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The 50 Most Influential Women in Country Music

March 28, 2024 8:38 pm GMT
Last Edited April 2, 2024 2:13 pm GMT

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Imagine, for a moment, country music without women. Try to picture over a hundred years of the genre without a single female having made her mark.

No Sara or Maybelle Carter means no Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline or Loretta Lynn. Without them, there would likely be none of the hitmakers we love today — be it Carrie, Miranda, Kacey or Lainey.

Thank our lucky stars that we don’t have to live in a world where women and country music don’t go hand in hand. In fact, much of the genre’s success and longevity can be attributed to its female performers, women who have come to define country with more than just their music.

In observance of Women's History Month, Holler has compiled a list of country music’s most influential women. We’ve combed through the genre’s history books to celebrate the female artists, instrumentalists and musical groups that have had the greatest impact on the format, many of whom paved the way for more and more female performers to thrive in an often male-dominated industry.

In no particular order, we salute the movers, shakers and history-makers, highlighting their contributions to the country genre and beyond. Without further ado, in the words of Shania Twain, “Let’s go, girls!”

50

Patty Loveless

The thing that has defined Patty Loveless over the course of her decades-long career is the fact that she’s undefinable.

The unparalleled vocalist has made her mark on everything from neotraditional country to country pop to bluegrass and back again. The fiery ‘Blame It On Your Heart,’ the plucky ‘Timber I’m Falling In Love’ and the haunting ‘You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive’ have all been successes for the artists, all in very different ways.

The one throughline throughout her hit-riddled career has been her one-of-a-kind voice – emotive and enrapturing.

- AP

49
Connie Smith

Connie Smith

Celebrating her 60th year as an artist this year, Connie Smith is a prime example of grace, longevity and natural talent in country music.

Possessing one of the most beloved and inspirational voices in the genre, Smith has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry since 1965 and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame for a decade. During this time, she has continuously used her success to further ensure her freedom and creative control as an artist, releasing her most recent and thirty-sixth studio album, Cry of the Heart, in 2021.

A vital piece of the genre's history, Connie Smith is the influencer's influence, just ask Dolly, George Jones and The King.

- RJ

48
Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton

In a predominantly white dominated genre, Mickey Guyton has become a major torchbearer for Black country artist representation, making history several times in recent years.

Fast forward to 2020, Guyton's artistry began to reflect more of her struggles as a Black woman. In the wake of the George Floyd protests and the Black Lives Matter movement, Guyton released the evocative 'Black Like Me', resulting in her first ever Grammy nomination and making her the first Black woman to be nominated in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Later that year, she became the first Black woman to perform at the ACM Awards, and the following year, she was the first Black woman to co-host the same awards.

- LF

47
Danny Clinch

Lucinda Williams

If you dive deep into the soul of the American songbook, past all the bullshit propaganda and idealistic notions of the American dream, that's where you'll find Lucinda Williams – its actual beating heart.

While a deeply deserving recipient of both critical, and eventual commercial success, none of that really matters with Williams – her work so much richer and more gratifying than any mere accolades can offer it.

A true songwriter's songwriter, Williams is constantly an unassuming vanguard at the front of every genre or style of popular American music. Whether its country, alternative country, Americana, blues, folk, roots or rock, Williams has shaped and inspired their futures in her own refined and uniquely creative way, while never being restricted by any of them.

- RJ

46

Rissi Palmer

When Rissi Palmer scored a hit with her 2007 single, ‘Country Girl’, she became the first African-American woman to appear on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in two decades.

Both through her subsequent array of releases, which blend gospel, folk and soul, and through her Color Me Country radio show on Apple Music, Palmer has cemented her status as one of the biggest champions of underrepresented voices in the genre.

Palmer took this a step further in 2020 when she founded the Color Me Country Artist Fund, which seeks to elevate BIPOC artists in country, with Chapel Hart, Lizzie No and more benefiting from the grant.

- MM

45

Nicolle Galyon

A singer, songwriter, producer, publishing and record label executive, is there anything Nicolle Galyon can’t turn her hand to?

