Country music history from the year you were born

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September 10, 2021
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Country music history from the year you were born

Over the past century, the country music genre has become one of the most popular and recognizable within the American music industry. It first originated in the early 1900s, particularly among working-class Southern Americans. Elements of fiddle songs, ballads, banjo, jazz, and blues became entangled together, leading to its official recognition as a genre (often referred to as “hillbilly music”) by the 1920s.

From there, country music grew roots in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, where the Grand Ole Opry radio and television show launched the careers of icons like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. It was also the place where the genre had its “Big Bang” moment, when talent scout Ralph Peer began to scout Southern talent and came away with legendary acts that would continue to shape the genre and put Nashville on the map as Music City.

Country has also seen a recent reckoning thanks to the response to Lil Nas X’s hit song “Old Town Road.” When Billboard chose to remove the single from its country charts, claiming it wasn’t “country” enough, a debate was sparked over how the genre has historically discouraged Black country artists’ ability to incorporate other genres in a way that speaks to younger listeners. Crossing over with other genres certainly seems to work, as Kacey Musgraves’ pop-infused “Golden Hour” was the rare country album to win the 2019 Grammy for Album of the Year.

Stacker compiled a list of noteworthy genre moments and milestones over the past 100 years. We scoured news articles, retrospectives, and other historical resources to find one significant recording, milestone, or event for each year from 1921 to 2021.

Read on to learn more about the evolution of country music, from the early 20th century to the present.

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1921: Webb Pierce is born

Webb Pierce became one of the most popular honky-tonk artists of the 1950s. He also reached the significant milestone of racking up 13 Billboard #1 singles, which was rare for country artists at the time.

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1922: Eck Robertson makes one of the first commercial country recordings

The recordings included duets like “Turkey in the Straw,” as well as solo songs like “Sallie Gooden.” When Eck Robertson died, his tombstone was engraved, “World’s Champion Fiddler.”

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1923: Ralph Peer makes the first ‘hillbilly’ record

Ralph Peer is credited for coordinating the first hit country record, Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.” The music producer soon recruited other early “hillbilly music” stars, including the Stoneman Family and the Hill Billies.

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1924: “The Prisoner’s Song” becomes the first country record to sell 1 million copies

The song was performed by Vernon Dalhart, and the record also featured the single “The Wreck of the Old 97.” It was later covered by many prominent country musicians, from Johnny Cash to Bill Monroe.

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1925: The Grand Ole Opry begins

Established as a radio show in 1925, the Grand Ole Opry has showcased country musicians to the American public for almost a century (it now airs on Circle TV). It’s also responsible for helping kickstart the careers of genre legends like Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.

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1926: DeFord Bailey becomes a regular on the Grand Ole Opry

The African American harmonica player appeared on the radio show from 1926 to 1941. However, due to the industry cultivation of country as a predominantly “white” genre—the legacy of which remains to this day—he was not inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame until 2005.

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1927: Country music has its “Big Bang”

Country had its “Big Bang” moment when New York talent scout Ralph Peer came to Bristol, Tennessee, and set up a makeshift studio in order to find Southern talent for Victor Records. There, he found A.P. Carter and Jimmie Rodgers, two musicians who influenced country music for decades to come.

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1928: The Carters meet Lesley Riddle

Lesley Riddle was an African American Nashville blues musician who formed a long collaborative relationship with the Carters. Although he unfortunately never had a mainstream music career of his own, the artist helped shape Maybelle Carter’s guitar techniques and gathered old regional songs for recording companies.

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1929: Gene Autry records his first records

The man who would later become one of the quintessential singing cowboys of the era also had quite the recording career. According to his official website, Gene Autry made 640 recordings, one of which was the first record to ever be certified gold.

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1930: Ken Maynard becomes the first singing cowboy in the film ‘Sons of the Saddle’

Ken Maynard's character in the 1930 sound film “Sons of the Saddle” embodied the “singing cowboy” trope in a major way for the first time. This archetypal figure often protected those in need through acts of chivalry and expressed his emotions through wholesome songs.

