Country Music’s Royal Court and Founding Family
If you’re into country music and the history of it, you’re probably used to hearing about the “King” of this, or the “Father” of that. Since the history of country music is so important to keeping the lineage of the music alive, country pays special homage to the people who helped form or popularize the genre.
Because some of the royal monikers are hard to keep in line, here is a run down of artists who can officially claim to be the King, Queen, Father, Mother, or something else that would make them part of country music’s royal family, taking into consideration that their royal nickname is universally recognized by the country music public, and widely used. Also note that there can be multiple “Kings” and “Queens” due to artists in different eras, or simply because two artists share the same publicly-accepted nickname.
PLEASE NOTE: This is not a judgement call for any artist included here, or against any artist that isn’t. Saving Country Music is not declaring who is the King or Queen of anything. This is simply a collection of artists that are recognized and documented as having these terms included in their nicknames. So please don’t go whining just because you see and unknown artist like Unknown Hinson here, but Merle Haggard’s left out despite his significantly more important contributions to country. This is not a Hall of Fame game. It’s simply a run down of nicknames.
Also, if you feel someone is missing, feel more than free to include them below in the comments section, but nobody has been “forgotten” just because they are not on here, nor is this list entirely illegitimate because someone is or isn’t on it. This is not a “Where’s Waldo” exercise for country music nerds, it is a reference for folks who want to dive deeper into the history and some of the personalities of country music.
P.S. – No clue why Loretta Lynn’s and Jimmy Martin’s crowns are silver instead of gold. That’s just the way Photoshop decided to color them, and refused to budge. So there’s that.
Roy Acuff – The King of Country Music
Though some overlook Roy as a certified “King” of country, he was one of the very first stars to make country music a commercially-viable genre, and also was seminal in helping put the Grand Ole Opry on the map. Roy Acuff helped set the table for country music’s future superstars, including Hank Williams. More specifically, Roy Acuff declared himself “The King of Country Music” on the cover of a 1962 LP of the same name, and was known as such afterwards.
Hank Williams – The King of Country Music
Country music’s first superstar, and still its most iconic and revered character, Hank also has another claim on being the “King” since his middle name is “King,” and his given name was “Hiram” after the Biblical Phoenician king. Also known as The Hillbilly Shakespeare.
“King” George Strait
A country music “King” for the current generation, with Strait’s sales numbers and longevity, it’s hard to argue when someone puts “King” in front of his name to do more than just draw a parallel between a former British monarch.
Jimmy Martin – The King of Bluegrass
Though some consider Bill Monroe the rightful owner of this moniker, Jimmy Martin was the one that claimed it and made it his own. It helped fuel a sometimes respectful, and sometimes bitter rivalry between the two bluegrass gods. Jimmy Martin began in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys band, and it’s been long believed that Monroe was the one that kept Jimmy from ever officially becoming a member of the Grand Ole Opry, despite Martin playing there countless times.
Bob Wills – The King of Western Swing
“It don’t matter who’s in Austin, Bob Wills’ is still the King.” –Waylon Jennings. Bob Wills was to Western Swing what Hank Williams was to country blues. Without Bob Wills, the subgenre very well may have never taken off like it did.
Spade Cooley – The King of Western Swing
Star of the country stage and the silver screen, some consider Spade the “King” even over Bob Wills. He certainly has some claim to country music’s royal court, but his wife may disagree.
Carl Perkins – The King of Rockabilly
Hard to argue when you are one of the original artists of Sun Studios, and the writer of “Blue Suede Shoes.” In the era of Carl Perkins, there was a very fine line between country, rockabilly, and rock and roll, and Carl Perkins contributed to them all.
Kitty Wells – The Queen of Country Music
There is country music before Kitty Wells, and country music after Kitty Wells. Though many other pioneers helped pave the way, Kitty Wells was the one who officially broke down the gender barrier for country music performers when her answer song “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” took off, allowing a flood of new female talent to enter the genre and sing songs for the other half of country fans.
Loretta Lynn – The Queen of Country Music
Also known as the “First Lady of Country Music” and the “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” it’s hard to argue when people put Loretta Lynn at the top of the pyramid of country music royalty.
Wanda Jackson – The Queen of Rockabilly
Also known as the “Queen of Rock,” her influence in rockabilly is unmatched by female performers, and also hage a huge impact on country music in its nascent era and beyond.
Rhonda Vincent – The Queen of Bluegrass
Rhonda Vincent is a bluegrass superstar these days, and she’s been living up to the “Queen” distinction that emboldened across her tour bus for many years.
