Throughout one of the world’s most notably difficult years in the last century, the world of country music has suffered a great deal of loss with the passing of some of the biggest names in its history. Beyond just the mega-stars, even more great contributors to country music have passed on in 2020 and we are taking the time to honor them with this tribute article.
May they all rest in peace…
John Prine – (October 10th, 1946 – April 7th, 2020)
Dubbed the “hero of ‘new’ Nashville” by NPR, John Prine was a legendary musician with songwriting and chart hits that spanned many decades. Tragically, he passed away from COVID-19 in April 2020.
Alex Harvey – (March 10th, 1941 – April 4th, 2020)
Harvey was known best as the hitmaking songwriter behind Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn” and Kenny Rogers’ “Reuben James” – both of which have become treasured classics among country fans. Kenny Rogers once praised him, saying: “Alex Harvey is the best songwriter I have ever had the pleasure to record.”
Doug Supernaw – (September 26th, 1960 – November 13th, 2020)
After performing around his home state of Texas, Supernaw became a 90s hitmaker when he signed with BNA Records and released his signature song “I Don’t Call Him Daddy” (which was also a Top 100 hit for Kenny Rogers). He passed away after a long-fought battle with lung and bladder cancer at the age of 60.
Bill Mack – (June 4th, 1929 – July 31st, 2020)
Starting out as a popular radio DJ and often called Texas Radio’s “Midnight Cowboy,” Bill Mack created a legacy not many will be able to follow. Along with his remarkable career on the airwaves, Mack also penned Leann Rimes’ first #1 hit “Blue.” According to Mack’s family, he passed away from COVID-19 at the age of 91.
Joe Diffie – (December 28th, 1958 – March 29th, 2020)
For 30 years the man, the mullet, and the legend they called Joe Diffie was one of the most beloved musicians in neotraditional country music. Soaring through the ’90s with hits like “Pickup Man” and “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox” Diffie cemented his name in the genre and earned millions of lifelong fans. Unfortunately, Diffie passed away from complications related to COVID-19.
Ray Pennington – (December 22nd, 1933 – October 7th, 2020)
Starting out in a band called Western Rhythm Boys, Pennington later released music under the name Ray Starr (“Three Hearts in a Tangle”). Later, he signed to Capitol Records in the 60s and charted with his own song “I’m a Ramblin’ Man.” That same song would go on to become a #1 hit for Waylon Jennings less than 10 years later. Pennington retired in 1998 with the closure of the label he created in 1984 which signed with folks like Ray Price and fiddler Clinton Gregory. He passed away in October 2020 in a house fire.
Cady Groves – (July 30th, 1989 – May 2nd, 2020)
The youngest person on this list, Cady Groves was just 30 at the time of her death, yet had already released four EPs and six singles in the first few years of her career. Best known for her song “This Little Girl” which featured Blake Shelton in the music video, Groves was on the verge of releasing another EP at the time of her death. She passed away on May 2nd, 2020 from chronic alcohol abuse, and her EP was released posthumously on May 29th.
Jan Howard – (March 13th, 1929 – March 28th, 2020)
Opry legend Jan Howard earned her keep in country music from her very first hit single “The One You Slip Around With.” Later, she recorded a series of hits alongside fellow country crooner Bill Anderson and became a regular star on the Grand Ole Opry. She passed away just over two weeks after she celebrated her 91st birthday.
Johnny Bush – (February 17th, 1958 – October 16th, 2020)
A former bandmate of Willie Nelson and Darrell McCall, Johnny Bush was a man known for his work in western swing and honky-tonk music but his biggest credit on the charts came from “Whiskey River” which was a Top 20 hit for both himself and Willie Nelson in the 1970s. He passed away at a hospital in San Antonio at the age of 85 from complications from pneumonia.
Mac Davis – (January 21st, 1942 – September 29th, 2020)
Davis was much more than just a country singer in his lifetime. Beyond cutting his own hits like the above “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me,” he also penned hits for Elvis Presley, starred in his own TV show The Mac Davis Show, had a lengthy acting career, and even appeared on Broadway. He passed away following heart surgery at the age of 78.
K.T. Oslin – (May 15th, 1942 – December 21st, 2020)
A member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, K.T. Oslin began her career in the early 1980s and continued to release hits through the 1990s, totaling more than 22 singles and five albums. She later released her final album in 2015, titled Simply. That same month, Oslin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and moved into a care facility in 2016. She died in December 2020 after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Paul English – (November 6th, 1932 – February 11th, 2020)
Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and close friend, Paul English had been traveling and playing alongside Nelson since 1966 with sporadic shows and appearances in the decade preceding that. English was the person named on Willie Nelson’s Me and Paul album as well as the song. He died in February 2020 from pneumonia.
Harold Reid – (August 21st, 1939 – April 24th, 2020)
A founding member of The Statler Brothers, Harold Reid sang with the group as a bass singer until the band retired in 2002. In April 2020, Harold passed away after fighting a long battle against kidney failure. He was 80 years old.
Jimmy Capps – (May 25th, 1939 – June 2nd, 2020)
A famous face on the Opry stage, Jimmy Capps was known as the bandleader of the Opry house band and also played as a studio musician on hits like “Stand By Your Man” and “The Gambler” among many, many others over the course of 50 years. He died at age 81.