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1931: Ed Crain records “Bandit Cole Younger”

Sometimes referred to as “The Texas Cowboy,” Ed Crain is best remembered for this story-heavy song. It details the complicated emotions that a young Confederate soldier feels about his role in the Civil War.

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1932: Patsy Cline is born

Born Virginia Patterson Hensley, she became one of the most influential country artists ever, as well as one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. She was also one of the earliest country artists to cross over into a prosperous pop career.

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1933: Willie Nelson is born

The singer-songwriter would become enormously important to the country music genre and a prominent creator of the "outlaw" country genre that focused on poverty and the perspective of prisoners and rebels on the lam from lawmen. He's pictured here, second from left, before he grew his signature braided pigtails.

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1934: Gene Autry stars in his first movie, ‘In Old Santa Fe’

In less than two years, the young actor appeared in 10 Hollywood B movies. He is largely credited with bringing folk music further into the mainstream by popularizing the “singing cowboy” figure. Autry went on to host “The Gene Autry Show” from 1950 to 1955.

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1935: Bob Wills makes his first recordings

The influential singer-songwriter eventually went by the moniker “King of Western Swing” and is largely considered to be one of the founders of the Western swing style. By the time that he made his first recordings, Willis had formed a new band that became known as Bob Willis and his Texas Playboys.

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1936: ‘Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round’ begins

WNOX in Knoxville, Tennessee, began broadcasting an afternoon radio show that featured hillbilly artists, helping to popularize country music. One early artist to perform was Roy Acuff, who also became a major player at the Grand Ole Opry.

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1937: The ‘Renfro Valley Barn Dance’ begins

The Midwestern radio and stage show showcased a number of country music stars, from Red Foley to the Coon Creek Girls. In 2013, PBS made a documentary about the Renfro Valley Dance, called “In the Valley Where Time Stands Still.”

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1938: “Wabash Cannonball” becomes the top country record

The Roy Acuff-recorded song was also known by the title “The Great Rock Island Route.” It describes the splendor of the Wabash Cannonball Express train route, exemplifying the genre’s appreciation for the Western and Southern United States.

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1939: Billboard begins publishing its ‘Hillbilly Hits’ chart

The chart was published until 1942 and is known as one of the first formal country music charts. The magazine later began publishing “Most Played Juke Box Folk Records,” which became the blueprint for its contemporary Hot Country Songs chart.

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1940: Minnie Pearl joins the Grand Ole Opry

The Nashville entertainer, whose real name is Sarah Ophelia Colley, constantly appeared on the show for over 50 years. By 1975, she became the first female comedian to join the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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1941: ‘Walking the Floor Over You’ launches honky tonk music into the mainstream

The name “honky tonk” is a nod to Nashville’s Lower Broadway bars, where patrons often gathered to share beer and enjoy live country music. The subgenre typically expresses great emotion, thanks to instruments like fiddles and electric guitars.

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1942: Fred Rose and Roy Acuff found the first Nashville music publisher

Acuff-Rose later signed country star Hank Williams, helping him set up an official recording contract. Their first major hit was Patti Page’s 1950 single “Tennessee Waltz.”

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1943: The Carter Family disbands

One of the first groups to become mainstream country stars, the band originally consisted of husband and wife A.P. and Sara Carter, as well as Sara’s sister-in-law Maybelle Carter. Sara and Maybelle briefly made music as a folk duo in the 1960s.

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1944: Billboard acknowledges ‘folk’ music

The popular music publication first released a country music chart early in 1944, with one of several versions of the song “Pistol Packin’ Mama” leading the pack. At the time, the chart was known as “folk,” a genre that encompassed country and blues music.

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1945: “Bluegrass” becomes a genre

The genre’s growing success can largely be credited to Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, which took off in popularity after members Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt joined. Together, they formed the quintessential bluegrass quintet: a guitarist, a banjo player, a bass player, a fiddle player, and a mandolin player.