Mary Padgett – The Queen of Bluegrass?
Perhaps the most arguable member of country music’s royal family, she did declare herself such on her 1974 album.
Jimmie Rodgers – The Father of Country Music
The Singing Brakeman was one of the very first to bring the yodel, the blues, and folk music together in a way that would stir the soul like none other before. When he sat down with Ralph Peer to record his songs along with others like The Carter Family, country music was born.
Bill Monroe – The Father of Bluegrass
Where would bluegrass, string music, old time, and country be without Bill Monroe? Though he only holds this one place in country music’s royal court, he arguably is its most influential, right behind Hank Williams.
Honorable Mention: Some consider A.P. Carter of The Carter Family as “Father” of Country Music.
“Mother” Maybelle Carter – The Mother of Country Music
Referred to as “Mother” Maybelle throughout her performing career which began in 1927, and with The Carter Family well-recognized as the “First Family” of country music, the “Mother” distinction has always fallen unequivocally to Maybelle Carter.
Rose Maddox – Mother of Country? Rockabilly? Bluegrass?
Though Rose Maddox has informally been given all kinds of titles due to her incredibly influential years in the Maddox Brothers and Rose—a band that helped form not just country, but rockabilly and rock and roll—none of them has ever officially stuck. No doubt though, Rose Maddox is a mother of something, if not many things, in the formation of American music.
The Carter Family
Formed in 1927 by “Mother” Maybelle Carter and her brother-in-law A.P. Carter, The Carter Family performed during Ralph Peer’s original Bristol Sessions, and is widely-recognized as the “First Family” of country music.
- A. P. Carter (1927-1944)
- “Mother” Maybelle Carter (1927-1978)
- Sara Carter (1927-1944)
- Janette Carter (1939-1940)
- Joe Carter (1939-1940)
- Helen Carter (1939-1940, 1944-1996)
- June Carter Cash (1939-1940, 1944-1969, 1971-1996)
- Anita Carter (1939-1940, 1944-1996)
- Robbie Harden (1969-1971)
- John Carter Cash (2012-present)
- Laura Weber (2012-present)
- Dale Jett (2012-present)
- **Johnny Cash could also be considered an honorary member of The Carter Family.
The Williams Family
With so many successful performers and the bloodline still going strong, it’s hard to not mention the Williams Clan when talking about royal families.
- Hank Williams
- Hank Williams Jr.
- Jett Williams
- Hank Williams III
- Hilary Williams
- Holly Williams
- Hank Williams IV
- Sam Williams
Honorable Mention – The Cash Family
Johnny Cash, John Carter Cash, Rosanne Cash, though some consider the Cash clan an extension of The Carter Family.
Other Widely-Recognized Distinctions
Wayne “The Train” Hancock – The King of Juke Joint Swing
A “King” for a new generation, when neotraditional country, rockabilly, and swing were hitting a resurgence in the 90’s, Wayne “The Train” Hancock is who everyone was looking up to. His unique blend of American music continues to inspire and influence new artists today.
The Reverend Horton Heat (Jim Heath) – The Godfather of Psychobilly
Jim Heath was one of the first to marry country and rockabilly with a punk rock attitude, and it set audiences on fire coast to coast. Still today his influence is heavy among underground country, rockabilly, and psycobilly artists.
Slim Dusty – King of Australian Country Music
Yes, Australia has country music, and it has a “King.” Both are worth checking out.
Unknown Hinson – The King (Kang) Of Country & Western Troubadours
Self-appointed and semi-sarcastic, if nothing else, Unknown Hinson is country music’s royal court jester, along with being the voice of the main character of the Squidbillies and an incredible guitar player.
Lena Hughes – Queen of the Flat Top Guitar
Though Lena Hughes was not very popular in her time and only released one self-titled 78 RPM, she is considered incredibly influential in the realm of Ozark folk music. Her album was re-released in the 90’s as “Queen of the Flat Top Guitar,” and ever since the nickname has stuck.
Kings of Canadian Country Music? ‘Stompin’ Tom Connors? Hank Snow?
Honorable Mention : Eilen Jewell – Self-proclaimed “Queen of the Minor Key.”
**Who is the Queen of Western Swing? Patsy Montana?
August 22, 2016 @ 8:49 am
The first queen of country music was lulu belle. It’s in Robert k oermann’s book “finding her voice” it seems to me she was like a Minnie pearl type character. She was in the Louisiana hayride in the late 30’s and early 40’s.
