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Grammy Flashback: Best Male Country Vocal Performance

Updated for 2009

While the Grammys have honored country music from the very first ceremony in 1959, they did not begin honoring by gender until 1965, when the country categories were expanded along with the other genre categories. This year, the 45th trophy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance will be awarded.

In a continuation of our Grammy Flashback series, here is a rundown of the Best Country Vocal Performance, Male category. It was first awarded in 1965, and included singles competing with albums until the Best Country Album category was added in 1995. When an album is nominated, it is in italics, and a single track is in quotation marks.

As usual, we start with a look at this year’s nominees and work our way back. Be sure to vote in My Kind of Country’s Best Male Country Vocal Performance poll and let your preference for this year’s race be known!

jamey-johnson-lonesome2009

  • Trace Adkins, “You’re Gonna Miss This”
  • Jamey Johnson, “In Color”
  • James Otto, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”
  • Brad Paisley, “Letter to Me”
  • George Strait, “Troubadour”

As with the album race, this year’s contenders for Best Male Country Vocal Performance are a combination of unrecognized veterans and promising newcomers. In fact, none of this year’s nominees have won in this category, and only one of them – Brad Paisley – has a Grammy at all.

First, the veterans. Paisley has numerous ACM and CMA victories to his credit, including two each for Male Vocalist.  Although he’s been nominated for this award twice before, this is the first time he’s contended with a cut that can’t be dismissed as a novelty number. The touching self-penned “Letter to Me” is his best shot yet at taking this home.

Trace Adkins has been at this a bit longer than Paisley, but this is his first Grammy nomination. His crossover exposure from Celebrity Apprentice might help him out here, along with the fact that the song was considered strong enough by voters to earn a nomination of its own.

But the real veteran to watch out for is George Strait. After being nominated only twice for this category in the first 25 years of his career, voters have now given him three consecutive nominations. This is one of four nods he’s earned for the 2009 ceremony, and “Troubadour” is essentially the story of his epic career distilled into a radio-length song. It would be the perfect way to honor the man and his music in one fell swoop.

However, there’s a newcomer that might be a Grammy favorite already.  We just haven’t found out yet. Not James Otto, of course, who is nominated for his charming romantic romp “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”, but rather, Jamey Johnson. The recent Nashville Scene critics’ poll further confirmed the depth of his support among tastemakers, and his nominations for Best Country Song and Best Country Album indicate that he’s very much on the academy’s radar. It helps that he has the most substantial track of the five, and it’s the obvious choice for traditionalists, who have little reason to split their votes in this category. If voters aren’t considering legacy when making their selections, he has a great shot at this.

2008

  • Dierks Bentley, “Long Trip Alone”
  • Alan Jackson, “A Woman’s Love”
  • Tim McGraw, “If You’re Reading This”
  • George Strait, “Give it Away”
  • Keith Urban, “Stupid Boy”

The often offbeat Grammy voters have been surprisingly mainstream in this category for the past three years, a trend best exemplified by this lineup, which was the first in more than a decade to feature only top ten radio hits. Tim McGraw and Keith Urban were the only two who had won this before, and it was Urban who emerged victorious. “Stupid Boy” was a highlight of his fourth studio album, and this was the only major award that the impressive collection would win.

2007

  • Dierks Bentley, “Every Mile a Memory”
  • Vince Gill, “The Reason Why”
  • George Strait, “The Seashores of Old Mexico”
  • Josh Turner, “Would You Go With Me”
  • Keith Urban, “Once in a Lifetime”

Vince Gill returned to win in this category for a ninth time with “The Reason Why.” Not only is he, by far, the most honored artist in this category, his wins here account for nine of the nineteen Grammys currently on his mantle.

2006

  • George Jones, “Funny How Time Slips Away”
  • Toby Keith, “As Good As I Once Was”
  • Delbert McClinton, “Midnight Communion”
  • Willie Nelson, “Good Ol’ Boys”
  • Brad Paisley, “Alcohol”
  • Keith Urban, “You’ll Think of Me”

Urban’s biggest and probably best hit launched his second album to triple platinum and established him as a crossover artist. He gave a killer performance of the song on the show. Toby Keith was a first-time nominee here, and while he publicly groused that the Grammys put too little emphasis on commercial success in picking their nominations, he lost to the only track that was a bigger hit than his own.