She’s written hits for Kelsea Ballerini, Kenny Chesney, Florida Georgia Line, Keith Urban, Lady A and many more, winning ACM awards for Song of the Year with Miranda Lambert’s ‘Automatic’ and Dan + Shay’s ‘Tequila’.

Galyon partnered up with Big Loud Records to launch the female-focused Songs and Daughters record label in 2019, and a year later, she expanded it to include its own publishing arm, proving that the greatest thing you can do with power is pass it down.

- JO

44
Jessi Colter

Jessi Colter

Long considered the Queen of Outlaw Country, with songs like ‘I’m Not Lisa’, the Mickey Newbury-penned ‘Why You Been Gone So Long’ and ‘Storms Never Last,’ a duet with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter came to define the sound of an emerging movement in country music that still endures today.

She featured on the chart-topping 1976 CMA Album of the Year winner Wanted! The Outlaws compilation alongside Jennings, Willie Nelson and Tompall Glaser, and her most recent album, the Margo Price-produced Edge of Forever, came out last year to widespread critical acclaim.

- JO

43

Molly Tuttle

Molly Tuttle is a modern bluegrass phenom, with the virtuoso instrumentalist establishing herself as a trailblazer in the genre over the course of her five studio albums (and counting).

Tuttle has garnered popularity both as a solo artist and alongside her much-loved Golden Highway band, with the California singer-songwriter exploring a rich tapestry of sounds before settling on a full-band approach with her 2022 record, Crooked Tree, and then doubling-down on the widely acclaimed City of Gold the following year.

Each album earned Molly Tuttle a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, with Tuttle and her frequent collaborator, Billy Strings, forming an unofficial alliance to bring the genre to a broader audience than ever before.

- MM

42

Bobbie Gentry

Bobbie Gentry might not have had that long a career, but it was undoubtedly an influential one, as was one of the first female artists in America to compose and produce her own material.

After breaking through with ‘Ode to Billie Joe,’ Gentry charted 11 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, four singles on the United Kingdom Top 40 plus an album of Glen Campbell duets, before taking a successful run of variety shows to Las Vegas, as well as three series of her BBC Saturday night TV show in the UK.

The title track of her 1970 album, Fancy, was famously covered by Reba McEntire twenty years later.

"Fancy is my strongest statement for women's lib, if you really listen to it”, Gentry said at the time. “I agree wholeheartedly with that movement and all the serious issues that it stands for – equality, equal pay, day care centers and abortion rights".

The last time Gentry appeared in public was when she attended the ACM Awards on April 30, 1982. Since that time, she has not recorded, performed or been interviewed.

- JO

41

Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini spearheaded the country-pop resurgence of the late 2010s, with vulnerable, intricate hits such as ‘Peter Pan’, ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ and ‘homecoming queen?’ all solidifying her position as one of the most prominent country artists of the decade.

After the vibrant, sunny SUBJECT TO CHANGE arrived in 2022, Ballerini stripped it all back for one of her most arresting releases to date, Rolling Up The Welcome Mat, which served as a soul-baring exploration of the breakdown of her marriage.

With four Grammy nominations to her name and an array of CMA and ACM awards in her trophy cabinet, the Knoxville native is a touchstone for contemporary country storytelling.

- MM

40

Maren Morris

Ever since she stormed onto the country charts with her 2016 single, ‘My Church’, Maren Morris has been blazing her own path to stardom – and she’s not been afraid of upsetting a few folks along the way.

Whether it was through her colossal EDM smash, ‘The Middle’, or through her controversial declaration in 2023 that she was leaving country music and that she wanted to “burn it to the ground and start over”, Morris has revelled in staying true to herself, even when it drew criticism from traditionalists.

The Texan’s alluringly laidback, genre-blurring sound has earned her a mainstream following that extends beyond Music City, with Morris remaining a key role model for those marching to the beat of their own drum.