January 10, 2023 @ 8:42 pm
Maybe you could get the artist thoughts on who should be who just saying
August 22, 2016 @ 8:57 am
Finally someone makes the connection with the fact that King George in King George Strait is also the same as a certain former British king that we declared independence from lol. There’s a joke about this somewhere, not sure what it is lol.
Also would Waylon Jennings be considered the Father of Outlaw Country music? I just remember seeing on the WJ site that he personified outlaw country or something like that so I was just wondering.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:02 am
I think there a lot of folks who could be considered the Kings, Queens, Fathers, and Mothers of a lot of things, but I think it’s up to the public to decide nicknames, vet them over time, and come to universal consensus. For example, I had been calling terrible country songs that list off countryisms “Laundry List Country” for years. So did other journalists and a lot of folks in the industry. Jody Rosen, a journalist that doesn’t even write about country music, randomly called it “Bro-Country” in an article, and now its the universally-recognized term. I think Waylon would be a good candidate for the King or Father of Outlaw country, but that’s up to the people to decide.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:01 am
Wilf Carter, known as Montana slim in the states, is considered the father of Canadian country music.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:08 am
Sheriff Texas Jim Lewis, The King Of North Western Swing
Who’s got two non-alphanumeric keyboard keys and is a country music nerd wanna-be?
August 22, 2016 @ 9:08 am
Florida Georgia Line. the Kings of Bro-Country.
I miss Steve Gaines
August 22, 2016 @ 9:13 am
It’s Bro-Kountry 😉
August 22, 2016 @ 4:28 pm
FGL are bro country’s court jesters. Luke Bryan is the king of douchebag country and the goddess Kimberly Perry is his queen.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:32 am
August 22, 2016 @ 9:38 am
Anyone know who was First Lady of Country Music first, Loretta Lynn or Tammy Wynette? (I thought it was Tammy.)
August 24, 2016 @ 9:28 am
August 22, 2016 @ 9:52 am
Chris LeDoux, King of Western music.
August 22, 2016 @ 11:32 am
Not the “King of Wyoming”?
August 22, 2016 @ 4:04 pm
But seriously, he was the King of the cowboys.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:57 am
Wonderful list, Trig. One of your best, in my opinion.
I don’t know why, but I’ve always loved the idea of having “kings”, “queens”, “mothers” and “fathers” in country music. I think it speaks to the idea that country is not just what is, but what has been passed down from the greats throughout history.
Also, I’ve always preferred Hank Williams referred to as “The Hillbilly Shakespeare” as opposed to “King.” I think the former fits his character and legacy better than the former.
August 22, 2016 @ 10:02 am
August 22, 2016 @ 2:19 pm
The Hillbilly Shakespeare label was chosen by a very insightful person.
Among leading world class artists very few possess the ability to explore both the darkest most depressing aspects of human experience, despair and sorrow, loss and death and hopelessness.
Few have the ability to turn full circle and celebrate with joy and exuberance, and laughter the moments that make life worthwhile, to see laughter in adversity, and sheer joy in young love and optimism toward the future.
Shakespeare’s plays are divided into tragedies and comedies to reflect this.
Lots of writers can try to both. But only a very few like Shakespeare can do both as well as they have ever been done.
In popular music of all genres, many have had serious songs and comedy songs. Hank’s life work shows very simply he was the best at both, as was Shakespeare.
I hope someone can can find a musical/lyric artist who matches Hank in this regard. I haven’t been able to.
August 22, 2016 @ 10:04 am
For those interested in the Carter Family. Here’s a link to a documentary on DVD about them: http://thewindingstream.com
August 22, 2016 @ 10:45 am
Good documentary. Also available on Netflix and Amazon Prime, I believe.
August 22, 2016 @ 11:57 am
Yes it is… And as far I’m concerned everybody who’s interested in the history of
Country Music and the Carter Family should watch it, I bought the DVD but yes I think it’s on Netflix too. I got the DVD about 3 weeks ago and I’ve allready played it 4 times .
The only issue I have with it is that I did find some of the animated parts rather ugly especially the scene from Bristol where they are singing “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow Tree”. But that’s i minor issue since it’s also filled with beautiful music and vintage pictures, (and film clips), from those days. Love the Carther Family… 🙂
August 22, 2016 @ 12:00 pm
Can’t recommend that Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol highly enough while we’re on the subject of the Carters and the Bristol Sessions. Had the chance to visit a few weeks ago while on vacation and was majorly impressed by the place. Also a big fan of the online radio stations that they’re running out of the museum.
