The Academy of Country Music announced the recipients of the Special Awards for the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards. Dierks Bentley, Matraca Berg, Sam Hunt, Alan Jackson, Darius Rucker, Mickey & Chris Christensen, Eddie Miller, Rob Potts and Norro Wilson will all be honored during the 12th Annual ACM Honors evening, a night dedicated to recognizing the special honorees and off-camera category winners from the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards.
The event will take place Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Additional off-camera categories to be awarded include to-be-announced Industry Awards and Studio Recording Awards, along with previously announced Songwriter of the Year Award winner, Rhett Akins. This marks Akins’ first ACM Songwriter of the Year award.
ACM CLIFFIE STONE ICON AWARD – Recipient: Alan Jackson. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry leader who throughout their career has advanced the popularity of the genre through their contributions in multiple facets of the industry such as songwriting, recording, production, touring, film, television, literary works, philanthropic contributions and other goodwill efforts.
ACM MERLE HAGGARD SPIRIT AWARD – Recipient: Dierks Bentley. This award is presented to a singer-songwriter who is continuing the legacy of country legend and 20-time ACM Award Winner Merle Haggard by following his/her own path, crafting great songs and epitomizing Merle’s spirit through genuine performances and great storytelling.
ACM GARY HABER LIFTING LIVES AWARD – Recipient: Darius Rucker. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry professional who is devoted to improving lives through the power of music, has a generosity of spirit, and is committed to serving others, voted on by the ACM Lifting Lives Board of Directors.
ACM GENE WEED MILESTONE AWARD – Recipient: Sam Hunt. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry leader for a specific, unprecedented or outstanding achievement in the field of country music during the preceding calendar year.
ACM POET’S AWARD – Recipients: Matraca Berg and Norro Wilson (awarded posthumously). This award is presented to a country music songwriter for outstanding and longstanding musical and/or lyrical contributions throughout their career, with special consideration given to a song or songs’ impact on the culture of country music.
Berg has written major country hits across four consecutive decades while maintaining the reputation as one of Nashville’s most eloquent songwriters. A Nashville native, Berg and co-writer Bobby Braddock scored a No. 1 hit in 1983 with “Faking Love” by T.G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks. Berg was just 18 at the time. Four years later, Reba McEntire recorded “The Last One to Know” as the title track to her 1987 album; again, Berg notched a No. 1 single. Throughout the 1990s, Berg secured plentiful cuts from country music’s top female artists. Trisha Yearwood solidified her stardom with “Wrong Side of Memphis,” “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),” and “Everybody Knows,” while Patty Loveless boosted her career with “I’m That Kind of Girl” and “You Can Feel Bad.” Berg secured an ACM Song of the Year nomination for Deana Carter’s exquisite “Strawberry Wine.” Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter released their rendition of “You and Tequila” in 2011, leading to another ACM Song of the Year nod. She has written singles for Suzy Bogguss, Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Linda Ronstadt, Gretchen Wilson and more. Berg was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008.
Wilson worked in nearly every facet of the Nashville music industry, earning perhaps his greatest acclaim by composing classics for George Jones, Charlie Rich and Tammy Wynette. Wilson grew up in Kentucky and moved to Nashville as a teenager after joining a gospel group. He spent much of the next decade pursuing a performing career until a song he co-wrote, “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady),” hit No. 1 for David Houston in 1970. Wilson’s songwriting catalog grew to include Jones signatures like “A Picture of Me (Without You),” “The Grand Tour” and “The Door.” Wilson co-wrote three of Rich’s No. 1 hits: “The Most Beautiful Girl,” “A Very Special Love Song,” and “I Love My Friend.” Wynette found success with Wilson compositions such as “I’ll See Him Through,” “He Loves Me All the Way,” “My Man” and “Another Lonely Song.” In addition, Charley Pride secured No. 1 hits in the early 1980s with “Never Been So Loved (In All My Life)” and “Night Games.” In other roles, Wilson signed Keith Whitley to RCA and co-produced several Kenny Chesney albums. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996. Wilson passed away in 2017.
