Time and time again, the women of country music have proved to be the torchbearers for authentic storytelling. From the early days of Dottie West and Kitty Wells to Reba McEntire and Martina Bride through Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, country music has been far richer with the unyielding power and finesse of the female perspective. Deadly tales of revenge, introspective balladry and story song structures have propelled the urgent and often potent storytelling medium through 2016. Sure, the men — bros included — are doing just fine, but it is the women who, well, really run the world.
10 Greatest Female Country Singers Of All Time:
It’s amazing how such a subtle and tender voice can light up the dark. Her material is often bluegrass in execution, and the addition of her feathery and heartfelt conviction has stood the test of time.
Essentials: “When You Say Nothing At All,” “Whiskey Lullaby,” “Down to the River to Pray,” “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You,” “When God Dips His Pen of Love in My Heart”
Entering the business at only 13 years old, she possessed an air and wisdom far beyond her years. Her voice, too, was impressively mature. Now, with many years of life experienced behind her, she has a rich well of emotion and care from which to draw. Her voice is like a fine wine; it’s only gotten better with time.
Essentials: “Blue,” “How Do I Live,” “What I Cannot Change,” “What Have I Done,” “Something’s Gotta Give”
She has never quite been given her due credit as the defining female voice of country/rock in the ’70s — she entered the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 but the country industry has largely ignored her influence. Her resonating voice and material sent out a shockwave still being felt today. She effortlessly straddled the line between rock, country and folk — she undoubtedly defined that specific, sunny California circuit of music, without compromising her roots.
Essentials: “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore,” “Different Drum,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Blue Bayou,” “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” “You’re No Good,” “I Knew You When,” “Willin'”
Her unmistakable voice defines country’s Nashville Sound Era, a time when the format fused together the luscious strings of Top 40 pop into a brand new beast. Her life may have been cut tragically short, but her songbook remains as relevant today as when it was first recorded.
Essentials: “Sweet Dreams,” “Walking After Midnight,” “Crazy,” “She’s Got You”
One could argue, there has never been a vocalist quite like Underwood. Her voice can shatter glass or pluck the heartstrings. Through the years, she’s become a master of her craft and been able to make the story song popular again.
Essentials: “Wine After Whiskey,” “Choctaw County Affair,” “Something in the Water,” “Just a Dream”
She’s not only the dolled-up red-head of Las Vegas, but she’s one of the finest storytellers country has ever known. Whether she’s taking on a larger-than-life character in intimate fiction or offering a poignant ballad on the delicacy of life itself, she knows how to up the stakes and leave you yearning for more.
Essentials: “She Thinks His Name Was John,” “Is There Life Out There,” “Bobby,” “Cathy’s Clown,” “Whoever’s in New England,” “The Last to Know,” “You Lie”
Many of her songs underscore the dire state of domestic abuse in this country. Through the years, she’s often utilized her songbird voice to drive home messages of hope, freedom and resilience.
Essentials: “I’m Going to Love You Through It,” “Concrete Angel,” “Broken Wing,” “Independence Day,”
She is inarguably the finest singer, songwriter and interpreter of mainstream country music. Her songbook is unlike any other female on this list, and her influence is undeniable.
Essentials: “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” “I Will Always Love You,” “Here You Come Again,” “My Tennessee Mountain Home,” “Silver And Gold,” “Blue Smoke,” “Love is a Butterfly”
Lee Ann Womack
Her voice goes down like a smooth shot of Jack. She may be taken for granted even more than Linda Ronstadt. There is an undeniable ache in her voice which you don’t find too often in mainstream singers. Stunning and timeless.
Essentials: “The Fool,” “I May Hate Myself in the Morning,” “Send It on Down,” ”
Much like Linda Ronstadt, she blurred the lines between multiple formats. But her impact is nonetheless as indisputable on modern country. She could masterfully build a song to slowly rise out of the shadows and knock you in the chest. There is something simple in her vocal technique but utterly overwhelming and commanding.
Essentials: “Boulder to Birmingham,” “Making Believe,” “Together Again,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Two More Bottles of Wine,” “Waltz Across Texas Tonight”