27 Best 80s Country Artists

The best 80s country artists include groups, duos, and solo singers. Some were country music legends that had dominated the charts for years, while others were new faces that made a splash.

These country artists of the 80s had some of their biggest hits and greatest success during that decade.

1. Randy Travis

Randy Travis' album Storms of Life in 1986 put him on the country music map and made him one of the biggest 80s country musicians. His song “Forever Ever and Ever, Amen” was one of the decade's most popular country love songs.

Throughout his career, Travis sold 25 million albums and earned seven Grammy Awards.

Aside from music, Travis made several appearances on television shows like Touched by an Angel and films like National Treasure 2. He recorded and performed until a stroke sidelined him in 2013.

The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Travis in 2016. He also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2. Reba McEntire

Hailed as the “Queen of Country,” Reba McEntire's first charting songs were from the 1970s, but her breakout album was My Kind of Country in 1984. She released eight more in the 1980s, earning a Grammy Award and a dozen number one hits.

Her best-selling album, For My Broken Heart, came after she lost eight band members in a plane crash in 1991.

She remains a country music staple, with more than 75 million albums sold, three Grammy Awards, and the six-season TV sitcom Reba that aired in the 2000s.

3. Garth Brooks

Garth Brooks was so popular during the 80s and 90s that he became the only musical artist in history with nine albums that each sold 10 million copies in the US.

He has two Grammy Awards and over 170 million album sales, and by 2020, was the best-selling solo artist in any musical genre in the US. Brooks also sold more albums than any other single artist during the 20th century.

A country institution, Brooks is in three music halls of fame: Country Music, Songwriters, and Musicians. He was also the youngest musician to receive the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize.

4. The Judds

Mother and daughter duo Naomi and Wynonna Judd built a career around a traditional country sound, making them one of the biggest 80s country artists. They won five Grammy Awards and had 14 number hits during their partnership. Unfortunately, it ended in 1991 when Naomi retired because of poor health.

Tragically, after being plagued by health problems for years, Naomi died by suicide one day before the duo’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2022.

5. Keith Whitley

Keith Whitley's first county hit came in 1986, with a string of successful singles following in 1988. Whitley struggled with alcoholism and only released two albums before his death from alcohol intoxication in 1989 at age 34.

Reflecting his popularity, Whitley’s music continued to be released, with some performing well on the Billboard country music chart. These posthumous records gave him a total of 19 songs on the chart. The Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Whitley in 2022.

6. Don Williams

Country Music Hall of Fame member Don Williams had 17 chart-topping country hits during his career, with many during the 1970s and 1980s.

His 1980 release of “I Believe in You” was his 11th number one country hit. As one of the most famous 1980s country artists, Williams didn’t retire until 2016 and died in 2017 at age 78.

7. Dwight Yoakam

Dwight Yoakam's honky-tonk sound was a big influence in his breakthrough success in 1986 with the album Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. His success built into the 1990s with an album, This Time, that sold over 3 million copies.

Yoakam has over 30 million album sales, two Grammy Awards, and multiple acting credits in television shows like Goliath and films like Sling Blade.

8. Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton flourished in the 1960s and 70s as a duo with Porter Wagoner. In 1980, she achieved crossover success on the pop and country charts with her iconic hit “9 to 5” from the feature film of the same name starring Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin.

Parton went from being one of the biggest country artists of the 80s to a beloved pop culture icon adored by fans worldwide.

She's had more number one country songs than any other female artist and won 11 Grammy Awards out of 50 nominations. Parton is in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

9. Kenny Rogers

One of Parton's most famous songs, “Islands in the Stream,” happened to be the first of many collaborations with Kenny Rogers, released in 1983. The song topped Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart and propelled the duo into the hearts of many.

Rogers was a country music star in the 70s, but his 1978 album The Gambler gave him breakout and crossover success. Indeed, it led to a series of TV movies starring him as his Gambler character.

He starred in several television movies and films, won multiple Grammy Awards and other music industry awards, and sold over 165 million copies of his 65 albums. He died at 81 in March 2020.

10. Willie Nelson

Superstar Willie Nelson started as a clean-cut Grand Ole Opry singer in the 60s and 70s, then became part of “outlaw country” in the 70s. He started growing his hair into the signature braids he's recognized for today.

As one of the biggest 80s country artists, Nelson scored hits like “On the Road Again” and collaborated with other stars like Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash. The four formed The Highwaymen and released three albums over a decade.

An impressive 46 of his albums hit the top ten on the country album chart, selling millions of copies. His most recent Grammy Award was for the 2019 song “Ride Me Back Home.”

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One Comment

  1. George Strait is way, way too low. Number 1 country artist period and it isn’t even close. Most number 1 singles period, regardless of genre. Gold albums, Elvis, Beatles, and George Strait.

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