(Left) Larry Ellis Collection / Contributor / Getty Images / (Center & Left) Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty Images
Some country artists continue performing until the end of their lives. Others make the choice to retire, often due to health or a desire to spend more time with family.
But some country stars seemingly disappear. Once-popular singers leave the spotlight and return years later…if at all.
Some of the artists included in this list have released new music or performed in recent years. While others have been far more reclusive.
Have you ever wondered what happened to Bobbie Gentry ? Or questioned why Chris Cagle hasn’t released a new album in over a decade? And what has Ricky Van Shelton been up to? Keep reading for the answers to those questions and more.
Jessica Andrews was just one month shy of turning 17 years old when she released her breakout hit, “Who I Am.” The song reached #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart and ranked at the eighth spot on the year-end chart.
Unfortunately, Andrews was never able to replicate that success. Her followup single “Helplessly, Hopelessly” reached the 31st spot on the Hot Country Songs chart. In 2002, she scored one last Top 20 hit with “There’s More to Me Than You,” which peaked at #17.
Andrews released her last single, “Everything,” in 2008. Her last album, Now, was released in 2003.
The singer has since disappeared from the music industry. She used to maintain a public presence online, but no longer seems to do so.
Andrews married singer-songwriter and music video director Marcel in November 2011. They share a son named Rockwell (born in 2018).
Chris Cagle experienced his breakout moment in 2001 with the release of his single “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out.” It was his first and only song to reach #1 on the Hot Country Songs chart. Its music video won the CMT Music Award for Breakthrough Video of the Year.
Cagle followed up with a handful of other successful singles, including “Chicks Dig It,” “What a Beautiful Day,” “Miss Me Baby,” and “What Kinda Gone.”
The singer released his last single, “Dance Baby Dance,” in 2013. His last album, Back in the Saddle, was released in 2012.
Cagle announced his retirement in 2015:
“I would like to thank everyone for 15 yrs of a great time!” he said on Facebook. He continued, “I’m going to be a Father and a GREAT Husband and enjoy my life!”
Just three years later (in 2018), Cagle announced he was coming out of retirement to perform one show. He’s since maintained a fairly regular performance schedule and has been working on new music. You can see his full touring schedule here.
Patty Loveless was one of country music’s standout artists in the 1980s and 1990s. She is known for hits such as “Blame It On Your Heart,” “How Can I Help You Say Goodbye,” “I Try to Think About Elvis,” and “Lonely Too Long.”
Loveless has two Grammys (out of 13 nominations), 44 Top 10 singles, and is a member of the Grand Ole Opry. She’ll soon join the Country Music Hall of Fame in the 2023 class of inductees.
Despite her success, Loveless mostly retired from touring in 2009. She made a select number of appearances in the years that followed. Most notably, she delivered an outstanding rendition of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” at the 2022 CMA Awards with Chris Stapleton and his wife Morgane.
Loveless recently shared the selfless reason why she left the spotlight. She spent that time caring for her husband, Emory Gordy Jr., who was in poor health.
“There have been a couple of times that I thought I was going to lose Emory and I’m so thankful that he’s still here with me,” she told Women’s Day.
Jeannie C. Riley broke onto the scene with the single “Harper Valley PTA.” The song reached the #1 spot on the Hot Country Songs chart and the all-genre Billboard Hot 100. Riley won a Grammy Award for her performance. The song also inspired a movie and TV series of the same name, which both starred Barbara Eden.
Riley released a number of other hits throughout the later 1960s and early-mid 1970s, including “The Girl Most Likely,” “There Never Was a Time,” “Country Girl,” and “Oh, Singer.” In 1984, Riley released a sequel to her signature song, appropriately titled “Return to Harper Valley.”
The singer eventually made the shift to gospel music. She detailed her move to the genre in her 1980 autobiography, From Harper Valley to the Mountain Top.
Riley’s last single was released in 1991. Her last album was released in 2013, though it contains recordings made between 1968-1970.