Billy Joe Shaver – (August 16th, 1939 – October 28th, 2020)
Shaver, who was a pioneer in the Outlaw music revolution, is known for his work on hits like “Honky Tonk Heroes,” “Live Forever,” and “Georgia on a Fast Train” among many more. He is also responsible for almost all of the tracks on Waylon Jennings’s 1973 album Honky Tonk Heroes. According to SiriusXM, a family emergency contact said that Shaver died at Ascension Providence Hospital in Waco, Texas after suffering a massive stroke. He was 81 years old.
Gary McSpadden – (January 26th, 1943 – April 15th, 2020)
Famous Christian singer and former member of The Oak Ridge Boys, Gary McSpadden, created a legacy of musical influence across various genres. He sang backup for Elvis Presley and joined the Gaither family for many projects. After fighting pancreatic cancer for some time, he passed away in April.
Hal Ketchum – (April 9th, 1953 – November 23, 2020)
Country hitmaker and actor Hal Ketchum scored more than 15 entries on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts throughout his almost 40-year career and delivered many hits that are still played on radio today. He passed away just before Thanksgiving after suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s for more than a year. He was just 67 years old.
Ed / Eddie Setser – (1943 – 2020)
During Setser’s career as a hitmaking songwriter, he helped pen memorable songs for folks like Willie Nelson & Ray Charles, Oak Ridge Boys, Faith Hill, Brenda Lee, Aretha Franklin, Reba McEntire, and even Eric Clapton. He and close friend Troy Seals worked together on what became their signature hit “Seven Spanish Angels” when recorded and released by Willie Nelson and Ray Charles. Beyond just writing hits, Setser also was a musician and performed all over the world before returning to Corbin, Kentucky to care for his mother in her final years. Sadly, Setser passed away in late January 2020 at the age of 77.
Jerry Jeff Walker – (March 16th, 1942 – October 23rd, 2020)
An outlaw icon known for writing the 1968 hit “Mr. Bojangles,” Jerry Jeff Walker was a leading figure in the outlaw movement and was even coined “the Jimmy Buffet of Texas.” He and Buffet co-wrote the song “Railroad Lady.” He passed away in October 2020 after battling cancer for several years.
Jamie Oldaker – (September 5th, 1951 – July 16th, 2020)
One of the best-known drummers in country, rock, and blues music, Jamie Oldaker recorded with some of the biggest names in music like the Bellamy Brothers, Asleep at the Wheel, Peter Frampton, Leon Russell, the Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Willie Nelson, Ronnie Dunn, and many more. He passed away in July 2020 at the age of 68.
Kenny Rogers – (August 21st, 1938 – March 20, 2020)
A man known worldwide for his iconic voice and unforgettable hit songs, Kenny Rogers truly captured the heart of his listeners with each note he sang. A Grammy-winning singer and beloved duet partner of Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers also made his way as an actor in movies and television shows. A man of many talents, his list of accolades is long and he was once voted “Favorite Singer of All Time.” He passed away from natural causes at his home in Georgia at the age of 81.
JT Corenflos – (November 6th, 1963 – October 24th, 2020)
Corenflos is best known for playing a blue Telecaster guitar and working with country greats like Jean Shepard, Joe Stampley, Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, and many more. In a 2019 interview, Corenflos told The Tribune-Star that “his job was to conjure catchy guitar lines in the studio that help turn a singer’s song into a hit.” He was so good at his job, that Corenflos became one of the most in-demand session musicians in all of Nashville and his skills earned him a large number of award nominations as well as a few wins! JT Corenflos died on October 24th, 2020 after a lengthy battle with lung disease at the age of 56.
Charlie Daniels – (October 28th, 1936 – July 6th, 2020)
Another world-famous musician known for his contributions to Southern rock, country, and bluegrass music, Charlie Daniels performed for more than 60 years. He both wrote and recorded some of the most famous songs in Southern rock such as “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,” and “Long Haired Country Boy.” He also penned songs for other stars like Elvis Presley (“It Hurts Me”). Daniels passed away in July 2020 after suffering a stroke.
Justin Townes Earle – (January 4th, 1982 – August 20th, 2020)
Americana singer Justin Townes Earle passed away in August 2020 at just 38 years old. He was the son of famous country legend Steve Earle and is best known for his song “Harlem River Blues” which earned him several awards in the late 2000s. He toured alongside his father for some time and developed his own style of mixing folk music with blues and country.
Roy Head – (January 9th, 1941 – September 21st, 2020)
Roy Head was known for his series of hits throughout the 60s and 80s. From his discography, “Treat Her Right” has become one of his most recognizable songs – even to listeners today. Additionally, Roy also had some success in the country music genre with songs like “Come to Me,” “The Most Wanted Woman In Town,” and a cover of Rod Stewart: “Tonight’s the Night (It’s Gonna Be Alright).” Unfortunately, Roy passed away on September 21st, 2020, in the arms of his wife, Misty.
Charley Pride – (March 18th, 1934 – December 12th, 2020)
Charley Pride began his career as a professional baseball player for several teams before being drafted into the Army in 1956. After his service, he returned to baseball and his singing talents were noticed by the team manager. That was the beginning of his illustrious career in country music – and one that has left its mark on fans both young and old. Throughout his decades as a famed musician, Pride delivered hits like “Just Between You and Me,” “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’,” “It’s Gonna Take A Little Bit Longer,” “A Shoulder to Cry On,” and many more. Sadly, Charley passed away on December 12th, 2020 from complications of COVID-19.
2020 surely was a difficult year with the passing of so many notable folks and there were many more not listed here. While we mourn the passing of these great musicians, we honor their memory by cherishing the legacy of music they have left behind.