On October 17, CMT officially turned a conversation to action by switching its 90-minute Artists Of The Year (CMTAOTY) live program towards the crusade of its top network executives, to help women find a platform in country music.
“You are not here because you are women. You’re here because you are dang good!” encouraged four-time CMTAOTY recipient Carrie Underwood, who was honored last night alongside three-time recipient Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini, Maren Morris, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott.
Last year was one of two CMTAOTY events which happened to feature an exclusive male lineup, with some of the men reaching six receipts since the show’s debut in 2010. Exclusively picking females for 2018 allowed a first time win for Morris and the first formal honor for Ballerini.
“I feel like the women in this room are putting out the most compelling, emotional, bad-ass music right now, of our lifetimes,” cheered Morris in her speech about being bold and speaking your truth.
Nearly every young female artist in Nashville was in the room.
Fairchild and Schlapman’s combined acceptance endorsed this new crop in what the Washington Post is calling one of the most powerful awards show moments of the year. Those newcomers named included Danielle Bradbery, Runaway June, Kelleigh Bannen, Kassi Ashton, Ashley McBryde, Cassadee Pope, RaeLynn, Micky Guyton, Lucie Silvas, Jillian Jacqueline, Heather Morgan, Abby Anderson, Aubrey Sellers, Tenille Townes, Rachel Wammack, Maddie + Tae, Carly Pearce, Ruthie Collins, Maggie Rose, Caitlyn Smith, Lindsay Ell, Jana Kramer, Claire Dunn, Lauren Alaina, Margo Price, The Sisterhood Band, Natalie Stovall, Kree Harrison, Brooke Eden, Candi Carpenter, Emily Hackett, Lillie Mae, Little Feather, Kalie Shorr and Lacy Cavalier.
Schlapman held her award play-off music interjecting, “Without our mama’s, we would not be on this stage. And to my two little women at home, you can do anything in the world you dream up.”
The night was a whirlwind of snippets from females in country music history and a shout-out to some women’s rights advocates who came before, providing some of the honorees “hope” when they were younger. Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris, Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, Faith Hill, The Judds, etc.
“I want to see little girls at home seeing us on stage being like, I want to do that…and I want them to know it’s possible,” confirmed Underwood, who brought five of her 2019 female tour mates—Runaway June and Maddie + Tae—on stage for a medley of some influential hits, capped with Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman.”
Among those legends Trisha Yearwood, Alison Krauss and Martina McBride participated in the program. The latter, a full-song tribute to the night’s Artist of a Lifetime Achievement, Miss. Loretta Lynn. McBride then introduced Sheryl Crow and Dierks Bentley for a performance of “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” before a heartfelt, tearful presentation from Sissy Spacek to the night’s absent honoree.
Honoree Ballerini, who performed “Ghost In This House” with Krauss, thanked many of those first-name females for reaching out and letting her share the stage with them. She noted at one point through the ceremony that bro-country had been leaving people out, a motif the gathering culminated around.
Thus, every honoree specifically thanked CMT, which according to Ballerini, “Chang[ed] the conversation in to an action.
CMT’s VP Tessa Jordan, Margaret Comeaux and Sr. VPs Suzanne Norman and Leslie Fram stepped up to lead the crusade with the network’s Next Women movement, founded five years ago now complete with online platform and tour. Fram co-leads Change The Conversation, a four year old collective aimed to help women.
Not just country music royalty graced the stage. Schlapman and Fairchild performed a “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night” with Gladys Knight. Smokey Robinson introduced Morris and Brandi Carlile for a soulful cover of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” by his close friend, the late Aretha Franklin. The night was a tribute, down to the commercial break house music, playing the likes of Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Cyndi Lauper.
Tori Kelly joined honoree Scott for “American Honey,” “Never Alone” and “Oh Happy Day” with Kirk Franklin. The Pistol Annies (Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley and Lambert) kicked off the whole she-bang with new music, set for release Nov. 2, confidently trading verses in the sexually playful “Sugar Daddy.” “Not a day will go by that I won’t want to collaborate with other women in this industry. We have to be there for each other, and I feel like we are,” accepted Lambert with an intro from artist Elle King.
Keith Urban honored Underwood, while male artists in the groups (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet) presented the females among them. Specifically, Lady Antebellum’s Scott thanked the wives of her band mates and directed her remarks to her three daughters.
“My mom gave a gift to me and my baby sister, that there is no dream too big. And if we work hard and are kind, that we can see what the world has to offer and how much God can bring you to and through in your life,” accepted Scott.
View CMT’s most-watched AOTY event, in full at cmt.com.
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