Country music has a long and proud history of women who have made a difference in the genre. In 2024, country music is ruled by one female, particularly the CMA 2023 Entertainer of the Year, Lainey Wilson.

Wilson had a night that she will never forget at the 57th Annual CMA Awards In November (2023).

When she came backstage, I asked Lainey about meeting and spending some quality time with the 1978 CMA Entertainer of The Year, Dolly Parton. The two got together at Dollywood a week before the CMA Awards. She told me, “Actually, when I went to Dollywood, and I hung out with her a little bit, I told her… I said the CMAs are around the corner. She said, ‘I’ve won one a time or two.’ I mean, Dolly, she’s it. She’s the one that I look to when I think about how to go about this business. She’s never been scared to step outside the lines, to step outside the box. But at the same time, she’s completely true to herself and true to her story.” Indeed, on Lainey’s major label debut, 2021’s Sayin’ What I’m Thinkin’, she had a song called “WWDD.”  That stands for “What would Dolly do?”

She added, “I asked for some advice on how do you keep on going. And she said, ‘You’ve got to keep going, and whatever you are affiliated with, make sure that you’re passionate about it because at the end of the day If you’re not, people can read right through that.'”

Wilson concluded with a smile. “It’s incredible, you know how everybody says don’t meet your hero? Well, I’ll tell you what, that’s not Dolly Parton. She’s someone I think everybody needs to strive to be.”  And clearly, she’s someone whom anyone would be lucky to meet.

In celebrating the success that Lainey is having in country music right now, we take a look at who we believe is the Top 20 female country singers of all time.

RELATED: Dolly Parton: Her Five Most Fabulous Music Videos

  • 20. Ashley McBryde

    Ashley has been making waves in country music for a few years now and, in early 2024, embarked on a sold-out tour of clubs in Europe. Her 2023 album The Devil I Know got rave reviews and even was named one of our Top Five albums for 2023. Ashley is a lifelong Dolly Parton fan and told me in a recent interview that she watched Parton’s banter with the crowd from her 1994 Heartsongs Live album, and it taught her how to relate to her own crowd, which she does so well.

    We see big things for McBryde, who is on a GRAMMY in 202 for her duet with friend Carly Pearce, “Never Wanted To be That Girl.”

  • 19. Carly Pearce

    Carly Pearce won her first Grammy Award in 2023 for her collaboration with Ashley McBryde, “Never Wanted To be That Girl.” Carly is destined for country music greatness, as she has already won a handful of awards from the CMA as well.

    She toured with Blake Shelton in 2023 and even performed with his wife, Gwen Stefani, on the 2023 CMT Music Awards. In 2024, she will open shows for Tim McGraw.

  • 18. Kelsea Ballerini

    With her album “Subject To Change,” released in the fall of 2022, Kelsea Ballerini is hot in country music. She was nominated for a Grammy in 2023 for Best Country Solo Performance.

    She was also nominated for a Grammy in 2024 for her impromptu album “Rolling Up The Welcome Mat,” which she did and didn’t even tell her record label about until weeks before its release in late 2023.

    In 2023, she toured Europe in February and joined fellow East Tennessean Kenny Chesney for a summer tour. She also headlined many shows in 2023, including her first arena tour in her hometown of Knoxville in October.

    With her intelligent lyrics and growing rabid fan base, Kelsea will surely be a country music superstar in the coming years.

  • 17. Patty Loveless

    Patty was one of country radio’s favorites in the late 1990s, charting more than 40 songs on the US Billboard Hot Country Songs charts, including five number ones: “Timber, I’m Falling in Love,” “Chains,” “Blame It on Your Heart,” “You Can Feel Bad,” and “Lonely Too Long.”

    She won the CMA’s Female Vocalist in 1996 and CMA’s Album of the Year for her project “When Fallen Angels Fly” in 1995.

    In 2023, she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Many country stars of today were inspired by Loveless’ music and her rise to stardom.

  • 16. Faith Hill

    Faith was huge in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She graced the cover of several top magazines, not just in music but in the fashion world, including a couple of covers for Glamour and several covers with and without her husband, Tim McGraw, for People magazine. She recently landed a role on the Paramount Plus series 1883 with her husband.

    She charted several number-one singles on country radio and even scored a number-one pop song with “Breathe” in 1999. She also won the CMA’s Female Vocalist honor in 2001.

    Hill has sold over 20 million albums in her musical career to date.

  • 15. Trisha Yearwood

    Having sold ten million albums worldwide, Trisha took her debut single, “She’s In Love With The Boy,” to the top of the country charts. She followed that up with many more number-one songs, including “Thinkin’ About You.”