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1946: Nashville’s first independent label, Bullet Records, is launched

Well-known country musicians like Minnie Pearl, Chet Atkins, and B.B. King released records through Jim Bulleit’s label. Francis Craig’s “Near You,” which was made through Bullet Records, was also the first major song to be recorded in the Tennessee city.

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1947: Hank Williams earns his first national hit

Hank Williams is still regarded as one of the most influential 20th-century American musicians, despite having such a brief career. He had his first major hit after releasing the single “Move It on Over,” which blended country and rock ’n’ roll stylings.

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1948: Eddy Arnold releases 5 of the year’s new #1 songs

These songs included “Anytime,” “Bouquet of Roses,” “Just a Little Lovin’ (Will Go a Long, Long Way),” “My Daddy is Only a Picture,” “Texarkana Baby,” and “What a Fool I Was.” “Bouquet of Roses” topped the charts for 19 weeks.

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1949: Hank Williams has his first #1 single with ‘Lovesick Blues’

The song earned the star his first #1 single, and he performed it to acclaim on the Louisiana Hayride Radio Show. It was originally written by Cliff Friend and Irving Mills for the 1922 musical “Oh, Ernest.”

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1950: Hank Snow’s ‘I’m Movin’ On’ sits at #1 for 21 weeks

The blues song details a young man’s breakup with his high-society girlfriend and how he processes it over the course of a train ride. The song remained at the top of the Billboard country charts for 21 weeks, a record at the time.

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1951: Carl Smith makes his chart debut

Carl Smith first had a major chart hit when his single “Let’s Live a Little” appeared on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. This 1951 success led him to become one of the most recognizable country artists of the 1950s, with 31 top 10 hits during the decade.

 

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1952: Kitty Wells’ ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ becomes a hit

Singer Kitty Wells paved the way for other female country artists when she released the popular song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” a response to Hank Thompson’s song “The Wild Side of Life,” in which a man blames his lost love on a woman’s decision to go out and party at night. Written by songwriter J.D. Miller, Wells’ song pushed back against the misogynist implications of Thompson’s hit, shocking much of the male-dominated industry and selling over 1 million copies.

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1953: Hank Williams dies at 29

The iconic musician died from heart failure in the back of his Cadillac on the way to a performance on New Year’s Day. His shocking death has hung over American pop culture in the years since, even though the artist’s career lasted only five years.

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1954: Elvis makes his recording debut

At the time, the 19-year-old singer was largely unknown. He shot to fame thanks to his performances on Sun Records, notably singing a cover of the blues classic, “That’s All Right.”

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1955: Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley tour together

The two Sun Records performers hit the road, often opening for even bigger country artists of the day. Their sound marked the beginning of rockabilly, a folksy forefather of the rock ’n’ roll genre.

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1956: Carl Perkins’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ becomes a hit

“Blue Suede Shoes” is considered one of the earliest rockabilly records since it includes elements of both rock ’n’ roll and country music. The Beatles later went on to record three Perkins songs, covering “Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby,” “Honey Don’t,” and “Matchbox.”

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1957: Jerry Lee Lewis records ‘Great Balls of Fire’

After getting his start at Sun Records, Lewis became a bona fide star upon the release of his smash hit single, “Great Balls of Fire.” It topped the R&B music charts, kickstarting the wild career of a man who became known as “rock ’n’ roll’s first great wild man.”

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1958: The Country Music Association is formed

The CMA was created to defend and preserve country music during the advent of rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll music. It began awarding artists during its first Country Music Week in 1967.

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1959: The first Best Country and Western Performance Grammy Award is presented

The award was given to The Kingston Trio for their song “Tom Dooley.” This was one of the only major country music awards out there until the Academy of Country Music began awarding musicians in the late 1960s.

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1960: Patsy Cline joins the Grand Ole Opry

The highly influential singer successfully requested to join the cast and became a regular in January 1960. She famously demanded to be paid before performing at the Opry—as her personal policy stipulated, “No dough, no show.”

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1961: The Country Music Hall of Fame is established

Country music’s highest honor was established in 1961, created by the Country Music Association. It’s based in Nashville, and its first class included Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, and Fred Rose.

