13 Of The Greatest And Most Famous Country Singers Of The 80s

Written by Laura Macmillan
Last updated

The 1980s were a true golden age for music. Some of the greats rose to prominence during this decade, captivating audiences with their unique voices and stories.

And while the 1980s are perhaps best remembered for their pop music, they were also an exciting time for country music lovers.

Here, we have listed 13 of the greatest and most famous country singers of the ’80s. Read on to learn about them!

1. Alabama

Formed in Fort Payne in 1969, country band Alabama started out as a group of three cousins combining country southern rock, bluegrass, folk, gospel, and pop. 

The group was most successful In the 1980s when they had ten songs hit the US country music charts. Eight of those songs made it all the way to #1.

“Mountain Music” was Alabama’s most popular song in the 1980s, hitting Platinum five times in 1982. The song was a crossover success that hit both the country and pop charts, reaching up to #14 on the Billboard 200 chart. 

Some of their other popular songs in the 1980s with which you may be familiar include “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” and “Song of the South.”

2. Kenny Rogers

Singer Kenny Rogers, born in 1938, has had a successful career spanning over four decades, during which time he released 60 albums and sold over 100 million records.

Rogers had 13 songs on the US country music charts in the 1980s, and four of those made it to #1. “Eyes That See in the Dark” and “Share Your Love” were the two most popular. Both peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 chart. 

Early in his career, Rogers signed to the small independent label Kesler Music. However, he later found success with larger labels such as United Artists and RCA.

In addition to his solo recordings, Kenny Rogers has worked with other artists, including Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. His duet with Parton, “Islands in the Stream,” was a #1 hit in both the US and UK.

3. Dolly Parton

Born in 1946 in rural Tennessee, Dolly Parton was the fourth of 12 children and raised in a sharecroppers family. Parton began performing at an early age, and by 13, she was appearing on a local television show.

In 1964, she moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country music. There she found work as a songwriter, and soon her compositions were recorded by some of the biggest names in the business, including Kenny Rogers and Loretta Lynn.

She released 11 albums and 42 singles in the 1980s; and one of her most iconic songs, “9 to 5,” comes from the 1980 film by the same name. Because of its message of female empowerment, it hit both the country and pop charts and is still hugely popular today.

4. Keith Whitley

Born in 1955 and raised in Kentucky, Keith Whitley’s music career began in the early 1970s when he played in various country bands.

In 1984, he signed with RCA Records and released his debut album, Hard Act to Follow. The album’s lead single, “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” became a hit, and Whitley quickly established himself as a force to be reckoned with in the country music world.

He released several more successful albums over the next few years, but sadly, he passed away in 1989 at 33.

Despite his short career, Keith Whitley left a lasting legacy; he was a gifted singer and songwriter who helped shape modern country music’s sound.

5. George Strait

Hailing from Poteet, Texas, George Strait, born in 1952, began his musical career in the early 1970s when he started playing in honky-tonks around Texas.

Critics called him a new traditionalist, breaking the ‘80s trend of being a crossover country and pop artist. He released 28 singles in the 1980s, and 18 of those went to #1 on the country chart.

Some of his most memorable songs from the ‘80s were “The Chair” and “All My Exes Live in Texas.” 

He stopped doing interviews for a while after his 13-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident in 1986. However, his music continued, and he’s released more than 60 albums and sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

6. Earl Thomas Conley

Born in 1941 in Portsmouth, Ohio, Earl Thomas Conley served in the US Navy before he moved to Nashville in 1966 to pursue a career in country music. He quickly found success as a songwriter, penning hits for such artists as Conway Twitty and George Jones.

He released 11 albums and 33 singles in the 1980s, with 18 of them reaching the #1 spot on the country music charts. “Holding Her and Loving You” and “Fire and Smoke” were among his best in the ‘80s.

In 1986, Conley broke down genre barriers with “Too Many Times,” a single with the pop/R&B singer Anita Porter of the Pointer Sisters. However, he started collaborating with Randy Scruggs by the end of the 1980s, trying to get back to his country roots. 

Conley was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988.

7. Dwight Yoakam

American singer-songwriter Dwight Yoakam was born in Kentucky in 1956 and began his musical career in the 1970s.

However, it wasn’t until he moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s to develop his honky tonk revivalist style that he started to thrive. He sought an audience beyond typical country fans, doing shows in various rock and punk-rock clubs around LA.