    Married to Garth Brooks on December 13, 2005, her career took on a new life when she collaborated with her husband and toured stadiums nationwide (2019 and 2022) with Brooks as his opening act.

    She also hosts her own cooking show on the Food Network and has written several cookbooks.

  • 14. Crystal Gayle

    Crystal’s biggest hit was in 1977 with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” for which she won a GRAMMY in 1978.

    Crystal went on to chart sixteen songs at number one on the Billboard charts and toured extensively with Kenny Rogers in the 1980s. Known also as a great photographer, Rogers sparked Gayle’s interest in the medium, and she still takes pictures today.

    Gayle has her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was inducted as a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2017. Her big sister Loretta Lynn made the induction at the Opry.

  • 13. Martina McBride

    A powerful voice with powerful songs to go with it is what makes Martina McBride a country superstar.

    Martina has sold over 14 million albums. In addition, she has won the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award four times and the Academy of Country Music’s “Top Female Vocalist” award three times. She is also a 14-time Grammy Award nominee.

    Many of her songs had a pop-styled crossover sound, similar to Shania Twain and Faith Hill. She had a string of major hit singles on the Billboard Country Chart and occasionally on the Adult Contemporary chart.

  • 12. Tanya Tucker

    Tanya has been a consistent hitmaker in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In 2019, her album While I’m Livin’ won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album, and “Bring My Flowers Now” from that same album won Tucker a shared songwriting Grammy for Best Country Song.

    Tucker began her career at age thirteen, releasing her debut album, Delta Dawn. The title song from the album became her signature hit, although it peaked at number three on Billboard. It wasn’t until a year later that she scored her first of more than ten number-one singles, “What’s Your Mama’s Name.”

    In 2023, she (finally) became a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, taking her place among the greatest in country music.

  • 11. Lainey Wilson

    Lainey Wilson is moving steadily up this list and will one day be in the top five for sure as one of the greatest female country singers of all time. Lainey achieves success in country music by simply being herself. Wilson shined at the 2022 CMA Awards with her thick Louisiana accent and won Female Vocalist of the Year.

    In November of 2023, she won the CMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year Award, the first time she was nominated. She won a whopping seven CMA awards that fateful night in November, including Album of the Year for her Bell Bottom Country album, an honor she also received in early 2023 from the ACMS.

    In 2024, she will embark on her own headline tour. She has signed deals with many products, including Wrangler and Coors Light, which is sponsoring her first headlining tour.

    She is known as a country superstar now and will only grow in success to become one of country music’s greatest.

  • 10. Patsy Cline

    Even though Patsy died in a plane crash in 1964 at the height of her fame, to this day, she is remembered through her songs and fantastic voice. Her daughter Julie, who was just five when her mom died, even has opened a museum to remember her famous mom in downtown Nashville.

    Considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century, she was one of the first country music artists to cross over into pop music successfully.

    Cline was portrayed twice in major motion pictures, including the 1985 biopic “Sweet Dreams” starring Jessica Lange. Several documentaries and stage shows were released, including the 1988 musical “Always…Patsy Cline.”

    Fun fact: When Barbara Mandrell was just 12 years old, she toured with Patsy and used to style her hair before shows.

  • 9. Tammy Wynette

    When you listen to a Tammy Wynette song, it makes you feel like a grown-up. Tammy’s songs sing of the heartache of love, loss, betrayal, and motherhood, both good and bad. She charted 20 number-one songs on the Billboard Country Chart. Along with Loretta Lynn, Lynn Anderson, and Dolly Parton, she is credited with having defined the role of women in country music during the 1970s.

    Along with her then-husband George Jones (they married in 1969), she was the super couple of country music in the 1970s. They divorced in 1975 but, years later, recorded an album together in 1995 called “One.”

    Showtime is currently running a mini-series called “Geprge & Tammy” about Wynette’s life and her marriage to George Jones.

    Tammy was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1998. Sadly, she died before she got the honor in May of that same year.

  • 8. Barbara Mandrell

    In the early 1980s, no one was bigger in country music than Barbara Mandrell, who hosted her own variety show with her sisters on NBC called “Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters.” The show had 40 million people watching every Saturday night.

    She became the first person to win the coveted “Entertainer of the Year” honor twice in a row from the CMA in 1980 and 1981. In 2017, Keith Urban told me in an interview that when he thinks of the Entertainer category, Mandrell is the first person that comes to mind.

