped the pop charts with “It’s Only Make Believe.”
3. Glen Campbell
Hailing from Billstown, Arkansas, Glen Campbell worked his way up from picking cotton to picking the guitar as a session musician in 1960s Los Angeles. He played on recordings for at least 29 different artists, including the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley.
Besides playing the guitar and singing, he was also a songwriter, actor, and television host. The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour ran on CBS from 1969 to 1972. He played a supporting role and sang the theme song for True Grit, starring John Wayne.
“Gentle on My Mind” may have been his most famous hit, but fans of country music will also remember him for his songs “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Southern Nights.”
4. Joe Nichols
Born and raised in Rogers, Arkansas, Joe Nichols has produced over 14 top 40 hits starting in the early 2000s. “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” and “Yeah” are two of his most famous songs.
Nichols toured with Alan Jackson in 2004 and Toby Keith in 2005 and 2006. During that time, he released three albums producing seven hits.
Like many artists finding fame at a young age, he has experienced difficulties in his personal life and musical career. However, Nichols is a study in perseverance and a source of inspiration with the release of his tenth album Good Day For Living, in February 2022.
5. Phillip Sweet
Phillip Sweet was raised in Cherokee Village, Arkansas, situated in the Ozark Mountains. On the weekends, he and his siblings performed in his mother’s variety show.
Sweet is a founding member of Little Big Town. The band, known for their rich four-part harmony, has had several popular hits with themes relating to rural life. “Pontoon” and “Boondocks” have become iconic anthems for simple country life.
Sweet and his bandmates have won awards for their music, including Favorite Country Group and International Artist Awards. Little Big Town is enjoying the sweet country life known for its positive energy.
6. Tracy Lawrence
Though born in Atlanta, Texas, Tracy Lawrence grew up in Foreman, Arkansas, in the 1970s. He began his singing career as a member of the local Methodist Church’s choir and learned to play guitar. Although his mother wanted him to be a minister, he began playing in local bars at 15.
In 1991, he released his first album and the title track, Sticks and Stones. Two of his 14 released albums went double-Platinum: Alibis in 1993 and Time Marches On in 1996.
Lawrence is a master at mixing modern and traditional country music into a distinct sound that still draws loyal fans. He has been busy the past years creating his three-part album Hindsight 2020.
7. Collin Raye
Floyd Elliot Wray, now known as Collin Raye, was born in DeQueen, Arkansas. He came by his talents naturally, as his family was quite musical.
His mother, Lois, served as an opening act for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and another Arkansas native, Johnny Cash. He and his brother formed a band aptly named the Wray Brothers Band.
When he began his solo career in 1990, he took on the name Collin and altered the spelling of his last name to Raye. He released eleven albums, including a lullaby album for children entitled Counting Sheep. In 2014, he released his autobiography, A Voice Undefeated.
Raye didn’t shy away from social issues. One of his biggest hits, “Little Rock,” deals with recovering from alcoholism. As a means of public service, the video includes the number for Al-Anon.
8. Shay Mooney
The grandson of a preacher, Shay Mooney was born and raised in Natural Dam, Arkansas. Growing up, he performed several times at the church and attended a private Christian school in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Mooney met the other half of the duo, Dan Smyers, at a house party. Sometime during the evening, they performed together and have been a team ever since. After that fateful evening, Dan + Shay made their debut with “19 You + Me.” “Tequila,” released in 2018, was their first top 40 hit.
Dan + Shay are still active, having released their latest album Good Things, in 2021, and performing, although two events were canceled due to testing positive for COVID-19 in later that year.
9. Ed Bruce
Born in Keiser, Arkansas, Ed Bruce started his music career as a songwriter, voice-over actor for television and radio commercials, actor, and host.
Eventually, he went into singing, gaining enough popularity that any true country music fan should be able to sing the chorus of his song “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, Bruce had his most significant musical success with his songs and writing songs for other artists. His song “The Man that Turned My Mama On” was a big hit for Tanya Tucker in 1974. He did the same for Crystal Gale that same year with “Restless.”
10. Lefty Frizzell
Although born in Texas, William Orville “Lefty” Frizzell was raised in El Dorado, Arkansas. His country way of singing influenced the style of future iconic country artists like George Jones and Willie Nelson.
The peak of his career was in the 1950s, and he was best known for his hit “If You Got the Money, I Got the Time.” In 1972, he was added to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Lefty’s career, though, was tumultuous at times. This lead to alcoholism and health issues, and he sadly passed at the age of 47 in 1975. However, in 1982, seven years after his death, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Summing Up Our List Of Arkansas Country Singers
Some of the most iconic musicians have come from Arkansas and considered it their home. From the late greats to the new generations of country singers, the Wonder State has much to offer to country music fans.
However, this list is far from comprehensive, as there are so many more amazing country artists from Arkansas.
Who did we miss off? Let us know, and we’ll add them in!