Over the past half-century, the CMA Awards have grown from an exclusive, inaugural dinner show held at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium in 1967 with one stage for performances. The show wouldn’t be televised until the following year, when it moved to the Ryman Auditorium. Now, “Country Music’s Biggest Night” presents some of the genre’s highest honors and features dozens of performances on multiple stages during its annual televised awards show. This year, the CMA Awards peaked at a three-year high for viewers, bringing in more than 14.3 million viewers in its 18-49 demographic.
Now, viewers can look back at 50 years of special CMA Awards performances, as the Country Music Association (CMA) has teamed with Time Life for CMA Awards Live: Greatest Moments 1968-2015, a 10-DVD set showcasing 127 memorable moments.
Among those moments are the Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton performance of “Islands In The Stream” that opened the 1983 telecast, Merle Haggard’s 1970 performance of “Okie From Muskogee,” the same year he was named Entertainer of the Year, and more recent performances including Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” Florida Georgia Line’s “’Round Here,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and “Before He Cheats.”
“Our tagline is ‘Country Music’s Biggest Night’ and we’ve got he most quintessential performances, artists and hosts. It’s a time capsule all the way to 1968 of a history of our industry,” CMA Chief Marketing Officer Damon Whiteside tells MusicRow.
The set is the brainchild of Whiteside and Time Life VP Mitchell Peyser, who notes the evolution of technology shown throughout the collection.
“Through the CMA Awards, you see the progression of so many things, including TV and technology,” Peyser says. “You see the progression from standard definition to high definition and mid-2000s when the CMA first started going into high-def. It’s a huge progression.”
The collection highlights the sometimes genre-blurring collaborations that have become synonymous with CMA Awards shows. The set includes the 2015 pairing of “Tennessee Whiskey/Drink You Away” from Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton, Lionel Richie and Alabama performing “Deep River Woman,” Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ collaboration on “To All The Girls I’ve Loved Before,” the Kenny Rogers/Lionel Richie collaboration of “Lady,” and Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter’s “You and Tequila.”
Other collaborations include Barbara Mandrell’s “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” featuring George Jones, as well as Charlie Daniels Band’s take on “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” featuring Chet Atkins. Additionally included is Johnny Cash/The Carter Family collaboration of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” and the 1993 collaboration of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette on “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”
“There were some quintessential things to feature, like Alan Jackson’s performance of ‘Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning,’ which was such a pivotal moment after 9/11,” Whiteside says. “That was one that a lot of people still really remember.”
Beyond the performances, viewers get classic moments from the awards show’s hosts over the years, including Johnny Cash, Reba, the show’s longest-running host Vince Gill (who presided over the CMA Awards telecast from 1992-2003), and Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, who have hosted he show for the past decade.
“You see that it’s a family when they are up there together,” Time Life’s Peyser says. “Otherwise it’s a string of performances. You get to see hosts bringing on their friends and people they respect. One of the presentations you see in the collection is when Carrie introduces one of her heroes, Reba McEntire, and you can just hear in how Carrie introduces her, there is just so much respect and excitement.”
Peyser estimates that Time Life staffers spent approximately nine months sifting through clips of 50 years’ worth of CMA performances, selecting those standout moments.
“It was a tough choice. Each year could have 12 to 15, or even more performances,” says Peyser.
From there, began the process of obtaining clearances from labels, artists and managers. “We have 127 performances on the collection, and every single performance needed to be approved,” Whiteside says. “Obviously, you have to whittle down the collection because not everything was approved and in some cases, if for some reason something wasn’t approved, or we didn’t hear back, we had to move on to the next in line.”
In addition to the performances, the collection includes numerous artist interviews collected around the CMA’s 50th anniversary show, as well as interviews with CMA CEO Sarah Trahern, CMA Awards executive producer Robert Deaton, and the last interview with the CMA’s longest-running Executive Director, Jo Walker-Meador, who died earlier this year.
“She started the CMA Awards, and we are excited to have that interview; it was great to get some of her perspective, especially given that she is not with us any longer,” Whiteside says.
The set also includes a 44-page booklet, listing top moments throughout the awards show’s history, as well as award winners for each year. The set will officially release more widely to retail early next year. Currently, the set is exclusively available with timelife.com.
“We are having some initial conversations to refresh it next year before it goes to brick and mortar retail, which at some point will happen,” Whiteside says. “Maybe some different, smaller versions of the collection at brick and mortar or bonus content or additional show content to refresh it a year from now.
It’s a fantastic time capsule of country music history, to be able to show five decades of the CMA Awards.”
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