CMA Awards 2019: Women shine, Garth Brooks makes history on country musics biggest night
The 53rd CMA Awards promised a celebration of women – and country music’s biggest night delivered.
Over the course of the evening, more than 40 women spanning generations in the genre took the stage to perform, accept or present awards.
Garth Brooks took the night’s top honor – Entertainer of the Year – for a record-breaking seventh time. Still, he used his platform to draw attention to the female artists in crowd.
Brooks said that if the award was being presented based on the night’s performances – co-host Reba McEntire would take the prize for her theatric performance of “Fancy.” He also pointed to Kelsea Ballerini’s stripped down delivery of her “Homecoming Queen,” saying it shrank the cavernous arena into a small, intimate space.
“Seven is important because that’s my number and it feels good, but it’s also the historic night it comes on. This is a salute to women. And, guess who lives with one of the greatest female singers on the plant?” Brooks asked, referring to his wife, Trisha Yearwood. “And, guess who has three daughters who needed to hear that message tonight, that needed to see Kacey Musgraves to come out with Willie Nelson and be flawless?”
Musgraves and Luke Combs were the night’s top winners. The singers each took home two trophies.
“I think (winning tonight) does mean something extra special considering there are so many women here who paved the way for me to be able to speak my mind and do the things that I do,” said Musgraves, who female vocalist of the year and video of the year. “I think every year in country music females should be equally celebrated. I think the female narrative is really important and it’s been the backbone of country music since the beginning.”
This year, for the first time, the CMA Awards show was hosted by three women. Carrie Underwood, who has co-hosted the CMA Awards for more than decade, was back again this year with new partners Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire.
The host trio kicked off the show with “Those Memories of You” before an onslaught of country music’s leading women past and present.
Tanya Tucker dug into classic “Delta Dawn;” Gretchen Wilson kicked out “Redneck Woman;” The Highwomen paid tribute to Tammy Wynette with “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” … and that’s not half of what viewers saw.
“What a way to kick off country music’s biggest night,” Underwood declared in the opening monologue.
From there, women continued to dominate the show. Maren Morris, the night’s top nominee and expectant mom, tearfully accepted the trophy for Album of the Year for her 2019 release “GIRL.”
“This is incredible,” Morris said. “Thank you country music. Thank you to my peers in the room that I respect so much for voting for me for this.”
The majority of “Girl,” like her debut, “Hero,” before it, was produced by late songwriter and producer Michael James Ryan — known professionally as Busbee — who died in September at age 43.
“I would be really remiss if I didn’t mention a huge facet of why this album sounds the way it does,” Morris said as she accepted the award. And we miss him so dearly.”
Blake Shelton won his first CMA award – Single of the Year, for “God’s Country” – since he took Male Vocalist of the Year in 2014.
“I think the success of ‘God’s Country’ is a combination of the message of the song and simply the title. With where we are in this country, I think it’s refreshing to see a title like that. And you don’t hear songs that sound like that anymore. It just has the ‘A Country Boy Can Survive’ element to it. I knew there would be some people out there starving for a song like that.”
Shelton’s fiddle player Jenee Fleenor, meanwhile, became the first woman to win Musician of the Year.
“I once had the pleasure of playing a tribute show for Mr. John Prine and the next day he shook my hand and he said, ‘You’re real good. You’re no Reba,’” McBryde recalled. “I cherish those little moments that are like that — that are truth and guidance from voices that we respect and admire. And I’m thankful for that and for this and for the opportunity to step up.”
McBryde was part of one of the night’s more memorable performances – a collaboration with Ballerini, Little Big Town, Maddie & Tae, Runaway June, Carly Pearce and Lindsay Ell on Little Big Town’s CMA Award-winning “Girl Crush.” The women traded harmonies and swapped lines on the hit. And the end, the ladies lined up across the stage. Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild introduced them, saying: “You’re looking at the future of country music right here,” she said.
Parton, who made quippy jokes about everything from Porter Wagoner to the size of her clothing rack, put her humor on hold for her medley of inspirational songs. She welcomed for KING & COUNTRY to the CMA Awards to perform their popular duet “God Only Knows,” which ended with a sweet kiss on the hand from singer Joel Smallbone. Parton invited Zach Williams out next to sing their new duet “There Was Jesus” then closed with a solo performance of “Faith,” a 2019 collaboration with Swedish duo Galantis.
McEntire’s “Fancy” was one of the most elaborate presentations of the night. She started the song in a lavender satin gown, which she stripped off the reveal a slender, red sequined dress, which she removed a verse later to show a fitted, strappy sequined top and matching, flowing pants. McEntire held no guitar or microphone – she captivated the audience with her eyes and the dynamic, knowing way she worked the stage.
Miranda Lambert turned the CMA Awards stage into a carwash complete with bubbles for her new hit “It All Comes Out in the Wash” and Dan + Shay shared the stage with an orchestra to revive their multi-week No. 1 hit “Speechless.”
The men were named duo of the year later in the show. While Dan + Shay has won a Grammy, an ACM Award, a Billboard Award, a CMT Award and more, a CMA trophy had eluded them until tonight’s show.
“This is a little overwhelming, man,” singer Shay Mooney. “There are so many of our heroes in the room. Brooks & Dunn, are you kidding me? This is absolutely incredible.”
“Shay and I have chased this dream our entire lives,” Dan Smyers said backstage. “We grew up listening to country music and we moved to this town because we wanted to write country music because we wanted to some day be a part of this community. It’s so incredible, I don’t even know if this is real. I feel like we may be living in a dream.”
But Lil Nas X might have been the most surprised winner of the night. His record-breaking duet with Billy Ray Cyrus “Old Town Road” won musical event of the year.
“I wasn’t sure if this was going to be able to happen tonight,” he said. “I’m so happy this song was accepted because it is the bridging of two polar opposite genres. I’m happy it’s gotten respect from both places.”
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