Some of the top country singers ever were female country singers of the 80s. From June Carter Cash to the incomparable Dolly Parton, here is my list of the best country singers from one of the best decades of all time.
Best Female Country Singers of the 80s
Why don’t we begin with the wife of Johnny Cash—June Carter Cash.
June Carter Cash
The lovely country music singer, June Carter Cash, was born in Virginia. A member of the Carter Family, she also married the country music legend, Johnny Cash. But her success was not based on either of those relationships.
Carter Cash made sure that her success came from her own talent, not piggy-backing on her famous relatives. While she did include herself in the Carter Family singing group, and she did record quite a few incredible duets with Johnny Cash, most of her songs were written to showcase her own talent.
However, during the 80s in particular, most of her recordings were done with her husband. Creating unforgettable duets is what can be remembered during that time frame. Most of her continued success came from her work predating the 80s. However, she continued to showcase her talents in various performances during the decade.
Before her passing, she had become extremely successful, with five Grammy Awards. But success followed her far into death, with a few more awards and an induction into the Christian Music Hall of Fame in 2009. She left her legacy in amazing singles, like the beautiful classic Keep on the Sunny Side, which shows the twang of her lovely, exuberant voice.
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Born Tanya Denise Tucker in 1958, she is still a successful American country music singer/songwriter. Her most successful hit, and still an all-time personal favorite, Delta Dawn, was her first hit at the age of 13. From that young age, her success only grew and continues to grow. Another personal favorite is the 90s hit Two Sparrows in a Hurricane, which touches deeply on a love unknown to many.
Delta Dawn was her first ever hit single, released in 1972. Even at the young age of 13, her southern twang and beautiful voice were incomparable. It takes raw talent to become such a huge success at such a young age, especially given the adult nature of the lyrics. But she was determined and there was no stopping her.
Like most of us, she’s had her fair share of trials and tribulations. With a very public breakup and a few personal struggles, she had a hard go of it for quite a while. However, the late 1980s and the 1990s became a time for her to make a comeback, and a highly successful one at that. During that time, she released several incredible albums.
In the early 2000s, she took her career even farther and expanded her legacy by founding Tuckertime Records. She was able to maintain control over her recording process and release process as a result. Tanya has won numerous awards for her incredible talent over the years. On CMT’s list of the 40 Greatest Women in Country Music, Tucker is listed as number 20. She still receives recognition for it, and she is currently continuing to be successful.
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While not a solo act, The Judds are considered to be an important part of country music history. They were an iconic country music duo, consisting of Naomi Judd and her daughter, Wynonna Judd. After signing in 1983 with RCA Nashville, the duo released six albums before 1991.
The Judds became one of the most successful acts in the history of country music. Together, they won five Grammy Awards for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and numerous other awards. They also released a number of Billboard Hot Country Songs.
Together, The Judds produced incredible duo hits, including Why Not Me in 1984 and Grandpa (Tell Me ‘Bout the Good Ol’ Days) in 1985, which is my personal favorite. The lyrics are beautifully sorrowful and the amazing harmony is unmatched by any other duo to date. The duo won several awards for just those two songs alone.
Unfortunately, due to horrifying events, The Judds disbanded in 1991. For years, they continued to have amazing reunion shows. Years later, Naomi Judd lost her mental health battle, committing suicide in 2022. The tragic loss has hit the country music community extremely hard. As she describes in her interview with CBS, Wynonna Judd continues to struggle with her mother’s death and has become incredibly angry and confused. But she also continues her career in hopes of healing.
Suzy Bogguss, an American country music singer/songwriter, began her solo singing career in the 1980s. She started strong long before that, though, working her way through college by singing in local clubs and bars.
By the early 90s, she had released several winning albums. She also won Top New Female Vocalist from the Academy of Country Music, and the Horizon Award from the Country Music Association. Songs like Drive South, Letting Go, and Hey Cinderella took the country music nation by storm.
Nobody was expecting a woman from a poor, podunk county to be this amazing. But she surprised everyone. Her first ever song played on the radio happened to be a Merle Haggard song, Somewhere Between. Bogguss did it absolute justice; there was no doubt about her talents from then on.
Bogguss worked hard to make her way into country music, and she did so by the grace of her own talent and a bit of following in Merle Haggard’s footsteps. But she was adamant that every step she took, she took because he inspired her. It was very clear she could stand on her own two feet, and, of course, on her own raw talent.
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Alison Krauss, an incredible bluegrass and country music singer/musician, began her career at an extremely young age. By the age of eight, she was already competing in local singing competitions, and she recorded for the first time at age 14. In 1985, Krauss signed with Rounder Records and, two years later, released her first solo album.
Krauss has not only had a successful solo career. She has also warmed our hearts with her group performances as Alison Krauss and Union Station, which she still performs with. Beyond that, she has recorded numerous memorable duets with artists like Brad Paisley (Whiskey Lullaby) and Kid Rock (Picture).