Back in 2012, a video surfaced of a then-67-year-old Riley performing “Harper Valley PTA.”
As of 2022, Riley resides in Brenham, Texas.
Texas Monthly published a report about her 77th birthday celebration. The author says Riley “has declined for several years to sing in public herself, ever since she says a thyroid surgery wound up injuring her vocal cords.”
The sister trio SHeDaisy found instant success when their debut single, “Little Goodbyes,” reached #3 on the Hot Country Songs Chart. They followed up with a series of other Top 10 hits, including “This Woman Needs,” “I Will… But,” and “Don’t Worry ’bout a Thing.”
SHeDaisy received a Grammy nomination for “Little Goodbyes,” and was nominated for the CMA’s Horizon Award in 2000.
The group released their last single in 2009. Their last studio album was released in 2006.
SHeDaisy had plans to release a fifth album, A Story to Tell. But they left their record label in 2010, and the album was shelved.
Today, the trio occasionally shares posts on their official Facebook page. Though at the time of this writing, they haven’t published a post since October 2022.
The Wreckers were only active for three years, and released just one album during that time, Stand Still, Look Pretty. But that album made an impact, as it reached the 4th spot on the Top Country Albums chart.
Their debut single, “Leave the Pieces,” topped the Hot Country Songs chart. They followed up with two more singles before calling it quits: “My, Oh My” (reached #9) and “Tennessee” (reached #33).
In 2008, members Michelle Branch and Jessica Branch announced the end of The Wreckers. Both pursued solo careers in the years that followed.
The duo created an Instagram account a few years ago, and seemed to be teasing a reunion. They finally performed together again in February 2023 during Bobby Bones‘ charity benefit for St. Jude Children’s research hospital.
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The sibling trio The Band Perry catapulted into the country music world thanks to their single “If I Die Young.” It reached the #1 spot on both of Billboard‘s country charts and also reached the 14th spot on the all-genre Hot 100.
More hit songs followed, including “Better Dig Two,” “All Your Life,” “You Lie,” “Done,” and “Chainsaw.” They also won a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for their cover of Glen Campbell‘s “Gentle on My Mind.”
The group started to experiment and released songs that were more pop in style. Those songs included “Live Forever,” “Comeback Kid,” and “Stay in the Dark.”
In 2017, the trio shared their plans to release their first pop album, My Bad Imagination. But the album was scrapped a year later. The Band Perry’s last release came out in 2018, and was a 5-song project called Coordinates.
After years of wondering what happened to the trio, they confirmed their hiatus in March 2023. Members Kimberly, Reid, and Neil Perry will now focus on “individual creative pursuits.”
Kimberly has since returned to country music, and released a new EP, titled Bloom. She also welcomed a baby boy with her husband Johnny Costello on August 26, 2023.
Ricky Van Shelton was only active as a performer for 20 years. But during those decades, he earned 10 chart-topping hits, including “Somebody Lied,” “Living Proof,” and his “Rockin’ Years” duet with Dolly Parton.
The first four of Shelton’s nine studio albums have been certified Platnium by the RIAA. This means they have sold over one million units each.
Shelton released his last single and album in 2000. He announced his retirement in 2006, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.
Of all of the singers in this list, Shelton is one that has truly “vanished.” He hasn’t performed in public since announcing his retirement. The Grand Ole Opry, of which Shelton is a member, says:
“He has distinguished himself as a painter, pilot, collector, and author. His series of children’s books about a duck named Quacker has sold more than 200,000 copies, and his paintings can be viewed by his fans on the Internet.”
Billy Gilman was only 11 years old when he released his debut single, “One Voice.” The song reached the 20th spot on the Hot Country Songs chart and peaked at the 38th position on the all-genre Hot 100. It made Gilman the youngest artist to ever have a Top 40 country single.
Gilman’s debut album, also titled One Voice, has been certified double Platinum for the sale of two million units. Several more albums followed, with his last album being released in 2006.