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1962: Ray Charles records ‘Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music’

Ray Charles’ album blended country, soul, and pop to great acclaim, and both the album and its lead single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” were soon certified gold. The African American musician’s dedication to breaking down barriers between genres was particularly significant given that the album was released amid the American civil rights movement.

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1963: Patsy Cline dies

Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Randy Hughes, and Hawkshaw Hawkins were killed in a plane crash near Camden, Tennessee. Cline, who was 30 years old, previously almost died in a head-on car crash in 1961.

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1964: Willie Nelson first appears on the Grand Ole Opry

The appearance took place within two weeks of Willie Nelson’s first-ever recording session at Nashville’s RCA Studio B. After his first show, Nelson became a regular performer and often played up to 26 shows every year before he moved to Texas.

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1965: Loretta Lynn records ‘You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)’

The LP eventually became Lynn’s first #1 album on the Billboard country charts. Lynn later revealed that she was inspired to write the title track after a young fan told her she was worried that another woman was trying to steal her husband.

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1966: Dolly Parton releases her first record

Dolly Parton is one of the most recognizable names in country music today, but she was first introduced to music listeners in 1966. That’s when her earliest songs, “Dumb Blonde” and “Happy Birthday, Baby,” were released.

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1967: Merle Haggard records ‘Sing Me Back Home’

The musician first came up with the idea for the song from a conversation he had with a fellow inmate in prison. Notably, Merle Haggard saw Johnny Cash perform at San Quentin while he was serving time, before he himself became a major music star.

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1968: Johnny Cash makes a live album at Folsom Prison

Johnny Cash reportedly became fascinated by prison life after seeing the 1951 noir film “Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison” during his time in the Air Force. The resulting LP, “At Folsom Prison,” became a massive success and spurred Cash to testify before the Senate on behalf of prison reform in 1972.

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1969: The ‘Johnny Cash Show’ debuts on ABC

The Man in Black’s country hits reached millions of American households when the “Johnny Cash Show” became a regular part of ABC’s television lineup. The show, which ran from 1969 to 1971, featured performances from Cash, his wife, June Carter Cash, and many other country and pop stars of the day.

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1970: Dolly Parton records her first Top 10 single

Dolly Parton hit it big for the first time with “Mule Skin Blues,” a song originally sung by Jimmie Rodgers. The song has also been performed by artists like the Osborne Brothers and The Cramps.

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1971: Southern Rock begins in Nashville

The bands Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615 influenced later Southern Rock bands after they began performing in the city. The subgenre combines blues, country, and rock 'n' roll, and the term was first coined in an article by journalist Mo Slotin.

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1972: Loretta Lynn becomes the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards

Loretta Lynn won the award following the release of her album “Here I Am,” and the #1 hit singles “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “Don’t Come Home A’Drinkin’.” She remained the only woman to be named Entertainer of the Year until Dolly Parton received the honor in 1978.

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1973: Willie Nelson hosts his first Fourth of July picnic

Since 1973, country legend Willie Nelson has performed an annual Independence Day concert in his native state of Texas. The annual event was inspired by his 1972 participation in the “Dripping Springs Reunion,” an event bringing together progressive young hippies and more conservative, older Texans.

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1974: Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ is released

The song, a goodbye letter to her former singing partner Porter Wagoner, is Parton’s biggest hit ever, topping the charts in both 1974 and 1982. Later, the 1992 cover by Whitney Houston became the best-selling single ever released by a female artist.

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1975: Willie Nelson releases ‘Red Headed Stranger’

Willie Nelson’s classic album, which recounts its angry main character’s journey to self-forgiveness and growth, firmly established the musician as an influential country artist. “Red Headed Stranger” stayed on the Billboard charts for 120 weeks, transcending the often modest crossover expectations of the genre and innovating in long-form storytelling.

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1976: ‘Wanted! The Outlaws’ is released

The compilation features country superstars like Willie Nelson, Jessi Colter, Waylon Jennings, and Tompall Glaser. It also has the honor of being the first certified platinum country music LP in history.