Her iconic voice is one that can not be compared to any other. She has a whispery vocal style, and just a downright lullaby voice that soothes the soul. When You Say Nothing at All is a prime example of that talent. She is unmatched, and it shows in her record of success. Krauss is truly one of my all-time favorite artists, in any genre.
Through the years, she’s recorded soundtrack performances for movies like O’ Brother, Where Art Thou, and Cold Mountain. Her success has earned her 42 nominations for Grammy Awards, of which she won 27 of them. She describes the shock of the memorable evening when she won five Grammy Awards that night in this interview. Up until 2021, Krauss was the most awarded singer and female artist in Grammy history.
Known simply as Reba, Reba McEntire is an extremely popular country music singer. McEntire is often referred to as “the Queen of Country,” having sold more than 75 million records around the world. Her success is almost too much to comprehend.
Reba began her career in the mid 70s, discovered by Red Steagall, who helped secure a recording contract with PolyGram/Mercury Records in ’75. Her success skyrocketed from there. However, she did struggle with happiness with recording labels as her career continued.
Her career success has not solely been based on her solo career, however. She has collaborated on a number of songs with popular country music stars like Brooks and Dunn. Fancy, How Was I to Know, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia, and a personal favorite of mine, Is There Life Out There, are just a few of the numerous solo hits she has produced. Many women who look up to Reba and her success find great inspiration in these songs.
Not only have her vocal talents been a cause for success, but her acting talents have been an addition to her career. Reba began acting in 1990 with the film Tremors, secured a part in the Broadway musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” and even received her own TV series, Reba. Beyond that, her success is shown through her numerous awards and nominations.
Another amazing artist is Dolly Parton, more commonly referred to simply as Dolly. She is a singer/songwriter, businesswoman, and actress with immeasurable success. Her debut album, Hello, I’m Dolly, kicked off her career in 1967. Dolly hasn’t slowed down since.
Parton was born in 1946 in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Though she enjoys her travels and her career, it seems her heart has never left home. She even opened a theme park in her name, Dollywood, close to where her childhood took place, among other attractions.
Her success is not only that of a solo career. Parton is a successful actress and businesswoman, which shocked many coming from her “dirt poor” background, as she describes her youth. Her family’s poverty was outlined in songs like Coat of Many Colors. But her origins have never seemed to hold her back.
Parton is known for many things, from starring in her own variety show, Dolly!, and many others, like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. She appeared in several films and Christmas specials like A Smoky Mountain Christmas and Kenny and Dolly: A Christmas to Remember (with Kenny Rogers). Parton’s successful career produced an immeasurable number of awards and nominations.
Patty Loveless, an American country music singer, began her career long before her first recording contract with MCA Records’ Nashville division. Even though she struggled with her first few releases being unsuccessful, she broke through the barrier at the end of the 1980s with a George Jones cover of If My Heart Had Windows.
After the slow beginning of her career, she has charted 44 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Charts, five of which reached number one. She is well-known for not only her solo career but several duets she has done, including My Kind of Woman – My Kind of Man with Vince Gill.
Loveless’ voice is remarkably different from many other female artists. She has a particular sound to her voice that is unlike any other. It’s the kind of voice that stands well on its own but also pairs well with other voices. Her voice has been compared to those like Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells.
Loveless has won a number of awards, including five Country Music Association awards, two Grammy Awards and more. She has also received several nominations on top of that for pieces like When Fallen Angels Fly and The Trouble with the Truth. She has left a legacy that won’t soon be forgotten.
Finally, we have the fabulous Loretta Lynn, who passed away recently in 2022. Her career spanned over six decades in country music, releasing multiple gold albums along the way. She was truly a pioneer in country music history, leading the way for other female artists to follow in her footsteps.
In the late 1950s, Lynn began singing in local clubs. But she didn’t stay there long, breaking quickly into the country music industry after being discovered by Zero Records’ president. There she began recording songs, including I’m A Honky Tonk Girl, New Rainbow, and Whispering Sea.
Lynn had such a successful breakthrough in 1967 that it seemed as though even she wasn’t expecting it. She went on a streak for years and years to come, releasing hit after hit. Lynn partnered with other artists, like Conway Twitty, released tribute albums for Patsy Cline and others, and worked on a number of other projects.
Lynn didn’t just stop with singing, though. She inspired the film Coal Miner’s Daughter, from the song of the same name, to tell the story of her early life. She released several controversial hits throughout her career, but was loved just the same.
Her career was one of the most successful careers of any country female artist. Her contributions to the country music industry paved the way for other successful women behind her. Lynn’s death has hit the community extremely hard, but her legacy is one that will always be remembered as one of the first women to break into country music. Ahead of her time, you might say.
The 1980s were made up of new and old country music artists. Pioneers and ‘young blood.’ Some of the top female country singers of the 80s were those that had already made a name for themselves long before. But it was also great to see some new faces entering the industry and changing the way people look at country music. It was, needless to say, an exciting time in country music history.