August 22, 2016 @ 12:09 pm
Well.. I would like to go there too. But I’m from Sweden so it might get a little expensive…
August 22, 2016 @ 10:43 am
Guy Clark: The King of Texas Country?
Jason Boland: the King of Red Dirt? Yeah?
August 22, 2016 @ 12:22 pm
Charlie Poole should probably be mentioned also
August 22, 2016 @ 12:26 pm
“**Johnny Cash could also be considered an honorary member of The Carter Family.”
I think Son-In-Law would be an accurate term, but at the same time one can never get rid of the term “Man in Black” for him
August 22, 2016 @ 12:50 pm
Tammy Wynette was known as “The First Lady of Country Music”.
August 22, 2016 @ 1:22 pm
Yes Tammy was known as the first lady of country music,,, while at the time the king George was George Jones, not Strait.
August 22, 2016 @ 1:02 pm
King of phrasing … Willie Nelson
Queen of Twang …..Reba
Here comes the ” Fun-king”….Roger Miller
Father of Jazzabilly ….David Grisman
Corn Prince Of Crapcountry …17-way tie but Blake Shelton has the edge
Honorary Queen-Of-The-Week of Country Pop Crossover ….Pink
Queen of ” You Call That COUNTRY ? country ” Shania Twain
King of Country Rock , Pop Country , Bluegrass , Country Swing , Duets , Charity Benefits .. Vince Gill
August 24, 2016 @ 1:53 pm
LOL! Shania Twain.
August 24, 2016 @ 1:54 pm
Also Reba Queen of facelifts.
August 22, 2016 @ 1:42 pm
The life story of Spade Cooley is really something.
August 22, 2016 @ 4:17 pm
Dumb question, but what about the “King of Bakersfield”? I’d say it’s a tie between Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
August 23, 2016 @ 4:47 pm
No contest, Merle was a much better singer than Buck Owens!
August 23, 2016 @ 6:29 pm
August 24, 2016 @ 5:31 am
I mean don’t get me wrong I’m a fan of The Hag, but I would swing towards Buck. I love Buck Owens and His Buckaroos
August 22, 2016 @ 4:51 pm
I think Lefty Frizzell should be the King of something country. Maybe King of “the country way.” He was very influential.
His brother David, though, was the worst thing that happened to country music in the 80’s. David Frizzell only had a career due to Lefty. He’s awful.
Lefty is great. David is bad.
August 23, 2016 @ 4:35 am
David Frizzell put on one of the best concerts I have ever seen.
Yeah, he’s not anywhere near as talented as Lefty.
Yeah, he’s only had a few hit songs that maybe weren’t that great.
BUT he is definitely one of the best entertainers I have ever seen, and I’ve seen Sturgill Simpson, Willie Nelson, Hank Jr. Stapleton, Time Jumpers, Dailey and Vincent, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, Josh Turner, Bela Fleck (twice) Nickel Creek. etc. etc. etc.
If you want to hear a really good David F album, try “Me and You.”
August 24, 2016 @ 10:33 am
Your the reason God made Oklahoma is absolutely one of my top country duets of all time. It was written by Larry Collins, one of the great rockabilly guitar greats but sung so nicely by Frizzell and Shelly West.
And let’s not forget I’m gonna hire a wino.
Yep David Frizzell rocks.
August 22, 2016 @ 5:06 pm
Garth Brooks “the king of attention”
Alan Jackson…I don’t know he’s my guy and he deserves some title…
August 24, 2016 @ 1:52 pm
King of cool.
August 25, 2016 @ 7:14 am
King of Cool = Dwight.
August 22, 2016 @ 5:37 pm
I think as a fan of Terri Clark that she deserves a title too so maybe Queen of Canadian Country music or something like that.
August 22, 2016 @ 5:39 pm
Carlene Carter doesn’t get a mention with the Carter Family?
August 22, 2016 @ 5:47 pm
Just to get in on the act:
Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris: Godmothers of Alt-Country/Americana/Country-Rock
August 22, 2016 @ 7:07 pm
Damn I love Carl Perkins.
August 22, 2016 @ 7:55 pm
I love Hank snow as much as Hank Williams. He never gets the credit he deserves. At least trigger mentions him from time to time.
August 22, 2016 @ 8:23 pm
Roy Rogers could be included as King of the Cowboys. In fact that was the title of one of his movies.
August 22, 2016 @ 9:45 pm
Freddie Fender – King of Tex-Mex or maybe Tijuana Brass
Wasn’t Roger Miller King of the Road? lol
August 22, 2016 @ 10:26 pm
Grandfather of Bluegrass – Wade Mainer
theres my kids n thats my wife but whos that Lil Dale runnin my life?