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1977: Elvis Presley dies

The iconic King of Rock ’n’ Roll died at age 42 in his Tennessee mansion from what many now argue was a combination of heart failure and prescription drug abuse. Around 20,000 people visited Graceland to mourn.

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1978: Barbara Mandrell has her first #1 hit with ‘Sleeping Single in a Double Bed’

The song, which was part of her album “Moods,” was the singer’s 26th to reach the Billboard charts but the first to reach #1. The next year, the single won the American Music Award for Favorite Country Single.

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1979: Kenny Rogers cements his reputation as a crossover country star with ‘Coward of the County’

The song, which reached the top of Billboard’s country chart, cemented Rogers’ place as a successful crossover artist, as he also made music in genres like pop, rock, and folk. The song’s controversial subject matter is a young man’s quest for revenge on the boys who gang-raped his girlfriend.

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1980: ‘Urban Cowboy’ is released

The John Travolta film brought country and western dance clubs and music into the mainstream, catapulting the genre into a pop phenomenon. Although the movie faced some backlash, it revolutionized country, with singles like Mickey Gilley’s “Stand by Me” and Johnny Lee’s “Looking for Love” making the Hot 100.

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1981: Rosanne Cash releases her song ‘Seven Year Ache’

The single was the first of the singer’s eventual 11 #1 country hits. Cash later said that the song, which is the title track of her third studio album, was inspired by the “street life” subject matter of Rickie Lee Jones’ self-titled 1979 album.

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1982: Amy Kurland opens The Bluebird Cafe

The Nashville location has since become a hotspot for rising country music talent. It became a nationally recognized venue after appearing on the popular ABC musical drama “Nashville.”

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1983: Two major country TV networks launch

The Nashville Network and Country Music Television began creating genre-specific content during the same year. However, only CMT has survives today in its original incarnation, with the Nashville Network undergoing a host of brand and format changes starting in 2000.

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1984: The Judds release their debut album, ‘Why Not Me’

The mother-daughter duo of Naomi and Wynonna Judd eventually won five Grammy Awards and eight Country Music Association awards. They became one of the most popular country acts of the 1980s, and “Why Not Me” launched them to stardom after topping the charts for three weeks in 1985.

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1985: The New York Times’ Robert Palmer claims that country music is dying

Robert Palmer claimed that country music was losing its audience, particularly young people, who were more drawn to genres like rock 'n'roll. “The fabled Nashville sound, which defined country music for decades ... may soon sound as dated as the ukulele,” he wrote.

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1986: Columbia Records drops Johnny Cash

After 28 years with the company, Cash only found out that he had been dropped by reading the newspaper. He later found success with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings label, especially with the 1994 release of his album “American Recordings.”

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1987: Reba McEntire is named the CMA’s ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ for the fourth year in a row

Reba McEntire became the first woman to ever receive the honor for four consecutive years. That same year, her compilation album “Greatest Hits” became her first to become certified triple platinum.

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1988: Garth Brooks is discovered at the Bluebird Cafe

During a show, Brooks was noticed by Capitol Records executive Lynn Shults, launching his mainstream success. Later that night, she offered him a record deal. He has since played the music bar again and appeared as part of Bluebird’s 2018 Alive at the Bluebird concert series.

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1989: Garth Brooks releases ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes’

The single’s popularity started Brooks on his journey toward becoming the highest-selling country musician of all time. The musician’s sophomore single won Single of the Year at that year’s American Country Music Awards and was his first #1 hit.

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1990: Uncle Tupelo releases ‘No Depression’

The album is known for launching alt-country in the 1990s. In fact, it was regarded as so influential that a magazine about the genre named itself after the album.

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1991: Trisha Yearwood releases her debut single, ‘She’s in Love with the Boy’

When the song reached #1 on the Billboard country singles chart, it became the first debut single to achieve that milestone since Connie Smith’s 1964 single “Once a Day.” Soon after, her self-titled album became one of the rare platinum country debuts.

