CMA Awards Rewind: Decade Four

To celebrate the upcoming 50th Annual CMA Awards, we’re taking a look back at the iconic awards show through the years.

Written by Chuck Dauphin
CMA Awards Rewind: Decade Four
Photo courtesy Country Music Association

We’re counting down to the 50th Annual CMA Awards with a look back at each decade of the iconic awards show. This week, we dive into the fourth decade of the show…

You could say, to quote the Johnny & June duet classic “Jackson,” that Faith Hill and Tim McGraw got married ‘in a fever.’ Well, twenty years later, that love affair still endures. At the 31st Annual CMA Awards, the husband and wife walked away into the sunset with a win in the Vocal Event of the Year category for their romantic duet, “It’s Your Love.” For the most part, the night celebrated veteran acts. George Strait repeated as Male Vocalist of the Year, while Trisha Yearwood won her first Female Vocalist honor from the CMA. Her future husband, Garth Brooks, returned to the winners’ circle by taking home the Entertainer of the Year prize. One moment that caused many to talk was Deana Carter’s win for Single of the Year for her breakthrough hit “Strawberry Wine.” Unable to hold her excitement, Carter took a leap into the arms of a surprised Ricky Skaggs, who presented the award. One of the most exciting elements of the 1997 telecast was an appearance by Rock icon Sting, who performed his hit duet with Toby Keith – and helped to present the Musician of the Year trophy.

In the 1980s, Alabama made history with what many thought would be a never-equaled string of three wins in the Entertainer of the Year category. In 1998, Garth Brooks would surpass the super-group with his fourth win of the prize. George Strait and Trisha Yearwood repeated as Male and Female Vocalist winners, with Strait tying Vince Gill for the most wins in the category with five. Steve Wariner – a longtime industry favorite – took home his first CMA for Song of the Year for his hit “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven,” to a standing ovation, and Tammy Wynette – just a few months after her passing- was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. One of the night’s biggest musical moments came when Wynette’s ex, George Jones, lent his voice to Patty Loveless’s “You Don’t Seem To Miss Me” to a rousing response from the audience.

The final CMA Awards of the 1990s proved to be one that showcased the new blood in Country Music. Shania Twain became the first Female artist to win Entertainer of the Year since Reba McEntire in 1986, Tim McGraw unseated George Strait as Male Vocalist, and Martina McBride walked away with her very first Female Vocalist prize. The Dixie Chicks enjoyed a big evening, repeating as Vocal Group of the Year, also winning Single and Video of the Year for “Wide Open Spaces.” Pop band *NSYNC and Jewel appeared on the show to perform with Alabama and Merle Haggard, respectively. Porter Wagoner inducted Dolly Parton as one of three new inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. But, perhaps the night was most famous for the performance that didn’t happen. George Jones was slated to perform his Single of the Year nominee “Choices,” but in order to save time, producers asked him – and several others – to limit the performance to ninety seconds. Jones refused, and many traditional fans were understandably upset. Enter Alan Jackson, who stopped in the middle of performing his latest single, a remake of Jim Ed Brown’s “Pop A Top,” who paid the ultimate tribute to “The Possum.”

Streaks were made to be broken, and the 2000 CMA Awards made news due to relative newcomers Montgomery Gentry unseating perennial winners Brooks and Dunn in the Vocal Duo category. Also making news was George Strait and Alan Jackson’s win for Vocal Event of the Year, thanks to their traditional-leaning “Murder On Music Row.” Though not an official radio single, the song climbed to the Top-40 on the Country charts, helping to give hope to fans who longed for a purer sound of the format. The Horizon Award winner, West Virginia native Brad Paisley was a great example of this movement, as were the night’s big winners – The Dixie Chicks. The Monument trio received Vocal Group, Album, and Video, in addition to the night’s top prize – Entertainer of the Year. In doing so, the female group became only the second group to do so. Lee Ann Womack nabbed the Single of the Year trophy for “I Hope You Dance,” and one legend – Merle Haggard – proudly strolled onto the stage to induct Charley Pride as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Bluegrass music seemed to take over the 34th Annual CMA Awards, thanks to the success of the movie O’Brother Where Art Thou? and its back-to-basics soundtrack. Featuring the likes of John Hartford, Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss, and The Whites, the movie was responsible for Single and Album of the Year, thanks to the Soggy Bottom Boys’ version of “I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow.” However, newer sounds were also recognized with Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack being named Male and Female Artist of the Year, while Tim McGraw capped a career climb with a win for Entertainer of the Year, But, in light of the recent attacks on America on 9/11, perhaps the most memorable moment in the show came with Alan Jackson’s performance of a song he had just written about the tragedy, “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning).”