ACM MAE BOREN AXTON SERVICE AWARD – Recipients: Mickey Christensen, Chris Christensen and Eddie Miller (all awarded posthumously). This award is presented to an outstanding country music artist, duo/group or industry leader in recognition of years of dedication and service to the Academy of Country Music.
Nightclub owners Mickey and Chris Christensen and performing songwriter Eddie Miller, along with performer Tommy Wiggins, co-founded the organization that became known as the Academy of Country Music. In 1964 they created the Country and Western Music Academy to promote West Coast country artists. Christensen and his wife Mickey moved from Iowa to Long Beach, California, in 1941. In time, Chris acquired a stake in a jukebox company while Mickey owned and operated venues like Pike’s Canteen, C&M Corral and the Red Barrel Niteclub. Two of the first musicians they hired were Buck and Bonnie Owens. West Coast entertainers started dropping by the Red Barrel, including Eddie Miller and Tommy Wiggins. A conversation led to an idea to emulate the Oscars and create an awards show. The earliest banquets took place at the Red Barrel before the first official ceremony was held at The Hollywood Palladium on February 28, 1966. An Oklahoma native and former railroad worker, Miller wrote country hits like “Release Me,” (Ray Price, Kitty Wells), “I Love You Honey” (Patsy Cline), “There She Goes” (Carl Smith) and “Thanks a Lot” (Ernest Tubb). He was a co-founder of the Nashville Songwriters Association, which developed into NSAI. [Surviving ACM founder Tommy Wiggins received this award at the 2013 ACM Honors.]
ACM JIM REEVES INTERNATIONAL AWARD – Recipient: Rob Potts (awarded posthumously). The Jim Reeves International Award is presented to an artist or industry leader for outstanding contributions to the acceptance of country music throughout the world.
Potts cultivated a country music connection between Australia and the United States, paving the way for American superstars to perform Down Under for thousands of new fans. Potts and his business partner Michael Chugg established the brand of CMC Rocks leading to festivals like CMC Rocks the Snowy, CMC Rocks the Hunter and CMC Rocks QLD. The latter became the first-ever sold-out country music festival in Australia, with 18,000 tickets sold for its 2018 lineup featuring Luke Bryan. Potts had worked as a booking agent for artists like Keith Urban, Tommy Emmanuel and Lee Kernaghan. He brought country talent like Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Dixie Chicks, Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band to the Australian market. In addition, Potts managed Warner Music Nashville artist Morgan Evans. In 2016, Potts launched FanGate Music, a joint label with Sony Music Entertainment Australia, in order to seek out and develop international country artists while still paying attention to emerging local talent. A partnership with Nashville-based Dreamlined Entertainment was announced in October 2017, less than two weeks before Potts died following a motorcycle accident in Australia. He was 65.
ACM SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD – Previously announced winner Rhett Akins has been chosen as the recipient of the Songwriter of the Year Award. This award is presented to an individual known predominately as a songwriter, selected by a Professional Panel of judges composed of songwriters, publishers, producers, and performing rights organization representatives.
Akins landed on the ACM Awards ballot 20 years ago in the New Male Vocalist category, thanks to hit singles like “That Ain’t My Truck” and “Don’t Get Me Started.” Now, two decades later, he is one of Nashville’s most prominent songwriters. A list of Akins’ recent hits reads like a “who’s who” of country music, including Dustin Lynch’s “Small Town Boy,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” Blake Shelton’s “I Lived It” and Akins’ son Thomas Rhett’s “Star of the Show” and “Life Changes.” Luke Bryan’s “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” Jason Aldean’s “When She Says Baby” and Shelton’s “Honeybee” and “Boys Round Here” have all been country radio staples. Akins has placed at least one song on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart every week for the past 8 years, and he has been recognized as BMI Country Songwriter of the Year twice. Growing up in Valdosta, Georgia, Akins admired rugged country artists like Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams, Jr. He moved to Nashville in 1992, earned a publishing deal and started singing demos. A record deal in 1994 led to two albums on Decca and one on MCA Nashville. Akins has released three independent solo albums, and, with fellow Georgia natives Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, he is a member of The Peach Pickers – a tried-and-true songwriting collaboration that has yielded countless cuts. This is his third nomination for ACM Songwriter of the Year.
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