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1992: Line dancing surges in popularity

Much of this resurgence can be owed to two hit singles of the time: Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” The former inspired people to dance thanks to its “four wall” line dance format.

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1993: Toby Keith makes his debut

Toby Keith began his career with the debut single “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” which soon topped the Billboard Country Songs chart. It ultimately became the top-played country song of the decade.

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1994: Johnny Cash has his comeback

The album “American Recordings,” made with hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, is often credited with revitalizing Cash’s career. It received critical acclaim, and Cash later won the 1995 Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

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1995: Vince Gill releases ‘Go Rest High on That Mountain’

Vince Gill wrote the song to eulogize his late older brother Bob, as well as musician Keith Whitley. The song was named CMA’s Song of the Year, cementing its place as a classic country ballad.

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1996: The first Country Stampede Music Festival takes place

The festival was held every year at Tuttle Creek State Park until is moved to Topeka, Kansas, in 2019, where it is still one of the largest music festivals in the Midwest. In 2020 organizers renamed the festival “Country Stampede at the Heartland.”

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1997: Shania Twain releases ‘Come on Over’

Shania Twain’s third studio album smashed music records, selling over 20 million copies and becoming the best-selling recording by any female artist. Although it was ostensibly a country album, “Come on Over” also blended the mainstream pop styles of singers of the day such as Celine Dion and Gloria Estefan.

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1998: The Chicks make their major-label debut

The band formerly known as The Dixie Chicks, who now go by The Chicks, entered the mainstream music scene with their forth studio album, “Wide Open Spaces.” It won “Best Country Album” at the Grammy Awards and was the first Chicks album to feature Natalie Maines as the band’s lead vocalist.

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1999: The Americana Music Association is formed

The trade organization was created to celebrate contemporary Americana artists, such as Wilco and Rosanne Cash, who were often sidelined by the mainstream music industry. It put on an annual Americanafest, a concert event and conference in Nashville.

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2000: ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ is released

The soundtrack for the Coen brothers’ movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” became one of the best-selling country albums of the early 2000s. The T Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack went on to win the Grammy for Album of the Year, making bluegrass stylings popular once again.

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2001: The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum opens

The current iteration of the Nashville-based museum relocated to the city’s downtown area in 2001 and has been hailed as the “Smithsonian of country music.” To this day, it is also one of the largest music research centers in the world.

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2002: Shania Twain makes her comeback

After breaking records with her 1997 album “Come on Over,” Twain returned after a five-year hiatus with her fourth album, “Up!” It reached the top of the Billboard 200 chart upon its release, selling over 874,000 copies in its first week alone.

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2003: The Chicks are canceled

The controversy began when Natalie Maines introduced the band’s single “Travelin’ Soldier” by saying, “Just so you know ... we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.” The moment is remembered as one of the first times a celebrity was “canceled” in part because of internet reactions. The group was shunned for years but returned after a 14-year hiatus with the 2020 album “Gaslighter.”

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2004: ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ star Skeeter Davis dies

Apart from her appearances at the Opry, Skeeter Davis was one of the first famous solo country vocalists. New York Times music critic Robert Palmer praised her as an “extraordinary country/pop singer.” She had several crossover hits, particularly the 1962 song “The End of the World.”

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2005: ‘Walk the Line’ is released

The musical biopic starring Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix dramatizes the love story and collaborative relationship between country legends June and Johnny Cash. The film received five Oscar nominations, and Witherspoon won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of June.

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2006: Taylor Swift releases her first album

Although the world-famous artist has since crossed over into other genres, her self-titled debut (released when Swift was just 16) launched her as a major new face on the country music scene. Her first single, “Tim McGraw,” references the famous genre musician.

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2007: Country music sweeps the Grammy Awards

During this edition of the awards show, The Chicks won three major awards often reserved for other genres: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year (for “Taking the Long Way”). Additionally, Carrie Underwood received the Grammy for Best New Artist.

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2008: Reba leaves her label

After 25 years, Reba McEntire left her label MCA Nashville. She ultimately left to sign and make music with the Valory Music Co., a sister company of Big Machine Records.

