The 1960s were a golden era for American country music. At the time, it was still forming into a cohesive sound and sometimes borrowed elements from other locations and styles.
Still, the decade gave us Outlaw country as well as the Nashville and Bakersfield sounds, creating several subgenres that filled out its colorful spectrum.
In this post, we’re going to dive into some of the artists making such amazing music as we look at the greatest and most famous country singers of the 60s. Let’s get started.
Related: For more of the most famous country singers check out our post here.
1. Patsy Cline
First on our list, female country balladeer Patsy Cline tragically passed away in a plane accident in 1963, but that didn’t stop her music from dominating the decade.
Her number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country and Western Sides chart, “I Fall to Pieces” and “She’s Got You,” are two of the most iconic early country tunes from this era.
Cline was one of the first country artists to cross over into the pop genre and the first woman to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Dozens of other artists, including Willie Nelson, have covered her single “Crazy.”
2. Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash’s deep baritone is popular karaoke fodder these days, but no one can quite match the tone of the legendary country icon.
Though the 1960s were a tumultuous time for his personal life, he recovered and went on to host a variety show. Moreover, he released several of his most iconic songs during the decade, including “Ring of Fire,” “A Boy Named Sue,” and “Jackson.”
During this era, Cash famously performed at a number of prisons, including Folsom and San Quentin. At the latter, Cash recorded his well-regarded track “San Quentin.” His performance of “Folsom State Blues” at the former earned him Best Country Vocal Performance at the Grammys.
With June Carter, his wife, and musical partner, Cash sold upwards of 90 million records, making him one of the most successful artists of all time.
3. Dolly Parton
Though today she is a country and pop-crossover superstar, Dolly Parton was just getting started in the 1960s.
She released her debut album Hello, I’m Dolly in 1967 but had already seen success within that decade as a songwriter for other artists.
That same year, Parton drew the attention of Porter Wagoner, who invited her on his show to replace Norma Jean as a regular performer.
Her TV appearances only built on her musical popularity, boosting her solo career when she famously did strike out on her own.
4. Conway Twitty
Conway Twitty, who began his career as a rock-and-roll singer, saw major success in the 1960s as a newly-minted country music artist.
Some country disc jockeys avoided his music because they saw him as belonging to another genre. But soon enough, he broke through the boundaries and achieved acclaim for both sounds.
Twitty’s popularity skyrocketed with the release of “The Image of Me” and “Next In Line” in 1968.
The 60s were only the beginning of his success, as he recorded a series of duets with Loretta Lynn in the following decade.
5. Merle Haggard
Merle Haggard’s youth and young adult years were troubled, and he served time as an inmate of the San Quentin State Prison more than once.
Interestingly, he heard Johnny Cash perform there in 1958, which inspired him to become a country star once he was on parole.
With his band The Strangers, Haggard recorded a 1967 album titled Branded Man that saw significant accolades.
He was part of the Bakersfield movement, which rebelled against the slick Nashville sound prevalent in the industry. Haggard helped it go mainstream in the 1960s.
6. Tammy Wynette
Classy and feminine, there’s a reason Tammy Wynette was called the “First Lady of Country Music.”
Her poised stage presence, combined with her emotive performances, led many fans to support her at the height of her career in the 1960s and 1970s.
Wynette’s career included 20 number singles on the Billboard country chart during this era.
“Stand By Your Man,” and “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” are two of her most famous tunes and show off her powerful mezzo-range belt.
The drama in her voice is partly due to her impressive range, which could stay low and sultry or soar high above a backing band for theatrical effect.
7. Roger Miller
Roger Miller smashed Grammy records in the 1960s with his most recognizable songs, including “King of the Road,” “England Swings,” and “Dang Me.”
He was part of the Nashville Sound, popular during the decade, which incorporated smooth production featuring strings and other pop elements.
Miller’s use of the honky-tonk, a novel sound at the time, was one of the prime features of his music.
In 1967 the singer earned his own show on NBC, which ran for 13 weeks. In the meantime, he kept churning out massive musical hits, cementing his status as one of the decade’s most foundational country music artists.
8. Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell hailed from Arkansas but began his career as a Los Angeles-based studio musician before going solo in the 1960s.