- MM

39

Natalie Hemby

With an abounding list of writing credits for the likes of Lee Ann Womack, Toby Keith, Jon Pardi, Kacey Musgraves and more, Natalie Hemby has become a significant voice among the country songwriting community.

Accumulating eight No. 1s throughout her career, including Miranda Lambert's 'White Liar', 'Automatic' and 'Only Prettier', as well as Little Big Town's 'Pontoon' and 'Tornado', she's also enjoyed success as an artist in her own right, releasing 2017's Puxico and 2021's Pins and Needles.

In 2019, Hemby joined the all-female quartet The Highwomen alongside Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Maren Morris, going on to gain much commercial success and Grammy recognition.

- LF

38

Amanda Shires

Despite being popularly known as a collaborator, both with ex-husband Jason Isbell and her country supergroup The Highwomen, Amanda Shires has a catalogue of work that stands completely on its own.

Her prowess on the fiddle has brought her to some of the biggest stages in the country, including the acceptance floor of the Grammys.

Her 2022 solo work, Take It Like a Man, expanded her folk-based sound and solidified her standing as more than just a songwriter, but a poet.

- LO

37

Brandy Clark

Despite building her reputation in Nashville for writing mainstream country mega hits like ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ and ‘Follow Your Arrow’ – as well as co-writing Hailey Whitter’s breakthrough hit, ‘Ten Year Town’ – Brandy Clark has always seemed like something of an outlier in country music.

A natural country songwriter who feels as rooted in classic country as she does contemporary country pop, she’s one of country music’s greatest storytellers.

Most recently she co-wrote a Broadway musical, Shucked, with Shane McAnally, released her Brandi Carlile-produced self-titled album and joined Ashley McBryde for her Lindeville project.

- JO

36

Roseanne Cash

Being a member of a country music dynasty is a tricky beast. The pressure on the children of legends to be as successful an artist as their parents can immediately stifle their careers and eventually crush their dreams. There was never any chance of that happening to someone as precociously talented as Roseanne Cash.

An artist, author and legend now in her own right, Cash found rare commercial and critical success of her own accord, evolving from her commercial country sound in the late '70s and '80s into a frank and deeply personal songwriter from the '90s onwards. Her ability to reimagine songs and, in many cases, make them better than the originals also showed the keen eye and dexterity of her work.

Roseanne Cash's influence can be heard across the biggest commercial country records of today – her dedication to the craft and art of the album inspiring many to recognise the power and creative gratification of creating one.

- RJ

35
The Judds

The Judds

Naomi and Wynonna Judd. Name a better country music duo, we’ll wait.

The mother-daughter pair turned contemporary country on its head in the 1980s. With their crisp, folk-flecked compositions and distinctive harmonies, they reinfused tradition into the genre.

Songs like ‘Why Not Me,’ ‘Love Can Build A Bridge,’ and ‘Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days)’ put them on top, but it was their bond that made them an unforgettable duo.

- AP

34
Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens

Rhiannon Giddens has centered her work around the mission of lifting up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been overlooked or erased, and advocating for a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins through art.

A founding member, lead singer, fiddle player and banjo player in Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens went on to record five solo albums, as well as recoding Songs of Our Native Daughters for Smithsonian Folkways, written and recorded with fellow artists Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell; an album that “confronts the ways we are culturally conditioned to avoid talking about America's history of slavery, racism, and misogyny”.

A two-time Grammy Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning singer and instrumentalist, MacArthur “Genius” grant recipient and composer of opera, ballet and film, Giddens has published children's books and written and performed music for the soundtrack of Red Dead Redemption II. She's also sang for the Obamas at the White House; is a three-time NPR Tiny Desk Concert alum and hosts her own show on PBS, My Music with Rhiannon Giddens, as well as the Aria Code podcast.

And she’s on the new Beyoncé album!

- JO

33

Margo Price

Margo Price is a modern-day outlaw. She lets her songwriting and artistry speak for itself, without concern for country radio. Having built a following through social media, streaming and good-old-fashioned hard work, Price can lean into her politically-charged art.

