The term “country music” has long been a cultural lightning rod, igniting debates akin to the one Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously lit when he said he couldn’t define pornography, “but I know it when I see it.”
Today, country music fans may not be able to define it, but they know it when they hear it, whether it’s traditionalists such as George Strait and Alan Jackson or pop-minded upstarts like Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts. The common thread is country’s detail-rich songs delving into the highs and lows, the heartbreaks, celebrations and lessons learned from the lives of the regular Joes and Janes of the world.
The music’s roots run deep, back through this nation’s rural foundations. Country music became a national phenomenon starting in the 1920s as the music spread after the advent of radio and record players. The first stars were Jimmie Rodgers, the Tuberculosis-stricken singer whose tragically short life created the template for the pop musician who burned bright and died young, and the Carter Family, the remarkable clan whose descendants included the late June Carter Cash.
The sound once widely called “hillbilly music,” for its popularity in many of the nation’s poor rural regions of the rural South, became more widely known as “country music” through the gentrifying efforts in the 1940s and 1950s of country crooner Eddy Arnold. It also has long been inextricably linked with the western music of the American Southwest thanks to Hollywood’s longtime fascination with everything cowboy-related, including the singing cowboys Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.
In the 1970s, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson made “outlaw country” acceptable to rock audiences, and in the ‘90s, Garth Brooks, along with female superstars such as Shania Twain and Faith Hill, took it to new levels of mainstream popularity it may never reach again.
Unlike much of rock, R&B and hip-hop, in country, humility has long been one of the defining character points. Asked once why he’d been able to sell so many more records and concert tickets than anybody else in his field, Brooks displayed the true heart of the modern country star when he told The Times, “No, I guess I don't get it…. It's kinda weird. I'm not who I look up to. I'm not one-tenth of the people I look up to. It's difficult to understand why the hell this thing is happening like it is.”
Now that’s country.
—Randy Lewis, who has written about country music artists for The Times for more than two decades
Here's a look at some of the country artists who have been honored with stars on the Walk of Fame. If you do not see the person you are looking for below please search our complete list of the stars on the Walk of Fame. And, if you haven’t yet, check out The Times virtual tour of the stars.