From the iconic Nashville sound to the hit single “Old Town Road,” which mixes hip-hop and traditional Western style, country music has always had a wider reach than its reputation suggests. Some of its main stars embody the evolution of the genre, but they also signify the cultural development of America as a whole. Take Dolly Parton, for example, who has more or less become an institution in her own right over the decades. And Taylor Swift is nothing if not an international force, with a fan base that went far beyond the home crowd even in her early years.
Despite the legacy of certain icons and its frequent interactions with other genres, country music nonetheless remains a niche entity. This notion is only reinforced by the existence of two organizations, both created to help raise awareness. One, the Country Music Association, was founded in 1958 primarily by members of the Nashville industry. The other is called the Academy of Country Music and was established in 1964 as the Country & Western Music Academy with input from West Coast musicians.
Held in the same direction, the ACM and the CMA distribute important prizes on an annual basis. Among those awards is the prestigious Entertainer of the Year, which takes into account everything from radio shows and album sales to music videos and concerts, film and TV appearances and digital streams. A reliable signifier of the biggest names in country music, the award simultaneously follows the unique evolution and lineage of the genre over the years.
Stacker put together a list of the top country music artists the year you graduated from high school based on the winner of the Academy of Country Music’s top prize, Artist of the Year.
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