In addition to her musical work, the multi-instrumentalist has written a touching, vulnerable memoir shedding light to her grueling ascension in the music industry, while also touching on alcoholism and the loss of her son, Ezra.

Unapologetic, gritty and exposed, Margo Price is leading a new generation of country music’s outlaws.

-LO

32
Linda Rondstadt

Linda Ronstadt

Folk, rock, pop, Latin – Linda Ronstadt has done it all, but some of her most celebrated work has come by way of the country genre.

With songs like ‘Blue Bayou’ and her massive crossover hit ‘When Will I Be Loved,’ as well as her work alongside fellow hitmakers Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris as the Trio, the singer staked her claim on the genre, her stamp forever emblazoned on the style.

- AP

31
Alison Krauss 3

Alison Krauss

When Molly Tuttle and Billy Strings were mere babes, Alison Krauss was pioneering bluegrass music back into popular consciousness.

At one time both the singer and woman with the most Grammy wins in history, Krauss singlehandedly took the long institionualised genre and injected it with country and pop influences, introducing it to a whole new, younger audience.

Alongside her countless collaborative work, Krauss has fronted the revered Bluegrass group Union Station, formed a duo with Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant and even created the music for seminal films, including the global smash hit that was the Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

A true genre-leader, Krauss drew the bluegrassprint for Molly and Billy to study 20 years later.

- RJ

30

Trisha Yearwood

Throughout the 1990s, women ruled the radio dial and one of the greatest success stories is none other than Trisha Yearwood.

Going on to extend her talents into the realms of acting, cooking and more, she first rose to fame in 1991 with her career-defining, No. 1 hit, 'She's in Love with the Boy'. What followed was a string of subsequent hits like 'Walkaway Joe', 'The Song Remembers When', 'XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)' and 'How Do I Live'.

With more than 15 million records sold worldwide, Yearwood has been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, as well as received three trophies from the Grammys, the ACM and the CMA.

- LF

29

Linda Martell

The first Black woman to ever play the Grand Ole Opry, Linda Martell's influence on country music is more significant than most.

Despite facing racial discrimination from the country music industry and audiences she played in front of, Martell's talent and drive made her one of the first Black artists to find commercial success in the genre, securing hits with songs including 'Color Him Father', 'Before The Next Teardrop Falls' and 'Bad Case of the Blues'.

Martell paved the way and inspired various Black artists of today to pursue their dreams of being country music stars. It should come as no surprise that Beyoncé would recruit Martell for tracks including, 'The Linda Martell Show', on her forthcoming country album, Cowboy Carter.

Martell truly changed the landscape.

- RJ

28

Tanya Tucker

In 1972, at age thirteen, Tanya Tucker became a star when her first single, ‘Delta Dawn,’ reached No. 6 on the country charts. Over the last five decades, Tucker has released 25 studio albums and has achieved more than 40 Top 10 country hits. The country music mainstay continues to inspire with her most recent albums, While I’m Livin’ and Sweet Western Sound.

Tucker has an immediately recognizable husky alto voice and a natural stage presence that solidified her ranking amongst country music’s nobility. As Brandi Carlile once told The Tennessean, “There would be no Miranda, no Brandi, no Gretchen, no Maren without Tanya Tucker”.

- LO

27
Tammy Wynette

Tammy Wynette

One of the leading ladies of the countrypolitan sound, Tammy Wynette, armed with her elegant twang and luxurious song styling, helped launch country music into the mainstream.

While the dismissive ‘Stand By Your Man’ became her signature hit, she made a career out of creating music that dealt with marriage, infidelity and parenthood through a feminine lens, songs like ‘I Don’t Wanna Play House,’ ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E' and ‘Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad’ becoming anthems to women experiencing similar things.

- AP

26

Emmylou Harris

Harris grew up in the folk club scene and merged into country music when she met Gram Parsons in the 1970s, finding herself falling in love with his left-field approach to creativity.