Up until 2002, only Johnny Cash (1969) and Vince Gill (1993) had won five CMA trophies in one year. However, Alan Jackson’s masterpiece “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)” helped him to enjoy the biggest night of his career. The song won for Single and Song of the Year, propelled Drive to a win for Album of the Year, and also was largely responsible for him winning Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year. Rascal Flatts took home the Horizon Award, and the Dixie Chicks would take home their final win for Vocal Group of the Year. Though Martina McBride stopped Lee Ann Womack’s bid for a repeat win in the Female Vocalist trophy, Womack ended up a winner, taking home the Vocal Event of the Year prize with Willie Nelson. Performance-wise, perhaps the most buzzed-about moment was Shania Twain’s first televised performance in three years for “I’m Gonna Getcha Good.”

Johnny Cash hadn’t been a force on the Country charts since the early 1980s and his hit single “The Baron.” However, beginning with his association with Rick Rubin in 1993, his music began to pick up a little more attention, with Rubin overseeing a historic run of recordings that allowed “The Man In Black” to reinforce his reputation as a song interpreter. His 2002 album American IV: The Man Comes Around garnered plenty of attention, thanks to his unlikely cover of Trent Reznor’s composition “Hurt.” At the 34th Annual CMA Awards, “Hurt” won for Single of the Year – in spite of not making the Top 40, while he also won Video of the Year for the clip, as well. Unfortunately, it was the son of “The Man In Black,” John Carter Cash, who accepted the award on behalf of his father, who passed away less than two months earlier. Cash was also responsible for another trophy – Album of the Year. Alan Jackson repeated as Entertainer and Male Vocalist, while Martina McBride won her third Female Vocalist prize. But, make no mistake about it – the night belonged to Cash, who was celebrated in a special tribute by artists such as Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, and Hank Williams, Jr.

After hosting the show for well over a decade, Vince Gill stepped aside and turned things over to longtime favorites Brooks & Dunn in 2004. Keith Urban won his very first Male Vocalist award, while Martina McBride tied Reba McEntire for the most wins in the Female Vocalist category with four. Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss won Vocal Event of the Year for their haunting clip for “Whiskey Lullaby,” which netted longtime television star Rick Schroder a prize for Video of the Year. As the CMA bid farewell to its home for three decades – The Grand Ole Opry House – the industry stood on its’ collective feet to salute Kenny Chesney, who had slowly but surely built his career to such a point that he was recognized as the Entertainer of the Year for the first time! But, for our clip from 2004, let’s revisit Keith Urban’s acceptance speech!

The CMA Awards ventured outside of Nashville for the very first time in 2005, by taking the Brooks and Dunn-hosted show on the road to Madison Square Garden. While the show took on a big-city location, tradition was the name of the game, with Lee Ann Womack notching significant wins for her retro-sounding Album of the Year There’s More Where That Came From, as well as her Single of the Year winner “I May Hate Myself In The Morning.” She also struck gold in the Musical Event of the Year category with George Strait. The “Redneck Woman,” Gretchen Wilson, took home the Female Vocalist trophy, and Keith Urban not only repeated as Male Vocalist, but also won the Entertainer of the Year prize. One of Urban’s biggest musical heroes, Glen Campbell, also had a great night, being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The CMA’s returned to Nashville in 2006, but opted to come back to the downtown feel and look of Bridgestone Arena for its’ return to Music City – or Gaylord Entertainment Center, as it was known then. Brooks and Dunn made the trip, as well, and enjoyed one of their biggest nights. In addition to their usual win in the Vocal Duo category, the duo took home Single and Video of the Year for their powerful “Believe,” and the song also netted a Song of the Year award for Ronnie Dunn and Craig Wiseman. Brad Paisley won Album of the Year for Time Well Wasted, as the singer also helped Dolly Parton to return to the winner’s podium for Vocal Event of the Year for their heart-wrenching “When I Get Where I’m Going.” And, a new performer made her presence known as Carrie Underwood – two years ago virtually unknown – was voted not only as the Horizon Award winner, but also the Female Vocalist of the year winner.

The 50th Annual CMA Awards will air live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 2 at 8/7c.