It was a night of true celebration of country music’s heroic women at the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony in Nashville on Wednesday (Oct. 18) at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, honoring Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. Each woman used her voice to express sincere gratitude for the award, while also honoring the incredible women beside them and the icons who paved the way before them. Here are five of the best things we saw (and heard) at the 2018 CMT Artists of the Year.
“You are not here because you are women, you are here because you are dang good.”
With the final speech of the night, Carrie Underwood summarized the evening in one compelling statement directed at her fellow honorees. Underwood used her two minutes to thank CMT for devoting an entire event to women, while shining a light on all the women of the country music industry. She also encouraged the crowd to keep growing the momentum behind female representation. “It is up to all of us to keep opening those doors,” she said passionately. “I want to see little girls at home seeing us on stage and being like ‘I want to do that,’ and I want them to know that it is possible.”
Underwood and her Cry Pretty 360 tourmates brought the event to a thrilling close with a medley of hits from strong women across generations of country music, ranging from Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man” to Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” Each singer had a moment to shine, with their impeccable voices consuming the symphony hall. And when they all hit the final line at the end of “Cry Pretty,” with Underwood holding that incredible note while Runaway June and Maddie & Tae provided stunning harmonies in the background, it was enough to send chills down your spine.
Karen Fairchild’s speech
Fairchild and Schlapman brought the house down moments before their acceptance speeches when they were joined by the legendary Gladys Knight for incredible performances of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and Knights’ “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” But Fairchild did something particularly special with her speech, quickly reading through a long list of names of all the up and coming female artists, many of whome were in the audience supporting that night, not only showing grace and humility, but proving there are so many talented women in Nashville who deserve the spotlight.
“It’s about dadgum time we recognized women.”
Loretta Lynn was sadly unable to attend the ceremony to accept her award for Artist of a Lifetime, but her fiery spirit was well-kept by renowned actress Sissy Spacek, who was on hand to present her with the accolade. Spacek won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Lynn in the film adaption of her life and career in Coal Miner’s Daughter, and shared true appreciation for the legendary country star, tearfully describing her as a “sister.” Lynn was feeling under the weather, but didn’t let that stop her from contributing her sharp perspective to the conversation – we’d expect nothing less from the trailblazing icon.
Maren Morris and Brandi Carlile’s Aretha Franklin Tribute
Morris and Carlile delivered all the soul with their powerful performance of Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel) Like a Natural Woman.” Honoring the Queen of Soul with their authentic interpretation, the confident vocalists filled the room with passion and elegance as they poured their hearts into the historic song. Morris also left her soul on the stage with her acceptance speech, saying “I feel like the women in this room that I’m honored with tonight are putting out the most compelling, emotional, badass music right now of our lifetimes.” We couldn’t agree more.