August 23, 2016 @ 6:46 am
nice rack on johnnys dawter
August 23, 2016 @ 7:24 am
Paul Stanley-King of the Nightime World
August 23, 2016 @ 7:41 am
Cool idea for an article and a pretty good list. Every court also needs its Court Jester though. I’d put Ray Stevens and Little Jimmy Dickens at the head of the list.
August 23, 2016 @ 7:55 am
I’ve never heard of the Jimmy Martin/ Bill Monroe fued. If you have time and are hurting for a story, maybe you could do an article on this. I think it would be pretty interesting. BTW, great story!
August 23, 2016 @ 8:41 am
Sam Bush – Father of Newgrass
August 23, 2016 @ 1:11 pm
wasn’t George Jones considered the King of Country at one point or am I dreaming?
August 23, 2016 @ 3:12 pm
He did release an album with that title. I struggled back and forth of whether to include it here because that album seems to be the only reference. Unfortunately wasn’t around during that time to tell you if people were referring to him as the “King” at that time, but I don’t get the sense it was as widespread as with Acuff, Hank, and Strait.
August 24, 2016 @ 8:07 pm
George Jones could be King Of No Show Jones
August 23, 2016 @ 1:50 pm
Ernest Tubb should be on this list
August 23, 2016 @ 2:20 pm
I don’t see Jim Reeves on the list. He definitely should be, he started the “Nashville Sound”.
August 23, 2016 @ 2:50 pm
I think Gene Watson should have some title, one of the greatest.
August 23, 2016 @ 3:42 pm
From out of the hills of Nova Scotia comes the thundering guitar beats of the singing ranger-Hank Snow rides again!
August 23, 2016 @ 6:36 pm
How about my wife’s fav. Moe Bandy
August 23, 2016 @ 9:27 pm
I had always heard Rose Maddox referred to as “The Queen of the Honky Tonks”. I recall reading an interview where Rosie was asked what she thought of the moniker and she replied something to the effect of “I guess it beats bein’ queen of nothin’!”…
August 24, 2016 @ 6:02 am
Gary Stewart…King Of The Honky Tonks.
August 24, 2016 @ 7:17 am
Thomas Rhett– King of Shit.
August 24, 2016 @ 1:50 pm
Well The Shit family has A LOT of heirs to the throne.
August 24, 2016 @ 11:54 am
Box Car Willie charted his own way, and although usually preformed as an opening act, had real talents as an entertainer.
August 24, 2016 @ 1:48 pm
My only beef and is that under families there was not The Stonemans and even though they have NO family in the group name I argue, without any long winded reasoning, it should count. But still I like these kinds of lists because it reminds you of folks who get lost in the shuffle. Rose Maddox?? Yes!
August 24, 2016 @ 1:49 pm
Also is not Dolly Parton considered a Queen? I’ve seen round quite a bit.
August 28, 2016 @ 12:48 am
I’ve heard of 80% of these folks, does that make me a country music nerd?
October 5, 2017 @ 7:30 pm
I think that reba mcentire should be on there she is almost as famous as George strait
January 12, 2019 @ 3:47 pm
Someone mentioned Moe Bandy here – you think he can be called the “King of Hard Country Revivalism?”
Also, I’ve seen Barbara Mandrell referred to as the “Queen of Blue-Eyed Soul” in quite a few places. She’s also been dubbed the “Sweetheart of Steel” for her steel guitar ability getting her initially noticed, but I don’t think “Sweetheart” counts as royalty.
And of course Mary Padgett is arguable – besides the album, she only had one single out on another label. I’m sure the “Queen of Bluegrass” part is either bragging or the record label the album was on really liked putting their faith into her.
Other considerable nicknames:
King of Prolificacy, King of Weed Smoking (not kidding – Snoop Dogg even admitted this on some late night show) – Willie Nelson
Queen of the Outlaws – Jessi Colter
King of Novelties – Joe Diffie
King of Hitmaking (just look at how many times he charted!) – Eddy Arnold
Queen of Harmony – Patty Loveless, or Emmylou Harris
Queen of Background-to-Forefront Popularity – Janie Fricke
King of Marketing – Garth Brooks
Well, we’re all kings and queens of SOMETHING…
December 2, 2020 @ 8:32 pm
Gary Stewart – King Of HonkyTonk
December 3, 2020 @ 12:52 am
Milton Brown – Father Of Western Swing
December 3, 2020 @ 5:30 pm
Moon Mullican – King of the Hillbilly Piano Players