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Classic CMA Awards Moments, #3: Charlie Rich Sparks Controversy (1975)

#3: Charlie Rich
Traditional vs. Mainstream Country
1975

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.

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CMA Flashback: Male Vocalist

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Bentley and Shelton have never won, but they’re up against Strait, who has won five times, and Paisley and Urban, who’ve won three times each.  With the balance of commercial and critical success not significantly different across the category, this race could bring the night’s biggest surprise. But whatever happens, kudos to Paisley for earning his tenth nomination, and Strait for earning his twenty-fifth!

2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Darius Rucker
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Just like in the Entertainer category, 80% of this race for the past three years had been Kenny Chesney, Brad Paisley, George Strait, and Keith Urban. This year, Darius Rucker took the fifth slot that was occupied by Alan Jackson in 2008 and Josh Turner in 2007.  Brad Paisley went on to win his third Male Vocalist prize.

brad-paisley2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

After so many years on the sidelines, Paisley began to dominate the category, scoring his second consecutive Male Vocalist award. Meanwhile, Kenny Chesney tied Willie Nelson for most nominations without a win, though his seventh loss was accompanied by his fourth win for Entertainer.

2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Josh Turner
  • Keith Urban

This was the year that Brad Paisley finally won, with his seventh nomination in eight years. The stars aligned for him, with a very successful tour, a new album that is selling strongly, and a continued hot streakat radio that was nearly unmatched. He still hasn’t had a single miss the top ten since “Me Neither” in 2000, a claim that even radio favorites like George Strait, Toby Keith, Brooks & Dunn, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts can’t call their own.

2006

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

Urban became the first artist to win Male Vocalist three years in a row since George Strait did it in 1996-1998, right after Vince Gill’s 1991-1995 run. His acceptance letter, read by Ronnie Dunn, was the emotional highlight of the evening’s show.

2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

No surprises here, as another multi-platinum year full of radio hits and a high-profile appearance at Live 8 kept Urban fresh on voter’s minds. The big shock was him walking away with Entertainer of the Year later that night.

2004

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Urban hadn’t even been nominated for any CMA Awards in 2002 and 2003, after winning Horizon in 2001, but he came back with a bang, taking home Male Vocalist of the Year over the four other superstars in the category. He joined Chesney as the only other man in the running who had never won before; Chesney got the wonderful consolation prizes of Entertainer and Album of the Year the same night.

2003

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Things were getting tight in this category in 2003, with so many worthy contenders that ties resulted in six nominees, instead of the usual five. Still, voters chose to stick with last year’s winner, Alan Jackson, a sure indicator of his enduring popularity among CMA voters.

2002

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

The other four men were merely placeholders, there to create a list around the obvious winner, Alan Jackson. As he swept the awards on the strength of his post-9/11 “Where Were You” and autobiographical “Drive”, the only real shock was that he was winning Male Vocalist for the first time, a result of the ridiculously slow turnover in this category during the 1990′s.

2001

  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

Toby Keith has been a vocal critic of the CMA because he feels they’ve overlooked him, but he’s been up against some tough competition, with his popularity peaking at the same time that Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban were making a huge impact on the charts and at the CMA’s. Thankfully, he’s at least won in this category, so he won’t go down in history with Willie Nelson and Conway Twitty as one of the best male singers to never win it.

2000

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait

On the same evening that his wife was crowned Female Vocalist, McGraw walked away with his second consecutive Male Vocalist award.

1999

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Steve Wariner

Early on in his career, when McGraw was selling tons of records but being excluded from this category, he humbly said that he didn’t think he was a good enough singer to be nominated. His talents grew over the years, and he finally won in 1999.

1998

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait

Strait matched Vince Gill’s record of five wins in this category, defeating Gill and three other nominees who had yet to win in the category.