Through her fusion of country and rock, Harris helped to unite rural country audiences and metropolitan rock audiences together in one setting, travelling a singular artistic path and proudly carrying the torch of "cosmic American music" passed down by her mentor.

Whether it’s the harmonies on G.P. and Grievous Angel, her albums in the 1970s with the Hot Band, contemporary bluegrass albums Blue Kentucky Girl and Roses in the Snow, the Daniel Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball or her ambitious concept album The Ballad of Sally Rose, Emmylou Harris has carried country music forward at every turn.

While recording her live album At the Ryman in 1992 in the former home of the Grand Ole Opry, Harris revitalized the legendary venue and put it firmly back on the map for generations to come.

All this, and we haven't even talked about the Trio albums she made with Dolly and Linda!

- JO

25

Patsy Cline

One of the most revered artists of all time, Patsy Cline surged up the charts in the late 1950s with her now-iconic earworm, ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’.

During a period where the genre was dominated by men, the Virginia native earned a fervent following and became the first female country artist to headline her own Las Vegas show in 1962, as well as co-headlining the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles with Johnny Cash.

Cline’s ethereal, charismatic vocals helped to make ‘Crazy’ – penned by Willie Nelson – one of the most popular songs in history, with Cline becoming the first solo female artist to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1973, ten years after her tragic death in a plane crash.

- MM

24

Crystal Gayle

Pop country as we know it today wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Crystal Gayle. Too often overlooked, the songs she recorded broke the ground for artists like Kacey Musgraves to walk on today.

As Countrypolitan crossed over into the pop mainstream, Gayle was pushing it a step further with an inventive and off-centre soft pop sound that was like nothing else in country music at the time.

Recording with Allen Reynolds – who later worked his magic for Garth Brooks – they set about reshaping the pop-country landscape, with a soft fusion of slow disco-pop, MOR, smooth jazz and a twang of traditional country.

- JO

23

Barbara Mandrell

Few today recognize Barbara Mandrell for the full-package performer she was.

A multi-hyphenate vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, the ‘Sleeping Single In A Double Bed’ star held her own in the late 1970s through the 1980s.

Mandrell, with a sound full of glitz and gusto, married country with pop, R&B and soul influences, taking musical risks in order to deftly demonstrate everything that the genre could be.

- AP

22

June Carter

One of the most memorable and adaptable personalities in the whole of the genre's history, singer, multi-instrumentalist, comedian, actress and philanthropist June Carter is Country Music.

Carter offered style, passion, grace and unending talent to every project she contributed to – whether as part of the Carter Family or Carter Sisters, offering comedic delight to road shows and the Grand Ole Opry or when writing staples of the country songbook, including 'Ring of Fire'.

June Carter was a natural from the age of 10, and throughout her life left a legacy that would continue to influence the genre to this very day.

- RJ

21

The Love Junkies

If you take a moment to look at the liner notes of your favorite song or record, you’re likely to find a credit for the Love Junkies.

Made up of Hillary Lindsey, Lori McKenna and Liz Rose, together the Love Junkies have written mega-hits like Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush’. Individually, they have written for music juggernauts like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Kylie Minogue.

Arguably country music's best songwriting team, the Love Junkies are attributed to helping launch careers, pioneering artists into country music and catapulting artists to the top of charts.

The only thing that outnumbers the hits they’ve written are the ones they have inspired.

- LO

20

Ashley McBryde

Among the biggest badasses in the genre, Ashley McBryde is a notable frontrunner.

Never one to relent on being authentically herself and wearing her heart on her sleeve creatively, she's become a force to be reckoned with in the country music scene dating back to her 2016 EP, Jalopies & Expensive Guitars.

With one Grammy, a CMA and three ACM Awards under her belt, as well as a coveted induction into the Grand Ole Opry, her spirited catalogue includes her breakthrough 2017 single 'A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega', 'One Night Standards', 'Light On in the Kitchen' and more that have propelled her into the upper ranks of modern country's leading ladies.

