Exclusive: CMA’s Sarah Trahern Feels The Love In “Forever Country” Single

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Country stations nationwide cleared a path for the all-star single “Forever Country” on Friday morning (Sept. 16). The CMA Board of Directors worked closely with radio stations for a “roadblock,” ensuring that fans couldn’t miss the milestone recording that commemorates the CMA Awards’ 50th anniversary on Nov. 2.

CMA CEO Sarah Trahern tells MusicRow, “For us, country radio and the fans that listen to music on country radio are so key to the fabric for distributing our music. Starting the song there on a Friday is a great way to get some energy.”

Underscoring the importance of business relationships, she says, “I give incredible credit to our Board of Directors and the radio industry. Just like a couple of years ago when they all got together and decided to create a unified radio remote for the CMA Awards in the fall. It really came out of them. We took the track to them and said, ‘Let’s brainstorm some ideas.’”

Arranged by songwriter/producer Shane McAnally, the single is a medley of “On the Road Again,” “I Will Always Love You” and “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Thirty CMA Award winners, from several generations, lend their vocals to the single, with each artist singing a line or two.

“I think Shane McAnally is a genius and the way he was able to marry the three songs together makes it special,” Trahern says. “I mean, all of them are amazing songs. But when you weave the stories together and you think about some of those key lines—‘I’m on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends,’ ‘I will always love you,’ ‘Country roads, take me home to the place I belong’ — together, those themes almost become a testament to our business. The life our artists spend on the road, their love for the fans, their love for the music.”

McAnally tells MusicRow, “While working on this project, I had to repeatedly pinch myself because this was truly beyond my wildest dreams. I have been obsessed and consumed with country music since I was 5 years old, and having the opportunity to collaborate with so many of my heroes is indescribable. This is truly a piece of history and I am honored to have been asked to contribute to anything that shines a light on this genre that has shaped my entire life.”

The single is being distributed by Universal Music Group Nashville. After the artists recorded their lines to the song, they returned to film their segments for a landmark music video that will be released on Tuesday (Sept. 20). Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the CMA Awards, the music video includes the following CMA Award winners: Alabama, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Brooks & Dunn, Luke Bryan,Eric ChurchBrett Eldredge, Vince Gill, Faith Hill,Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert,Little Big Town, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride,Rascal FlattsReba, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Randy Travis, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, and Trisha Yearwood.

During a CMA Board meeting nearly two years ago, BBC Radio’s Director of Music Bob Shennan showed a similar video that promoted BBC Music. That video sparked the idea to try a country version. Not coincidentally, the “Forever Country” video will be premiering in the United States and the United Kingdom simultaneously.

In February, Trahern met with director Joseph Kahn, who has won Grammys for his music video work on Emimem’s “Without Me” and Taylor Swift & Kendrick Lamar’s “Bad Blood.” She was joined by industry leaders Jason Owen (Sandbox Management), Karen Fairchild (Little Big Town), Joanna Carter (Capitol Records Nashville) and Chandra LaPlume (Taillight TV). Trahern credits Kahn with the idea of mashing up three songs, rather than just focusing on one classic. All three of the songs selected were made famous by past CMA Entertainer of the Year winners.

“You can imagine how hard it was to come up with the three songs,” Trahern says. “It went into a couple of different iterations, and any of the iterations would have been amazing videos, but Shane made a great track and one of the things that I’m just so thankful for our artist community. … Our artists all appreciate the history of where they came from. All 30 artists that are in the video are CMA Award winners so they know the importance of what it means to be respected by your peers.”

With the exception of Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, the artists all filmed their portions during CMA Music Festival in June.

Trahern recalls, “The artists were so excited and did such a great job, every time we ran into them at one of the stages, they’d say, ‘Oh, I love the video, I can’t wait!’ And if there were fans around, we had to help quash it a couple of times,” Trahern says. “That’s been such a great problem to have happen because I’m just so proud of how our industry engaged with the project from Day One.”

To listen to “Forever Country,” visit Spotify.

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Craig Shelburne is the General Manager at MusicRow.

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