    Sadly, Barbara retired from the music business in 1997 and spends time these days with her kids and grandkids. She loves to garden and has a mean set of flowers on her property south of Nashville.

  • 7. Taylor Swift

    Yeah, she’s one of music’s biggest stars right now, but let’s not forget she began her musical dream in Nashville and in country music.

    In 2007, with her debut album, Taylor set music on fire, bringing so many young people in the direction of country music and into Nashville for the summer CMA Fest party.

    She has her own learning center at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville and took home the CMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year honor in 2009 and 2011.

    2007, she won the ACM’s Album of the Year honor for her debut project. Swift also won the ACM Entertainer of the Year award in 2010 and 2011.

  • 6. Miranda Lambert

    Finally crowned the ACM Entertainer of the Year in 2022, Miranda is the most winning artist in the history of Academy of Country Music (ACM).

    She took home the Female Vocalist award from the ACMs nine times and won the same honor from the CMA seven times.

    Lambert has sold over eight million albums to date. Her songwriting and talent embody what a country singer should be.

    In 2022, she started a Las Vegas Residency, and her show proved once again why Queen of Country Music is a title she is quite worthy of in this decade.

  • 5. Shania Twain

    You don’t sell over 100 million albums and not make it into the top five of the 20 Best Female Country Artists of all time. Shania has done just that.

    She has inspired many acts that came after her in country music, including Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and more.

    Twain has received five Grammy Awards, a World Music Award, 27 BMI Songwriter Awards, and has stars on Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

    She is the only female artist in history to have three (consecutive) albums certified Diamond by the RIAA (that’s 10 million for each album).

    With the February 2023 release of her Queen of Me album, Shania proved she still has it.

  • 4. Carrie Underwood

    Let’s be honest; Carrie has a fantastic voice, beauty, and excellent songwriting skills, and she sure knows how to put on a show. She proved that with the glowing reviews of her 2022 and 2023 Las Vegas show at Resorts World.

    She has been the recipient of seven Grammy Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards, sixteen Academy of Country Music Awards, seventeen American Music Awards, nine Country Music Association Awards, seven Teen Choice Awards, five CMT Artists of the Year awards, and twenty-three CMT Music Awards, among others.

    Underwood has sold 70 million records worldwide.

  • 3. Loretta Lynn

    Loretta was the first absolute female superstar in country music, rising to fame not long after her friend Patsy Cline died in a plane crash in the 1960s.

    Her fame really took off when Sissy Spacek played her in the 1980 movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and won an Oscar for the role.

    Lynn has scored twenty-four number-one hit singles and eleven number-one albums. She ended 57 years of touring on the road after a stroke in 2017 and broke her hip in 2018.

    Lynn passed away in October of 2022. Her memorial saw in-person performances from George Strait, Keith Urban, Wynonna Judd, and many more.

  • 2. Reba McEntire

    Reba has sold over 75 million records worldwide. Since the 1970s, McEntire has placed over 100 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 25 of which reached the number one spot.

    Aside from music, Reba is also a well-known TV and film actress. She starred in the television series Reba, which aired on the CW network for six seasons.

    She has performed at the Oscars twice in her career, in (2022), when she performed the Oscar-nominated song written by Diane Warren, “Somehow You Do.” She first performed at the Academy Awards in 1991, singing a song from the movie “Postcards From The Edge.”

    Reba is now a coach on NBC’s The Voice and works when she can to act in TV and movies. She is tapped to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl in 2024.

  • 1. Dolly Parton

    This music icon is going on her seventh decade of making successful albums and movies, writing songs, selling cosmetics, and then her philanthropy. She gives a lot, including books, to every school-age child in America and beyond with her Imagination Library.

    She is also the only artist on this list and beyond that has her own theme park, Dollywood, in her native East Tennessee, where she recently announced that she would pay for college for any of her employees there. And, of course, there’s that million-dollar donation to Moderna in 2020 for the COVID-19 vaccine.

    Aside from all that, there is the music. Dolly released her first album in 1967 and her latest album in 2022. She has had 110 career-charted singles over the past 40 years. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is, of course, in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

    When she was told she would be going into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she wanted to earn it and began work on a 39-song project of rock songs; some were her own, and many were rock hits sung along with the original artist including Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Debbie Harry, Miley Cyrus, and many, many more. The album became the top-selling album of her career when she released it in November of 2023. It’s called Rockstar.

    Parton has 11 Grammy Awards and 51 nominations, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. There is simply no one in country music like her.

Sign me up for the Backstage Country email newsletter!

Backstage access to the top names and rising stars of Country Music and more delivered to your inbox.

By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.