#11: Garth Brooks
Entertainer of the Year speech
The star of Garth Brooks was burning brighter than ever by the time of the 1991 ceremony. His win for the 1990 Horizon award was only a precursor to his tremendous success of the following year. Brooks’ “The Dance” had earned him a Single of the Year nod in 1990, and his timeless anthem “Friends in Low Places” did one better by taking the Single trophy in 1991.
#12: Trisha Yearwood
Female Vocalist of the Year
Trisha Yearwood had been nominated for numerous CMA awards in the past, but she’d often been surpassed by her peers. Her lone victory before the 1997 awards show was for her small part in the Eagles tribute Common Thread, which won Album of the Year in 1994. But one of country music’s truly gifted vocalists made significant progress within a span of ten minutes on September 24, 1997.
#13 Tennessee Ernie Ford
Hall of Fame induction
One of the crimes of the current CMA Awards setup is the lower profile of the Hall of Fame inductees at the annual ceremony. At one time in CMA history, the honorees were not notified of their election until the annual awards ceremony. A number of terrific moments have transpired as a result of the genuine emotion felt by the inductees, and in 1990, the announcement of three-time CMA host Tennessee Ernie Ford into the hallowed Hall was especially moving.
The Oak Ridge Boys took the stage to sing their current hit when they transitioned into “Sixteen Tons.” A surprised Ford looked on with tear-filled eyes as he was acknowledged as the newest member of country music’s most elite group. His contribution to country music, as a popular variety show host, a radio disc jockey and a first-class singer, were certainly worthy of the high praise. The moment was made even more poignant by the fact that Ford’s health had deteriorated, and the following year, he would pass away from liver disease at the age of 73. But for one night, Tennessee Ernie Ford’s significant career achievements were proudly hailed on the CMA stage.
Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons” live performance (1956):
#14: Vince Gill
Song of the Year, “Go Rest High on that Mountain”
Vince Gill is undoubtedly the most famous fixture of the CMA Awards, standing as one of the winningest performers in the show’s history and also serving as its host for 11 years. He’s steered the ship of the ceremony with grace and a good dose of wit, while also featuring as a popular victor in numerous top categories, but his fourth and final Song of the Year triumph in 1996 is the most memorable.
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.
#16: Jeannie C. Riley
“Harper Valley, P.T.A.”
At the peak of her powers, Jeannie C. Riley was enjoying the success of her small-town story song “Harper Valley P.T.A.” in the fall of 1968. But her handlers insisted on a sexually-charged image, one with which Riley disagreed. When she was nominated for several CMA awards that year, the first year the show aired live on television, Riley raged with disgust when her manager Shelby Singleton ordered her to wear a mini-skirt to attract attention.
Mumbling but magnificent in its own unique way, the acceptance speech for Song of the Year in 1970 was an inarticulate message from an exceedingly eloquent man. Kris Kristofferson, the victor for Johnny Cash’s classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down” ran to the stage, brushed back his hair and somehow managed to say his “thank you’s” in a quiet, shy manner that stood in sharp contrast with his forthright, incisive writing style. It seems that Kristofferson had indulged in a little heavy-duty drinking in the hours before one of his career pinnacles.
#18: Deana Carter
Single of the Year, “Strawberry Wine”
Deana Carter entered the 1997 CMA Awards with a leading five nominations, and when “Strawberry Wine” won Single of the Year over the widely predicted Tim McGraw & Faith Hill hit “It’s Your Love,” she shared her excitement with fellow CMA winner Ricky Skaggs.
Carter literally jumped for joy when she picked up the Single of the Year honor for the country waltz, a classic that earned the Song of the Year award for writers Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison. When Ricky Skaggs announced “Strawberry Wine” as the winner, she sprung barefoot to the podium in exuberant leaps which ended with a leg-wrapping jump into Skaggs’ arms.
#19: Reba McEntire
Female Vocalist of the Year victory
Reba McEntire established her credentials so well that the Female Vocalist of the Year trophy would eventually be hers for four years running, but at one time she was simply a rising commodity with a pure country voice. Near the end of the 1984 ceremony, Reba McEntire had still not claimed a CMA award, and she surprised the crowd by winning the coveted Female Vocalist honor.
The incomparable career of Johnny Cash includes flashes of genius at the CMA awards. Cash’s legacy features nine CMA awards, but most of his victories were part of two spectacular evenings that rank among the ceremony’s most memorable moments.
The first live televised CMA awards show occurred in 1968, and Johnny Cash earned the Album of the Year trophy that evening for At Folsom Prison. The following year, Cash set the standard for the country music crop by picking up five awards that evening, a record that is now shared with Alan Jackson (2002). His wins: Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Vocal Group of the Year (with June Carter), Album of the Year (At San Quentin) and Single of the Year (“A Boy Named Sue”).