He was a major influencer in bringing country music to the mainstream with his TV show, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and continued his Hollywood success when he starred in True Grit with John Wayne in 1969.
Considered pop crossover and part of the Nashville Sound, Campbell enjoyed tremendous success in this decade, with multiple albums reaching number one in the US Country charts between 1967 and 1969.
His most notable records from the decade were “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” “By the Time I Get To Phoenix,” and “Wichita Lineman.”
He was a multiple Grammy award winner and also received honors from the Country Music Association.
9. Waylon Jennings
Waylon Jennings recorded several successful albums with RCA Victor in the 1960s. However, he grew frustrated with the restrictions imposed as part of the “Nashville Sound.”
That led him to rebel and become a pioneer of “Outlaw” country music. It was a subgenre that resisted the smooth packaging of the Nashville sound and included icons like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, and David Allan Coe.
His career was overshadowed by the deaths of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, who were on a plane that crashed in 1959.
Jennings had given up his seat on the plane and always felt guilty about his survival. Indeed, he wrote a tribute to the victims in 1960 called “The Stage (Stars in Heaven).”
10. Loretta Lynn
Born Loretta Webb in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, Loretta Lynn had amassed an impressive 57 years of touring before retiring from performing in 2017.
Her career first took off in the 1960s, particularly after her albums You Ain’t Woman Enough and Fist City, making her one of the most recognizable country voices of the decade.
Her hits “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man),” “One’s On the Way,” and “Coal Miner’s Daughter” contributed to her enormous fame and helped garner her accolades from the Country Music Association and Grammy Awards. In fact, Lynn is the female recording artist in country music with the most awards.
11. Hank Williams, Jr.
Hank Williams, Jr., born Randall Hank Williams in Shreveport, Louisiana, is the son of Hiram “Hank” Williams. His father was one of the original country singer-songwriters with hits like “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and “Jambalaya (On the Bayou).”
Growing up with this legendary parentage, it’s no wonder Williams Jr. reached success himself. His musical debut was one of his father’s songs, “Long Gone Lonesome Blues,” and he recorded duet albums with Williams Sr in 1965 and 1966.
He first became active in the 1960s, though his career would reach its peak in the 1970s. Williams Jr. sometimes uses nicknames given to him by his father, such as Bocephus and Rockin’ Randall.
Despite being in his 70s, he still remains active professionally and tours around the country.
12. Porter Wagoner
In an era where many country artists were in the recording studio, Missouri-born Porter Wagoner achieved an extra step up in his career as a popular TV persona.
The Porter Wagoner Show launched in 1961 and ran for 21 years, during which he presented much of his original material. Moreover, he introduced the world to a new musical duet partner, a young star named Dolly Parton.
Wagoner was recognizable for his gaudy costuming, and big blonde pompadour. His most famous songs from the decade included “Sorrow on the Rocks,” “Green, Green Grass of Home,” “The Cold Hard Facts of Life,” and “Misery Loves Company.”
Wagoner’s status as a fixture in the country music industry earned him the nickname “Mr. Grand Ole Opry.”
13. Buck Owens
And finally, though his name isn’t as well known these days, Buck Owens was foundational to the country sound of the 1960s.
His choice of traditional instrumentation, catchy choruses, and twangy guitars formed the Bakersfield sound out of California, a style he shared with Merle Haggard.
Owens’ band, The Buckaroos, had 21 number-one hits on the Billboard charts. Their most famous songs included “Act Naturally,” “Crying Time,” and “Together Again.” In 1968, they performed for President Lyndon Johnson, which was released as a live album.
Like Porter Wagoner, Owens was another country music star with a popular TV show. He co-hosted the Hee Haw variety show, beginning in 1969 and continuing for 17 years.
Summing Up Our List Of 1960s Country Singers
From its origins in Motown, gospel, and folk, country music began to take shape in the 1960s.
Some of the most pivotal sounds arose from this era, including the various subgenres spawned when more traditional songwriters broke from the too-smooth Nashville sound.
Many country stars reached the public with the help of TV, and remained in the limelight for decades to come.
It was truly a foundational era that brought us some of the most iconic country songs to exist and inspired hundreds of covers that continue in our current day of touring artists.