Twelve songs from four of Yoakam’s albums hit the US country chart in the 1980s. The two that reached #1 were “Streets of Bakersfield” (with Buck Owens) and “I Sang Dixie.”

Yoakam has won multiple Grammy Awards and is widely considered one of the leading figures in country music.

8. Randy Travis

Born Randy Bruce Traywick—professionally known as Randy Travis—was born in 1959 in Marshville, North Carolina. His music career began in the early 1980s when Warner Bros. Records signed him.

His debut album, Storms of Life, was released in 1984 and quickly became a commercial success. The lead single from the album, “On the Other Hand,” reached #1 on the Billboard Country charts, making Travis the first artist to achieve this feat with a debut single.

Travis would enjoy an incredibly successful career, releasing a string of hit albums and singles.

9. The Judds

Next, we have the Judds. They were a daughter-and-mother duo comprising Naomi Judd (born 1946) and Wynonna Judd (born 1964).

Active between 1983 and 1991, the duo recorded seven studio albums, three Greatest Hits albums, one live album, and a box set during their successful career.

When their first album hit stores in 1984, it became an instant classic and set the Judds on the path of being one of the top female country music groups. 

During the 1980s, 14 of their singles made it all the way to #1 on the country charts. “Why Not Me” and “Mama He’s Crazy” were among the 1980s favorites. 

10. The Oak Ridge Boys

Hailing from Oakridge, Tennessee, the Oak Ridge Boys started out as a gospel vocal quartet in the 1940s.

While they started as a southern gospel band, they began focusing on their non-religious country image in the 1970s and had several crossover hits by the time 1980s rolled in.

The Oak Ridge Boys had 28 singles on the country music charts in the 1980s, with 15 going to #1. “Elvira” went Platinum in 1981 and is probably still their best-known song. Both “Elvira” and “Bobbie Sue” were also top-40 pop and adult contemporary hits.  

Since they started, the band has had 31 total members, with the four current members all starting the band in the ‘60s or ‘70s. 

11. Charlie Pride

Born in 1934 in Mississippi, Charlie Pride rose to prominence as a country music singer in the 1960s, becoming one of the first African American performers to achieve widespread success.

Pride continued to release successful albums throughout the 1970s and 1980s, earning multiple Grammy Awards and becoming one of the best-selling country artists of all time. 

He put out 11 albums in the 1980s, with the album There’s a Little Bit of Hank in Me going gold. Of the 27 singles he released in the ‘80s, seven songs made it all the way to #1. “You’re So Good When You’re Bad” was among his best of the 1980s. 

He performed the National Anthem a the 1980s World Series game, which is fitting since he started as a professional baseball player for the Memphis Red Sox.   

12. Merle Haggard

As a teenager, our next singer, Merle Haggard, ran away from home several times and ended up spending time in juvenile detention and reform school. He also began to develop a drinking problem.

In 1958, Haggard was arrested for attempted robbery and sent to prison. It was there that he began to play guitar and write songs.

After his release, Haggard embarked on a career as a country singer. He signed with Capitol Records in 1962 and released his first album the following year.

Haggard released 17 albums and 34 singles in the 1980s, with 12 finding their way to #1 on the US country charts. He sang “Pancho and Lefty” with Willie Nelson, and it was among his most popular songs from the ‘80s.

13. Emmylou Harris

Last but not the least, we have Emmylou Harris, who was born in 1947 in Birmingham, Alabama. She began her career in the early 1970s when she moved to Nashville and signed with the Reprise Records label.

From her 12 albums and 25 singles in the 1980s, two made it to #1: “Beneath Still Waters” and “(Lost His Love) On Our Last Date.” However, she really shone with the album Trio, which she collaborated on with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt in 1987. It went Platinum and contained four top-10 singles. 

Throughout her career, Harris has released more than 20 studio albums and has won multiple Grammy Awards.

Summing Up Our List Of 1980s Country Singers

The 1980s saw the rise of some of the greatest country singers. Figures like Charlie Pride, George Strait, and Dolly Parton dominated the charts and helped bring country music to a broader audience.

These artists brought a new level of artistry to the genre, crafting songs that were both personal and universal in their appeal.

In the process, they helped to create an enduring legacy that continues to influence country music today.

As we look back on these 1980s country singers, we can see just how influential they were in shaping the sound and style of country music.

Photo of author

Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.