- LF

19

Carly Pearce

Carly Pearce stands as living proof that often the greatest art is born from the darkest of moments.

Although Pearce had already accumulated two No. 1 hits by the time she released 29: Written in Stone in 2021, it was this project that anointed the Kentucky native as one of the leading artists in the genre. 29 found Carly Pearce delving into her divorce and the loss of her close friend and collaborator, busbee, with the blockbuster Ashley McBryde duet, ‘Never Wanted To Be That Girl’, earning both artists their first ever Grammy award.

A Dollywood performer during her teens, Pearce is now poised as one of the potential successors to Dolly’s Queen of Country throne, alongside the likes of Kelsea Ballerini and Lainey Wilson.

- MM

18

Lainey Wilson

After laying the foundation for success with her lauded 2021 major label debut, Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, Lainey Wilson announced herself as country music’s next superstar with the release of Bell Bottom Country the following year.

The project showcased Lainey’s now-signature brand of "Country with a Flare", which gave a swaggering, fresh lick of paint to classic ‘70s-inspired country. Bell Bottom Country earned Lainey Wilson a dizzying array of ACM and CMA awards, as well as her first – and likely not her last – Grammy for Album of the Year.

Although the Grammy was a seismic moment, the Louisiana native’s 2023 CMA Entertainer of the Year victory was arguably more significant. As the industry placed bets between Morgan Wallen and Luke Combs, Lainey reminded the country music world once again why she should be considered one of the biggest acts in the genre.

As well as clearing a new path to the top for up-and-coming female artists in her slipstream, Lainey Wilson’s mainstream popularity has been celebrated as a huge victory for the genre as a whole. While Wallen is topping the charts with his hip hop-infused brand and Zach Bryan is pioneering a folkier style, Lainey is the artist with the most traditionally "country" sound and aesthetic out of anyone.

- MM

17
Reba McEntire

Reba McEntire

It takes a certain caliber of artist to be recognized by first name alone. Cher, Elvis, Prince and of course, the Queen of Country herself, Reba.

When you close your eyes and picture country music, it would be a hard task not to envision Reba. McEntire is the only female country artist to have No. 1 hits in four consecutive decades: '80s, '90s, 2000s and the 2010s . Her career has spanned the last 50-years, making McEntire a staple not just in country music, but popular culture as well.

- LO

16
Artist - LeAnn Rimes

LeAnn Rimes

Few artists got as early of a start in the country music limelight as LeAnn Rimes.

A singer, songwriter and actress, she first rose to prominence at the age of 13 with her 1996 breakout hit, 'Blue'. Busting the industry doors off their hinges, the song become a Top 10 hit and led to a long list of hits, including 'One Way Ticket (Because I Can)', 'How Do I Live', 'I Need You' and more.

Crossing over into pop, contemporary Christian and other genres, she's sold over 48 million records worldwide over the last three decades.

- LF

15
Lee Ann Womack

Lee Ann Womack

Lee Ann Womack’s ‘I Hope You Dance,’ an inspirational ballad that reached the top of the Billboard Country charts in 2000, was a massive crossover success. Despite this achievement, Womack remained anchored in contemporary country music.

Womack’s sweet soprano and deep roots in traditional country updated the sound of 1970s Loretta Lynn for the '90s and 2000s, swapping Lynn’s steeliness for a tenderness that lent itself to the glossier, idyllic sound of the era.

Despite going quiet for a few years, Womack released The Way I’m Livin’ in 2014 and 2018’s The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone. The latter garnered a nomination for Best Americana Album in 2018.

- LO

14
Faith Hill

Faith Hill

Faith Hill laid out the blueprint for noughties country music with her goalpost-shifting 1999 opus, Breathe, which spawned monster hits such as ‘The Way You Love Me’ and the hugely popular title-track.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Hill’s release schedule might’ve dwindled, but her impact grew as the next generation of stars, such as Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, blended Hill’s style into their own musical recipe. Through 2017’s collaborative record with her husband and regular collaborator, Tim McGraw, The Rest of Our Life, Faith Hill showed a younger wave of listeners why she’s one of the genre’s undisputed heavyweights.

