If there is one takeaway from the 53rd annual CMA Awards, it’s that it signified a notable sea change that could potentially impact the sound of the next decade.
Luke Combs, Dan + Shay, Maren Morris and Kacey Musgraves were each first-time winners in their respective categories while the night’s top honor of Entertainer of the Year went to Garth Brooks. It was his seventh bullet for the category. The other 2019 winners are Old Dominion and Blake Shelton.
But no matter who wins, the artists’ words, whether they are performed live in a song or delivered in an acceptance speech, end up being the real stars of any music award show. The 2019 ceremony was themed to highlight country music’s powerful women, and there was zero false advertising. Throughout the night, previous female CMA winners, including Deana Carter, Martina McBride, Kathy Mattea, Pam Tillis and more, each shared the spotlight with hosts Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton.
Here are our favorite standout moments:
Empowering Female Collaborations
In case you missed the opening number, it was perfection. Most all-sings with so many lead vocalists are typically chaos live. However, the all-star medley at the top of the show featuring a choir of 11 powerhouses including the night’s hosts with The Highwomen, Martina McBride, Tanya Tucker, Sara Evans, Terri Clark, Jennifer Nettles, Gretchen Wilson and Crystal Gayle was mind-blowing for everyone watching at home and in the audience. Later in the night, Kelsea Ballerini, Lindsay Ell, Runaway June, Maddie & Tae, Carly Pearce, Ashley McBryde and Little Big Town teamed up and crushed an angelic “Girl Crush,” winning the unofficial award for the night’s greatest surprise.
Maren Morris’ Heartfelt “Girl” and Album of the Year Win
Brandi Carlile likes to brag that Maren Morris can sing anybody under the table. That’s gospel truth watching Morris pour on her signature melisma when she sings “Girl.” Then she moved the room to tears again when she accepted her first win for album of the year for GIRL and recognized the late busbee, the producer behind the album. “His wife Jess is here tonight and she looks so beautiful,” she said. “Thank you for sharing your husband with us once a month. And my heart just goes out to you and your beautiful daughters. I hope when they listen to this record or any of the songs he made that made us all better, they know how amazing their father was.” She, of course, thanked her husband Ryan Hurd for, “always being in the seat next to me.”
Ashley McBryde Named New Artist of the Year
The John Prine reference in her acceptance speech for New Artist of the Year goes back to the 2019 Grammy week in Los Angeles where she was part of an all-star Americana tribute to Prine. “The next day,” she reminisced, “he shook my hand, and he said, ‘You’re real good. You’re no Reba. But you’re real good.’ 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.”
Luke Combs Takes Male Vocalist of the Year
Unbelievable stuff happens when you do pretty unbelievable stuff. Luke Combs’ win was a direct reflection of the hits he’s turned out over the last year. “Beer Never Broke My Heart” was among the hottest songs of the summer and This One’s For You just tied with Shania Twain’s Come on Over for the longest reign on Billboard’s top country albums chart. And chances are he’ll break more records with his new album What You See Is What Your Get. “I remember sitting on my parents’ porch when I was a little kid and watching Vince Gill come up here and win this same award,” he said when he accepted Male Vocalist of the Year. “Country music means everything. This means everything to me and my family. Thank you guys so much. This is a moment that I will never forget.”
Kacey Musgraves Wins Female Vocalist of the Year
When Kacey Musgraves speaks, the world listens. So, we were glad to hear her deliver her first acceptance speech for Female Vocalist of the Year. She deserved the win, too, after a year that included multiple Grammy wins for Golden Hour, major all-genre festival appearances and a successful world tour. “I feel the female creative spirit, female energy, it’s really needed right now,” she said onstage. “It’s really important, and I feel like it’s something that Earth needs. So, whether it’s me up here or any of the other women in this category, I just think that it’s a beautiful thing, and I’m very appreciative. I love country music.”