Alan Jackson’s brilliant tribute to the tragedy of September 11 met a subdued audience when the CMA show was held just two months after the attack. That night, Jackson was nominated for three awards, but this performance superseded that achievement. It was a moment in which Americans, still in mourning following the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil, were united by Jackson’s anthem of grief and loss.
Category Archives: Classic CMA Awards Moments
Classic CMA Awards Moments, #1: Alan Jackson, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) (2001)
At the 1999 ceremony, George Jones, just months removed from a near-fatal car accident, was nominated for Single of the Year for his autobiographical ballad “Choices.” When CMA executives asked for Jones to sing a shortened version of the nominated song, he opted to stay home as a sign of his irritation at their request. Jackson, prompted by his admiration for Jones and his frustration with the CMA, quietly but rebelliously shifted into “Choices” halfway through his scheduled performance of his current single, “Pop A Top.”
Presenter Charlie Rich fanned the flames of an ongoing battle between country music’s traditional artists and the pop singers making waves in Nashville when he presented the Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1975.
Cindy Walker was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997, an honor that is still rare for women (only nine female artists currently hold membership). This achievement was made all the more remarkable considering that Walker was a songwriter. But her talent was undeniable, as she penned songs such as “Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream),” “I Don’t Care,” “Take Me in Your Arms” and “You Don’t Know Me.”
For her 1993 CMA duet “Does He Love You” with Linda Davis, Reba McEntire asked stylist Sandy Spika to design a dress worthy of the moment. Mission accomplished. McEntire, known for her keen fashion sense and an even better flair for the dramatic, raised eyebrows when she appeared on the CMA stage in a low-cut red dress. The dress earned howls from the crowd who were surprised at the plunging neckline of the plucky redhead. Since then, the event evokes only laughter (and maybe just the slightest bit of embarrassment) from the famous singer when she recalls her cleavage-revealing performance.
In a rare coup for a new artist, Mary Chapin Carpenter earned a coveted performance slot on the 1990 show, and she used it to establish her identity as one of country music’s left-of-center talents. She decided to perform the biting “You Don’t Know Me (I’m the Opening Act),” a cutting dismissal of country star power gone awry. It was a risky move, with the less-than-famous artist taking a stab at the music industry who would determine the fate of her career.
She’d long been an afterthought with the Country Music Association, failing to secure an award in her six-year career, but the organization righted past wrongs by honoring Shania Twain with its most significant trophy in 1999.
Twain had taken losses twice for the Horizon Award, and had been defeated in both her Female Vocalist of the Year nominations, including earlier in the evening. But Reba McEntire beamed with joy as she read Twain’s name to make her only the fifth female artist in history to take the CMA’s top award.
The CMAs experienced an unwanted (and many would argue, unwarranted) amount of attention in 2006, when an intended joke by Faith Hill cast a pall on the honoring of Carrie Underwood with the Female Vocalist of the Year trophy.
Dolly Parton had a little fun with her presentation of the Male Vocalist of the Year award in 1988. First, she flirted with nominee George Strait and asked if he’d went out and rented the prettiest girl in town, referring to Strait’s wife, Norma. Parton, comfortable as any entertainer in front of an audience, then sat down in Travis’ lap and proclaimed that if she were a younger (and single) woman, she would be interested in the singer. The crowd erupted with laughter as she playfully teased the star with her “big hair and big ideas.”
In a courageous move, Kathy Mattea drew attention to the AIDS epidemic at the 1992 ceremony. The entertainment industry was making special note of the disease by wearing red ribbons to promote awareness; however, the Country Music Association wished to steer clear of controversy. They promoted green ribbons to the artist, meant to signify environmental awareness, but Mattea refused to follow suit. She had asked the CMA to help her script a short speech on the issue, but their ignorance of her request demonstrated their disapproval.
As Mattea presented that night, she wore three red ribbons along with the green one. She also announced the names of her three friends who had died from the disease. The Country Music Association failed to share her activism and commitment to the cause, but her determination created discussion about the issue and elevated its importance in the Nashville community. Two years later, Mattea led the creation of Red Hot + Country, an album to raise funds for AIDS education. The 1992 ceremony was the starting point in this quest, and though Mattea has earned four CMA awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year in 1989-1990, this was her defining moment on country music’s biggest stage.