Her leading role in the popular Yellowstone spin-off, 1883 – again alongside McGraw – highlighted how her cultural influence is not restricted to music alone.

- Maxim Mower

13

Loretta Lynn

Loretta Lynn made waves throughout her entire country music career.

First, as the matter-of-fact songstress warbling off ‘Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' on Your Mind),’ then as the assertive, controversy-shirking star crooning out ‘The Pill’. It didn't end there, as she solidified her star power in the new millennium as the singing-songwriting master revived for contemporary audiences with tracks like ‘Portland Oregon’.

All the while, she steadfastly remained the ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’, always telling the truth in song and standing up for what she believed in.

- AP

12
Martina McBride

Martina McBride

Martina McBride is synonymous with 90s country. While she was certainly one of the voices of an era, her music continued to top country charts as she released more iconic singles like ‘This One’s for the Girls’.

Known for her soaring soprano voice and pop-country styling on songs like ‘Independence Day’ and ‘My Baby Loves Me’, McBride has uplifted and resonated with women of all ages.

As identifiable as Martina is to 90s country, she is just as popular for her humanitarianism. From domestic violence to cancer research, McBride has been a stalwart in her involvement in charity work.

- LO

11

Sierra Ferrell

Sierra Ferrell isn't just an outlaw country trendsetter, she's a genre-defying, constantly evolving genius.

Having spent a whole decade on the road sharing her wondrous voice through busking and performing increasingly popular sessions, Ferrell cemented herself as an influential modern artist with the release of her debut album, Long Time Coming, an instantly seminal record that summed up everything we'd grown to love about this complex and versatile musician.

Ferrell continues to mould not just country, but folk, blues, old-time traditional and jazz into some of the most memorable and delightful of songs, doing so with such creative flair and simple accessibility that you can't not be influenced by her.

- RJ

10
Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves

When it comes to the leading ladies of 21st century country music, Kacey Musgraves' name is all but etched in gold.

Making her major label debut in 2013 with her groundbreaking Same Trailer Different Park, she's continued to raise the bar and break the mold with every release since.

From her formative Pageant Material and the Grammy award-winning Golden Hour, to the Greek tragedy-coded star-crossed and her newest introspective journey on Deeper Well, Musgraves has become one of the most prominent and profound female voices in the format.

- LF

9
Brandi Carlile. Photo by Neil Krug.

Brandi Carlile

A musical chameleon, Brandi Carlile has become one of the most profound and revered creative voices in country, Americana and beyond over the last two decades.

Since making her debut in 2005, the Washington native has released six acclaimed records that include standout hits such as 'The Story', 'The Joke' and 'You and Me On The Rock', among others. Beyond her solo work, she also founded the all-female quartet, The Highwomen, in 2019 alongside Amanda Shires, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby, providing much-needed female perspectives within the country format.

A singer, songwriter and producer with ten Grammy Awards and two Emmys, Carlile is also a fierce activist for causes like humanitarian aid, racial justice and LGBT rights.

- LF

8

Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood rose to prominence after winning the fourth season of American Idol in 2005. Her debut album, Some Hearts, featured crossover singles ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ and the anthemic ‘Before He Cheats’, becoming the best-selling solo female debut album in country music history.

Having sold over 85 million records worldwide, a New York Times best-selling book and a successful fitness clothing line, we’re sure there isn’t a single thing Underwood can’t do without record-breaking success.

- LO

7

The Chicks

It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you are on politically, one thing that is undeniable is the impact The Chicks have had on country music. Twenty years after they were ousted from the mainstream, it's impossible to look around and see anything but their influence.

Artists like Margo Price, Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves have all achieved mainstream success while continuing to speak out on subjects like reproductive rights, climate change and gun violence – a movement that was set into motion by The Chicks standing up for themselves following the infamous 2003 London show.

The Chicks empowered women in country music by being unwavering in their opinions, despite people making displays of burning the trio’s CDs en masse.

