Stapleton's roll can be traced, in large part, back to Nov. 4, 2015, when he performed at the 49th Annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards. According to Nielsen, 13.4 million viewers, many surely hearing of the artist for the first time, watched as he took home three trophies, in each of the categories in which he was a nominee: male vocalist, new artist and album of the year, for Traveller.
Additional fireworks were supplied when Justin Timberlake joined Stapleton for a rousing performance of the latter's "Traveller" and "Tennessee Whiskey" and the former's "Drink You Away."
Stapleton had arrived at the CMA Awards without the benefit of much traction at country radio. (His debut single, "What Are You Listening To?," had peaked at No. 46 on Billboard's Country Airplay chart in 2013.) Following the CMAs, Traveller, after debuting at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart dated May 23, 2015, at No. 2, vaulted 25-1 (Nov. 21); on the all-genre Billboard 200, the LP became the first title ever to re-enter at No. 1.
Stapleton also scored his first Hot Country Songs No. 1, as "Whiskey" re-entered the Nov. 21 list on top (also marking the first No. 1 re-entry on the survey).
In April 2016, Stapleton achieved his first Country Airplay top 10, as "Nobody to Blame," rose to No. 10. By the end of the year, "Parachute" followed the song into the top 20.
Stapleton is reportedly recording his second album for Mercury Nashville, with Dave Cobb returning as producer. The set is slated for a 2017 release.
CARRIE CARRIED ON: Top female Country artist of 2016 Underwood rolled up her 25th straight top 10 on both Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay, "Dirty Laundry," from her album Storyteller, during the year.
Underwood's run of 25 top 10s on the charts encompasses all of her country singles promoted to the format (excluding holiday fare), beginning with "Jesus, Take the Wheel," her first of 15 Country Airplay No. 1s and 14 Hot Country songs leaders, in 2006. She extended the longest streak of top 10 promoted singles from a career's start on both charts.
In March, Underwood earned her first Country Airplay No. 1 since 2012 when "Heartbeat" hit the summit. "Church Bells" then rang out at No. 1 in July.
Underwood is also the No. 4 Top Country Albums artist of the year, below leader Stapleton, Blake Shelton (No. 2) and Joey + Rory (No. 3).
A BLESSED YEAR: Florida Georgia Line's "H.O.L.Y." is not only No. 1 for 2016 on Hot Country Songs, but also on Country Digital Song Sales. The lead single from the pair's third LP, Dig Your Roots (with its inspirational "high on loving you" hook), spent 18 weeks atop Hot Country Songs beginning May 21, the third-longest reign in the chart's 58-year history. The twosome of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley also have rights to the longest-ruling Hot Country Songs No. 1: debut single "Cruise" dominated for 24 weeks in 2012-13.
Dig Your Roots bowed atop Top Country Albums (dated Sept. 17). "We've poured our heart into this project, and to see the fans react the way they have is unbelievable," Hubbard told Billboard upon hearing the news.
The set became FGL's third Top Country Albums leader, following Anything Goes (Nov. 1, 2014) and Here's to the Good Times (June 29, 2013).
SHE GOT AN AMEN: 2016's top new Country artist Morris arrived with debut single, and country music anthem, "My Church," the No. 5 song for the year on Country Digital Song Sales. Her debut LP Hero (with all 11 tracks co-written by the 26-year-old singer-songwriter) became the only debut album to launch atop Top Country Albums in 2016 (June 25).
(As for debut LPs specifically in the genre, Steven Tyler's first country album, We're All Somebody From Somewhere, made a No. 1 start for the legendary Aerosmith frontman on Aug. 6.)
HAPPY LIVING: Thomas Rhett, the year's No. 4 Country artist overall, claims the year's No. 1 song on Billboard's Country Streaming Songs chart, "Die a Happy Man." The ballad, also named single of the year at the CMA Awards (Nov. 2), additionally places at No. 2 for the year on Hot Country Songs and Country Digital Song Sales.
"Man," co-written by Rhett as a love letter to his wife, Lauren, topped Hot Country Songs for 17 weeks, the fourth-longest command ever on Hot Country Songs.
'PARTY' TIME: The No. 1 Country Streaming Songs artist of 2016 is Sam Hunt (the top new Country artist of 2015). Hunt, expected to release his second studio album in 2017, following Montevallo, places four songs on the year-end Country Streaming Songs tally: "Break Up in a Small Town" (No. 2), "Take Your Time" (No. 4), "House Party" (No. 6) and "Make You Miss Me" (No. 8).
PARDI TIME: The No. 1 Country Airplay song of 2016 is Jon Pardi's "Head Over Boots." The tempo-driven, traditional-country track became his first No. 1 in its 46th week on the chart dated Aug. 27.
The No. 1 Country Airplay artist of the year is Jason Aldean, who placed two singles atop the survey: "Lights Come On" (July 23) and "A Little More Summertime" (Dec. 3, technically a week after the 2016 chart year, which encompasses lists from Dec. 5, 2015, through Nov. 26, 2016; still "Summertime" logged the bulk of its chart life in the 2016 chart tracking period).
BLAKE BOWED BEST: Blake Shelton, 2016's No. 2 Country artist, notched the biggest weekly sales of the year for a country album, as his 10th studio LP, If I'm Honest, sold 153,000 in its launch week, according to Nielsen Music. The set debuted at No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart dated June 11, arriving as Shelton's fifth leader.
JOEY FEEK REMEMBERED: Finally, in one of the more touching stories of the year, on March 4, Joey Feek, of husband/wife duo Joey + Rory, passed away at 40 after battling cervical cancer.
The couple's country and Christian album Hymns, recorded in the final months of Joey's life, debuted atop both the Top Country Albums and Top Christian Albums charts dated March 5, becoming the act's first No. 1 on both charts; it has sold 504,000 copies since its release (though Dec. 1). Joey + Rory place at No. 2 in the top country duo/group category for 2016 and No. 14 among all country acts.
Said Rory after hearing the news of Hymns' debut, "The only way I can explain the sales of this record is that it's a byproduct of something bigger: love."