Though country music has evolved over the past century, its essence remains. Country music is known for stories of hardship and loss, and many of those stories come straight from the lives of its greatest influencers. While the country genre has surely changed over the years, the influence of these prior generations can still be heard.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the lives and careers of 19 of the most famous male country singers of all time.
1. Tim McGraw
One of the most well-known country singers Tim McGraw has been consistently releasing top hits for the past three decades and counting.
McGraw started playing guitar in college, and in 1989 he moved to Nashville. He played in a bar until he was discovered and signed by Curb Records in 1990.
McGraw’s self-titled debut album was released in 1993, but it was not as successful as he had hoped it would be. However, McGraw’s second album, Not a Moment Too Soon, went triple platinum and propelled him to country stardom.
McGraw has been wildly successful since, rapidly churning out albums and number one hits, many featuring vocals from his wife, country star Faith Hill.
2. Johnny Cash
“The Man in Black”, Johnny Cash is indisputably one of the most influential country musicians of all time.
As a boy growing up in Kingsland, AR, Cash knew he wanted to be a musician. He joined the Air Force and later become an appliance salesman before recording his first single in 1955.
When “Cry Cry Cry” became a #14 hit, Cash left his sales job and recorded “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line”, quickly propelling him to fame.
In 1969 Cash became the best-selling recording artist, and he produced music until he died in 2003.
3. George Strait
George Strait is widely acknowledged as the “King of Country.” Raised in Pearsall, TX, Strait married his high school sweetheart, Norma Voss, who encouraged him to pursue a musical career.
Strait was ready to settle for an agricultural job when, after years of pursuing a career in country music, he finally managed to get a deal with MCA Records.
Strait has had 33 platinum or multi-platinum records, more than any other country artist, and third overall behind The Beatles and Elvis Presley.
Strait is the only artist in history to have a top 10 hit every year for three decades.
4. Garth Brooks
Garth Brooks is one of the world’s best-selling artists with over 170 million albums sold, second only to The Beatles in total album sales.
Although he was born to musical parents, Brooks’s mother did not support him when he said he wanted to leave college to pursue a country music career. Brooks finished college and moved to Nashville without his mother’s blessing.
Brooks signed with Capitol Records in 1988 and had his first number one hit in 1989 with “If Tomorrow Never Comes” and has since recorded over 20 number one singles.
5. Blake Shelton
Blake Shelton is one of today’s biggest country stars. Growing up in Ada, OK, Shelton always knew he wanted to be a musician. He began writing songs at 15 and moved to Nashville at 17.
Shortly after he arrived in Nashville, Shelton signed a recording contract, and in 2001 he released his first single, “Austin.”
“Austin” was number one on the Billboard charts for five weeks, and his self-titled debut album was on the top 40 charts for 70 weeks.
Blake never lost steam and has continued recording hit after hit. He has won numerous awards, been nominated for 9 Grammys, and is now well known as a coach on The Voice.
6. Willie Nelson
After spending most of the 1950s working as a DJ, Nelson found success as a songwriter. His recordings did not see the same success.
In 1973 he recorded Shotgun Willie, which sold more than all his previous albums combined.
After personal tragedies in 1991–trouble with the IRS and his son’s suicide–Nelson made a strong comeback and is still recording and touring today.
7. Luke Bryan
Luke Bryan is one of the world’s best-selling music artists. In 15 years, Bryan has released 10 albums and had 27 number one hits.
Bryan grew up in Leesburg, GA, and was planning to move to Nashville at age 19. Instead, his brother tragically died in a car accident, and Bryan attended Georgia Southern University to remain closer to family.
Two years after graduating, Bryan finally moved to Nashville and began his career as a songwriter. After writing and co-writing many successful songs, including Billy Currington’s “Good Directions” Bryan began his singing career.
His first single, “All My Friends Say,” made it to number five on the Billboard charts, and Bryan continues to write and record hit after hit.
8. Luke Combs
Luke Combs is relatively new to the country music scene, but he has already made a big impression, being named Entertainer of the Year by the Country Music Association in 2021.
Combs has been performing since he was a child. While still in high school, he performed a vocal solo at Carnegie Hall.
Combs dropped out of college to pursue a music career in Nashville. He has released an EP and two studio albums, the most recent of which, What You See is What You Get, reached number one on the Billboard charts.
9. Alan Jackson
Born in Newnan, GA, Alan Jackson worked as a mechanic and construction worker before he ever considered a career in music.
In 1985, Jackson, who played with a local band, moved to Nashville to pursue a country music career.
By 1990, Jackson had signed with Arista Records and released his first album, Here in the Real World, which contained three number one hits.
With his good looks and his throwback musical style, Jackson quickly grew to fame as the newest heartthrob of country music.
10. Hank Williams, Jr.
Hank Williams, Jr. was born in Shreveport, LA to Audrey Williams and country music star Hank Williams, Sr.
His famous father died of a drug and alcohol overdose when Williams was only 3 years old. At only 8 years old, Williams began his musical career, primarily singing his father’s songs.
Trying to break out of his father’s shadow, Williams became well known for his “outlaw” style of country music.