- Laura Ord

6

Kitty Wells

Kitty Wells changed the game for women in country.

It began with the trilling 1952 tune, ‘It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,’ a hit that catapulted her to legendary status as the first solo female artist to top a country chart and then made her a crossover success when the song crept into the pop charts.

The honky tonk angel herself was one of the first women to achieve country music superstardom, and as a result, record companies began welcoming more female artists into the fold.

- AP

5

Mother Maybelle and Sara Carter

In the late 1920s, when A.P. Carter drove his wife Sara, eight months pregnant at the time, and his sister-in-law “Mother” Maybelle twenty-six miles down a rutted Virginian dirt road to Bristol to audition for the record producer Ralph Peer, neither of them could have envisioned the effect they’d have on popular music.

Recorded around one microphone in a warehouse studio, the recording would become what Johnny Cash called “the single most important event in the history of country music,” and see them become “The First Family Of Country Music.”

“The songs we learned were taught to us by my mother, who had learned them from her mother before her”, recalled Maybelle decades later. ‘Single Girl, Married Girl,’ a solo recording by Sara Carter playing autoharp and accompanied by Maybelle on guitar, showcased Maybelle’s innovative fingerpicked guitar style, which became known as the “Carter Scratch”, and revolutionized the guitar as a lead instrument in music.

- JO

4

Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert is, and will forever be, country music's ultimate badass.

Arriving in the mid 2000s with a can of petrol and a lighter in hand, Lambert not only set fire to high society but country music as a whole, hitting it with fists flying while showing how open and forthright she was unafraid to be. She took country music's signature narratives and both revitalised and reimagined them in ways no other country artist had the guts to do.

Whether she's firing gold country bullets with the Pistol Annies, heading into the Texas desert for field recordings or ripping up the traditional rulebook on the Las Vegas strip, Miranda has constantly evolved as an artist, inspiring women in country today to never sit still or be afraid to change their sound.

- Ross Jones

3

Shania Twain

Shania is a pop culture feminist firmly grounded in the country tradition who changed the genre forever.

As the 1990s ushered in a second golden age for women in country music, with a decade that brought such feminist classics as Deana Carter’s Did I Shave My Legs For This and Martina McBride’s Independence Day, Twain brought stadium-sized rock production to her up tempo country pop.

Songs like ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman!’ and ‘That Don’t Impress Me Much’ are universal anthems of female empowerment, while the deeper cuts that Shania would slip into the albums resonate just as deeply, tackling domestic abuse on ‘Black Eyes, Blue Tears’ or the feminist schooling of ‘If You Wanna Touch Her, Ask!’

She has sold over 100 million records, making her not just the best-selling female artist in country music history, but one of the best-selling artists of any genre of all time.

- Jof Owen

2

Taylor Swift

Over the last nearly two decades, Taylor Swift has become one of the biggest and most successful artists in history. Though she's moved on to much poppier pastures, the global powerhouse's roots are firmly planted in the country format and her influence on the genre cannot be overstated.

Across her ten records (soon to be eleven with the release of the highly-anticipated The Tortured Poet's Department) and four re-recorded albums, Swift has gifted the globe with one of the most recognizable and formative soundtracks imaginable.

More than a household name, she's spent the majority of her life breaking records, shattering glass ceilings, experimenting with different genres and styles and ultimately empowering young women everywhere to follow their dreams and stand up for what they believe.

- Lydia Farthing

1

Dolly Parton

You'd need more than just a few sentences to fully sum up Dolly Parton’s influence on the country genre.

Her music alone – a songbook brimming with timeless hits like ‘9 to 5,’ ‘Jolene’ and ‘I Will Always Love You’ – is proof of her power, but her impact can be felt far beyond her catalogue.

Pretty early on in her now six-decades-long career, she demonstrated she was more than just a voice, more than a blonde bouffant: she was a star, a leading lady, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and her own boss. Today, she continues to be all of those things and more.

- Alli Patton

––

Written by Alli Patton
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