16 years after “One Voice” was released, Gilman auditioned for Season 11 of The Voice. He shared his desire to shift to pop, and performed Adele‘s “When We Were Young.”
Since his time on The Voice, Gilman has maintained a fairly busy touring schedule. You can see all of his upcoming performances here. He also released a new bluegrass song, “Roller Coaster,” in 2023.
Gilman is active on social media as well, so you can keep up to date with everything he has going on.
Steve Holy is known for his #1 hits “Good Morning Beautiful” and “Brand New Girlfriend.” 13 of his other singles have placed on the Hot Country Songs chart between the years of 1999-2012.
Holy’s last single was released in 2013. He released his last regular studio album in 2011.
The singer left his record label in 2013. He stepped away from his career for a bit to focus on raising his two daughters.
“Now that my girls are older and can actually understand what a career as a musician entails, they have become my biggest cheerleaders,” Holy told Sounds Like Nashville. “I never stopped missing the music part of my life, but I would have missed my girls more, had I not taken this break over the past few years. Just knowing I have their full support to jump back into it has made my decision so much easier. “
Holy made his highly anticipated return to the spotlight in 2021. That year, he released a new Christmas album, A Christmas to Remember.
Barbara Mandrell was one of the most popular artists in country music in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She’s known for her many hits, including “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “One of a Kind Pair of Fools,” and “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.”
Mandrell won the CMA’s Entertainer of the Year Award twice, became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1972, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
All of Mandrell’s hard work started to affect her voice. She began suffering from vocal strain in 1982, and was forced to leave her successful variety show. Two years later, in 1984, Mandrell was involved in a car accident that left her seriously injured.
After Mandrell recovered, she resumed singing, and earned several more hits. But by 1997, Mandrell announced her decision to retire from recording and performing. Her last performance took place at the Opry House that year.
Mandrell was also an actress, and she continued acting until 2000. She now lives a quiet life with her family, and mostly remains out of the spotlight.
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Mandrell continues to make a few public appearances to celebrate special milestones. For example, she made an appearance at the Opry in 2022 to celebrate her 50th anniversary as a member.
“Thank you to the @opry for celebrating me and welcoming me home. Lord knows I love the Opry! Love, Barbara” she wrote in a post about the celebration.
Cledus T. Judd is known for his parodies of other country artists’ songs. Some of those songs include “Every Light in the House Is Blown” (parodying Trace Adkins‘ “Every Light in the House”) and “How Do You Milk a Cow” (based on Toby Keith‘s “How Do You Like Me Now).
Judd announced his retirement in 2015. He stepped away from performing to focus on raising his daughter.
In 2016, Judd released a three-CD project titled Things I Remember Before I Forget, which contained stories about his life. He also co-wrote the song “Three Feet of Water,” which was featured on Brantley Gilbert‘s The Devil Don’t Sleep album in 2017.
Judd came out of retirement in 2018. He released a new parody song, “(Weight’s Goin’) Up Down, Up Down,” (based on Morgan Wallen‘s “Up Down”). He then released another tune, “Gotta Pee” (based on Bebe Rexha and Florida Georgia Line‘s “Meant to Be”), that same year.
These days, you can keep up with everything Judd has going on by following him on social media, where he maintains an active presence.
Bobbie Gentry is just as mysterious as the characters she sings about in her songs.
The “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Fancy” singer found fame by writing and singing compelling stories. She won two Grammys for the former song, and earned a nomination for the latter.
Gentry was also known for performing duets with Glen Campbell, including their Top 10 cover of the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me.”
Her final public performance occured in 1981, and she made her last public appearance at the ACM Awards in 1982. Then, Gentry disappeared from the spotlight, and has not been heard from since.
Gentry was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2020. She did not attend the ceremony.
Many people have speculated about where Gentry is and what she’s doing today. Although she’s been out of the public eye for over four decades, her impact on country music can’t be ignored. Nor can the impact of any of the artists included in this list.