Later in his life, however, he left his bad-boy persona behind and began to show more maturity in his music.
11. Kane Brown
Kane Brown is a young country artist whose career began on social media, where he gained a huge following by posting videos of himself singing covers of country songs.
When Brown posted a clip of his first original song, “Used to Love You Sober,” it gained a million views in three hours.
Brown raised money on Kickstarter to produce his first EP, Closer, in 2015.
In 2016 Brown signed with RCA Nashville. He has since released another EP and two studio albums. In 2018 Brown’s second album, Experiment hit number one on the Billboard 200.
12. Brad Paisley
Brad Paisley has been performing nearly his entire life. A member of the Grand Ole Opry, Paisley has earned three Grammys and numerous other awards.
Paisley began playing guitar at age 8, and by 3rd grade, he was booking gigs all over town at events and parties.
When he played at a local Rotary Club meeting while still in junior high, the program director of a radio station invited him to be a guest on Jamboree USA. Paisley became part of the show’s weekly lineup for 8 years and was the youngest person ever inducted into the Jamboree USA Hall of Fame.
Paisley attended Belmont University in Nashville on a fully paid ASCAP scholarship before releasing his debut single less than a year after graduation.
Paisley has since released 11 studio albums, all Gold certified or higher.
13. Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton got his start in Nashville in 2001 as a songwriter. Stapleton has written or co-written over 170 songs, six of which have been number one hits.
Notable songs Stapleton has written include Josh Turner’s “Your Man,” Luke Bryan’s “Drink a Beer,” and Kenny Chesney’s “Never Wanted Nothing More.”
Stapleton sang lead in two bands before going solo in 2015. His debut album, Traveller, reached number one on the Billboard 200 chart and went triple platinum.
Stapleton has won five Grammy awards, nine ACM awards, and 10 CMA awards.
14. Kenny Chesney
Kenny Chesney has had a wildly successful career, earning the ACM’s Entertainer of the Year award four consecutive years from 2005 through 2008.
Chesney taught himself how to play guitar, and after graduating from college in 1990, headed to Nashville.
After becoming a resident performer at The Bluebird Cafe, a honky-tonk bar in Nashville, Chesney signed a songwriting contract in 1992 and then a recording contract in 1993.
Chesney has since recorded over 20 albums and released over 40 top ten singles, 32 of which reached number one.
15. Keith Urban
Keith Urban began his music career in Australia, where he grew up. He released his self-titled debut album in 1991.
In 1992 Urban moved to the US, but it wasn’t until 1999 that he released he had his American solo debut with a second self-titled album.
His first US album gave him his first song to make the US Hot Country Songs chart with “But For the Grace of God.”
“Somebody Like You,” from Urban’s second US album Golden Road, was named the biggest country hit of the 2000s.
Urban continues his successful career with 11 studio albums, 18 number one singles, and numerous awards in Australia and the US.
16. Toby Keith
Toby Keith moved to Nashville in the early 1990s, and in 1993 his debut single, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” became a number one hit. The song was the most-played country song of the 1990s.
Keith’s first four albums each gained Gold certification or higher, but Keith’s success only grew.
Keith’s next three albums, Pull My Chain, Unleashed, and Shock’n Y’all all want 4x Platinum.
Keith has released 21 studio albums to date, most recently Peso in My Pocket in 2021. Keith has had 20 number one hits and an additional 21 top ten hits.
17. Eric Church
Eric Church began playing guitar and writing songs at age 13. By the end of high school, he was playing gigs at local bars.
Church earned a degree in marketing from Appalachian State University but ultimately decided he wanted to pursue music professionally and moved to Nashville.
In 2006 Church’s debut album Sinners Like Me gave him three top 20 hits, and in 2007 his second album Carolina gave him his first two top 10 hits.
Church’s third album Chief propelled him to stardom with his first number one hits “Drink in My Hand” and “Springsteen.”
Church continues to produce chart-toppers and has released nine studio albums.
18. Jason Aldean
Jason Aldean has seen success since his career began in 2005 when he won the ACM award for Top New Male Vocalist.
Aldean moved to Nashville in the late 1990s and twice signed with a label only to be dropped before recording. He struggled for several years before signing with Broken Bow Records in 2005.
Since then, Aldean has won many more awards, including Artist of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and the ACM Dick Clark Artist of the Decade Award.
Aldean has released 10 studio albums and 38 singles, 24 of which have hit number one on either the Hot Country Songs or Country Airplay charts.
19. Randy Travis
Randy Travis was a frontrunner for the resurgence of “pure” traditional country.
Travis had troubled teen years, abusing alcohol and drugs and facing felony charges at age 17.
Travis was saved by his music when Lib Hatcher, who would soon become his manager and later his wife, saw him perform at a talent contest. Hatcher appeared in court on Travis’s behalf, taking custody of him and helping him start his career.
Travis’s debut album, Storms of Life, sold over 1 million copies, and his next, Always and Forever, sold over 3 million and remained number one on the country charts for a record 43 weeks.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Male Country Singers
While the country genre continues to evolve, certain elements remain true to country music’s origins.
Each famous artist has contributed to the genre, adding to its rich and diverse sound.