With her slate of 11 #1 singles as a songwriter, her recent induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and even a solo stint as a country singer, Matraca Berg would still be hard pressed to recall a more satisfying moment than the 1997 CMA Awards. After fifteen years of penning a number of country music’s defining songs, she had earned a nomination (with Gary Harrison) for CMA Song of the Year. With “Strawberry Wine,” a #1 single for Deana Carter, Berg and Harrison had crafted an innocence-lost ballad with tremendous depth and detail, and no less an expert than Vince Gill proclaimed her as a poet. That poetry lifted “Strawberry Wine” to both the Single and Song of the Year honors, prompting Carter to race to presenter Ricky Skaggs and jump into his arms with delight as she accepted the Single trophy.
The five-minute waltz was an unlikely winner for both awards, but it was Berg’s own moment in the spotlight that made the night that much more memorable. As an acknowledgement of her terrific talent, the CMA Awards committee allowed Berg to perform her self-written “Back When We Were Beautiful,” a moving ballad from her collection Sunday Morning to Saturday Night. In a rare gesture, the CMA crowd honored Berg with a standing ovation for her realistic portrayal of a woman who may be aging gracefully, but fights the fates of time as she reminisces with her granddaughter.
Although Berg has yet to be nominated for a CMA award since 1997, she has captured two Grammy nominations and received the support of Nashville’s leading ladies, who flock to record her elegant, eloquent songs of love, loss and life.
Matraca Berg & Friends, “Back in the Saddle” music video (1998):