Eric Church won the prestigious CMA Entertainer of the Year title for the first time at last night’s 54th Annual CMA Awards, where Maren Morris was the biggest winner with three trophies.
The event, broadcast live on NBC and hosted by Reba McEntire and Darius Rucker, marked the first time the country community had come together in person, socially distanced and following all safety protocols, for many months. Star performers on the night included Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs, Old Dominion and Jimmie Allen.
Church marked his first time as the winner of the evening’s ultimate accolade by saying: “You know what the win is? The win is we all were here tonight together as country music, in-person, live, not on Zoom. I believe this. It’s going to be music that brings us out of this. That is the one thing that is going to save the entire world.”
Three-time winner Morris
Morris performed her gigantic hit written with Jimmy Robbins and Laura Veltz and produced by Greg Kurstin, “The Bones,” which won CMA Single and Song of the Year. She was also named Female Vocalist of the Year. Combs was Male Vocalist for the second straight year, and his What You See Is What You Get triumphed in the album category.
Old Dominion were CMA Vocal Group for the third year running while Dan + Shay won CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, and Morgan Wallen received CMA New Artist of the Year. He performed his 2020 hit “More Than My Hometown.”
Before the ceremony, Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now” had been named CMA Musical Event of the Year, Jenee Fleenor became CMA Musician of the Year and Lambert’s “Bluebird” was declared CMA Music Video of the Year. Pearce sang her hit on the night with Lady A’s Charles Kelley, following Brice’s positive test for COVID-19.
“It was a privilege to bring the country music community together tonight,” said CMA chief executive officer Sarah Trahern. “We have worked tirelessly over the past few months to develop a safe environment that would allow us to deliver a show our fans have come to expect. We have followed all protocols established by the CDC, local health authorities and creative unions to ensure the safety of our staff, our crew and our artists at every turn.
Bringing the community back together
“Every single person was tested prior to entering our footprint, with many individuals being tested repeatedly out of an abundance of caution,” Trahern continued. “Our process enabled us to catch any positive test results immediately and before any of those individuals ever stepped foot into the venue. I am grateful for the grace and the patience shown to us during this process and to those individuals that were unable to join us tonight, you were greatly missed and we wish you and your families the very best.”
Trahern concluded: “I am so proud to be a part of this community. It has been a very difficult year with many of us having suffered tremendous loss. My hope is that with the help of our incredible community of artists, we were able to shine a bit of light into the world through the magic of country music.”
The show began with a tribute to the late Charlie Daniels by Jason Aldean, Brothers Osborne, Dierks Bentley, and Ashley McBryde, and there were tips of the hat to Kenny Rogers by Little Big Town and Joe Diffie by Jon Pardi. McEntire and Rucker revived Mac Davis’ “In the Ghetto” in tribute to the recently-deceased songwriter-performer, himself a CMA Awards host three times. The new version is now available for streaming and download. McEntire also performed with Thomas Rhett and Chris Tomlin while Rucker delivered his current release “Beers & Sunshine.”
Jimmie Allen not only honored Charley Pride as the winner of the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, but the pair joined for a version of Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Morning.” Old Dominion marked the 40th anniversary of Urban Cowboy by reviving Johnny Lee’s “Looking For Love.”
The show also hosted the world television premiere of Dan + Shay and Justin Bieber’s No.1 collaboration “10,000 Hours,” filmed remotely at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Keith Urban gave an intimate performance of “God Whispered Your Name” from Australia, and dedicated it to frontline workers.
Lambert’s “Settling Down” and Combs’ “Cold As You” were among other highlights, as was Chris Stapleton’s stripped-down version of “Starting Over” with Morgane Stapleton, and Ingrid Andress’ first performance at the awards with “More Hearts Than Mine.” Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett featuring Charlie Puth and Brothers Osborne concluded a memorable night.