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2009: Kanye West interrupts Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards

When Taylor Swift won Best Female Video for “You Belong With Me,” rapper Kanye West interrupted her acceptance speech, saying, “Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time!” Beyoncé later called Swift back onstage to finish her speech, but the moment has been named as one of the most shocking in recent music history.

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2010: CMT hosts its first CMT Artists of the Year event

The 2010 ceremony honored Taylor Swift, the Zac Brown Band, Jason Aldean, and Lady A (formerly Lady Antebellum). The 2020 event was renamed “CMT Celebrates Our Heroes: An Artists of the Year Special,” in order to celebrate health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

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2011: Lady A’s ‘Need You Now’ wins five Grammy Awards

The album won the Best Country Album, while the single of the same name won four Grammys. The song was eventually certified nine times platinum by the RIAA and made the band internationally popular. It was the highest-selling country single from April 2011 to December 2013.

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2012: Billboard changes its Hot Country Songs chart criteria

The chart now reflects both airplay and music downloads, much like the magazine’s Hot 100 chart does. However, the changes drew controversy, as they allowed Taylor Swift’s crossover single “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to rebound to #1.

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2013: Jody Rosen coins the term ‘bro-country’

The New York Magazine writer described “bro-country” as “music by and of the tatted, gym-toned, party-hearty young American white dude.” Rosen was specifically referring to the Florida Georgia Line single “Cruise,” which he said may mark a turning point from the popularity of older country stars to more party-oriented country music.

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2014: Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman come out as gay

The pair were among the first country musicians to do so after Chely Wright came out as a lesbian and became virtually the only out country star in 2010. Notably, the two both came out on the same day.

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2015: Kelsea Ballerini’s ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ reaches #1

The song made Kelsea Ballerini the first female country artist to achieve a #1 debut single on the Country Airplay chart since Carrie Underwood did so in 2006 with her song “Inside Your Heaven.” The achievement was also notable given that Ballerini worked with indie label Black River, rather than one of the majors.

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2016: ‘Forever Country’ is released

The mashup song included performances from 30 well-known country artists including Kacey Musgraves, Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson, and Reba McEntire. It was created to honor the Country Music Association Awards’ 50-year anniversary.

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2017: Luke Bryan makes history with his album ‘Crash My Party’

When Bryan’s song “Fast” topped Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, he became the only artist to get six #1 songs from one album in the chart’s 27-year history. Other singles from his album “Kill the Lights” to reach #1 include “Home Alone Tonight,” “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Everyday,” “Move,” “Kick the Dust Up,” and “Strip It Down.”

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2018: Lil Nas X releases ‘Old Town Road’

The newcomer’s song, which went viral thanks to his savvy on TikTokinitially charted on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs and Hot R&B/Hip Songs charts. Billboard’s decision to remove “Old Town Road” from the country chart due to it apparently not embracing “enough elements of today’s country music” sparked discussions about how the genre has historically limited Black country artists’ creative freedoms while not doing the same to white musicians incorporating elements of rap and pop. Billy Ray Cyrus, who voiced his support for Lil Nas X’s place in country, later appealed on a remix of the hit song.

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2019: Kacey Musgraves wins Album of the Year at the Grammys

Kacey Musgraves’ album “Golden Hour” won four awards at the ceremony, but it’s still rare for country artists to go home with the top prize. This was the first time that a country album had won that particular Grammy since Taylor Swift’s “Fearless” won in 2010.

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2020: Charley Pride dies due to COVID-19 in a year marked by the pandemic

Charley Pride charted the course for Black musicians in country music, a genre that historically and contemporarily is overwhelmingly white. He was the first Black performer inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and one of only three Black members of the Grand Ole Opry. His death due to complications of COVID-19 raised questions about the country music world's response to the pandemic, considering the Country Music Association Awards—where Pride accepted a lifetime achievement award the month before his death—was one of the only awards shows held in-person, and several country music stars held concerts despite posing safety risks.

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