BMI held its 2022 Country Awards Tuesday night (Nov. 8) at its Music Row location. The evening celebrated the songwriters and publishers of the most-performed country songs of the previous year, naming the Country Songwriter, Song, and Publisher of the Year. The 70th edition of the awards also honored the prolific musical career of BMI Icon Award recipient Toby Keith.
BMI President and CEO Mike O’Neill hosted the ceremony, along with Clay Bradley, BMI Vice President, Creative, Nashville. Steak, mashed potatoes and vegetables were served in addition to hors d’oeuvres and individual casings of desserts at each place setting.
BMI’s Country Songwriter of the Year went to Music Row hitmaker Michael Hardy, marking his first time achieving the honor. Hardy wrote five of BMI’s award-winning songs of the night, including Dierks Bentley’s “Beers On Me,” Blake Shelton’s “Come Back As A Country Boy,” Morgan Wallen’s “Sand In My Boots,” Cole Swindell’s “Single Saturday Night,” and his own “Give Heaven Some Hell.”
“I want to thank BMI so much for being here for me every single step of the way, for introducing me to some of my favorite collaborators that I still write with to this day,” Hardy said. “For creating opportunities for me that helped advance my songwriting career. I can honestly say without a doubt that I don’t know where I would be in this town if that 19-year-old kid wouldn’t have walked into this building and blindly signed. Thank you so, so much.”
“Forever After All,” co-written and recorded by BMI affiliate Luke Combs, was named BMI Country Song of the Year as it was BMI’s most performed country song of the year. Published by 50 Egg Music, Big Music Machine, Oak Tree Swing Publishing, Rowdy Rob Music, Straight Dimes Music, and Sony/ATV Tree, “Forever After All” was written by frequent collaborators Combs, Drew Parker, and Rob Williford.
Sony Music Publishing took home BMI’s Country Publisher of the Year. The company published 25 of the 50 most-performed songs of the year, including megahits such as Kelsea Ballerini’s “Half of My Hometown,” Elle King and Miranda Lambert’s “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” Kane Brown’s “One Mississippi,” Lambert’s “If I Was A Cowboy,” and Morgan Wallen’s “Sand In My Boots.”
Click here for a complete list of the 2022 BMI Country Awards winners.
Throughout the night, BMI turned its attention to its 2022 Icon Award recipient Toby Keith, who joined the ranks of other Icon Award recipients Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Jr., and others.
In between awards, the hosts shared video tributes, kind words about Keith, and invite performers up to tribute the hit artist. Carrie Underwood took on Keith’s 1993 hit “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” complete with a singalong, while Eric Church did his own spin of 2003’s “I Love This Bar.” Dean Dillon and Scotty Emerick, who had been a big part of the video tributes, took on the 2006 hit the three co-wrote, “A Little Too Late.”
Keith gave a special speech about how he became affiliated with BMI and how they’ve stuck by him since. He talked about going to sit in a young Clay Bradley’s office after people in town had advised Keith to “get affiliated.”
“Since 1990 or ’91, I have been affiliated with the greatest organization in the music business. That’s BMI,” he said.
Keith made sure to recognize key figures in his career such as legendary producer and executive Harold Shedd, renowned record-maker James Stroud, the late Nelson Larkin, and his frequent collaborators Dillon, Emerick, Bobby Pinson, and Rivers Rutherford.
He also thanked his family and his team, specifically long-time manager TK Kimbrell and agent Curt Motley.
“I knew that even if I didn’t make it as an artist, that maybe somebody would cut my songs. I always felt like the songwriting was the most important part of this whole industry,” Keith said.
When closing, Keith doubled down on his love for songwriting, saying, “All I ever cared about was the Songwriter Hall of Fame, Nashville Songwriter Hall of Fame, and BMI Icon.”
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