1997

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

With no turnover in the category from the previous year, Strait won for the fourth time, again defeating his fellow mega-winner Gill, and three other stars who had never won before.

1996

  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Collin Raye
  • George Strait
  • Bryan White

Jackson was already long overdue, and Collin Raye and Bryan White broke into the category for the first time. Nobody expected Gill to win for the sixth year in a row, but many were surprised to see former two-time winner George Strait collect a Male Vocalist award for the first time in ten years.

1995

  • John Berry
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • John Michael Montgomery
  • George Strait

Even Gill was expecting to lose, so when his name was called out for the fifth year in a row, he was gamely applauding backstage for the winner, before suddenly realizing it was him and rushing out to the stage.

1994

  • John Anderson
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait
  • Dwight Yoakam

Vince won for the fourth year in a row, even though fellow nominees John Anderson, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam were seen as likely spoilers.

1993

  • John Anderson
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

Vince not only won his third Male Vocalist award this year, he also took home four other awards: Entertainer, Album, Song and Vocal Event.

1992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Joe Diffie
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Travis Tritt

A bunch of hot young stars dominated the ballot this year, with Gill emerging triumphant for the second time. Though they would continue to score hits for many years, Joe Diffie and Travis Tritt received their only nominations to date in this category.

1991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

After Garth swept the ACM’s earlier that year, he was expected to do the same at the CMA’s, and he came close, winning Entertainer, Single and Album. But industry favorite Vince Gill took home Male Vocalist, an award that Garth Brooks would never receive, though he would win Entertainer a record four times.

1990

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait

For the second year in a row, the previous year’s Horizon winner took home Male Vocalist. Clint Black won easily over very distinguished competition.

1989

  • Rodney Crowell
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Keith Whitley

After winning Horizon in 1988, platinum-selling Ricky Van Shelton graduated into a Male Vocalist winner only one year later. Keith Whitley received a posthumous nomination; he won Single of the Year that same evening.

1988

  • Vern Gosdin
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

It’s hard not to wince at the knowledge that the peerless Vern Gosdin only received one nomination in this category, but there was no stopping Travis from collecting his second win.

1987

  • George Jones
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

In a lineup that was a traditionalist’s dream, new star Randy Travis took home the trophy.  At the time, he was breaking sales records, enjoying a quadruple-platinum studio album in Always & Forever.

1986

  • George Jones
  • Gary Morris
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Strait won his second consecutive Male Vocalist award on the strength of another huge year at radio and retail.

1985

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

George Strait won the first of a record-matching five Male Vocalist awards, also taking home Album of the Year that same evening.

1984

  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Gary Morris
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Greenwood’s Vegas vocals won him the award for the second time.

1983

  • John Anderson
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Merle Haggard
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Greenwood looks pretty shabby against these other four nominees, taking home Male Vocalist in the same year Janie Fricke won for Female Vocalist. Is there a year in the history of the CMA’s where the winners of those two categories were collectively less impressive?

1982

  • Merle Haggard
  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

Pulling off the astonishing feat of winning both Male Vocalist and Horizon award, Emmylou Harris’ former bandmate was hugely rewarded for bringing bluegrass to the masses.

1981

  • George Jones
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s taken for granted that Jones is the greatest living male vocalist in country music; few would dare to argue otherwise. No surprise, then, that he won for the second year in a row.

1980

  • John Conlee
  • George Jones
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Nominated for the first time in his career, George Jones walked away with Male Vocalist of the Year, along with Single of the Year for “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.

1979

  • John Conlee
  • Larry Gatlin
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

It’s hard to believe that the legendary showman never won Entertainer of the Year, but he did take home a much-deserved Male Vocalist award, at least.  Unfortunately, fellow nominee John Conlee would never be recognized at all, losing his first of two shots at this award.

1978

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

One of the most underrated artists in country music history got a well-deserved pat on the back, winning over four larger personalities in 1978.

1977

  • Larry Gatlin
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Don Williams

Milsap set a record when he won for the third time in this category, which would stand until 1994, when Vince Gill won his fourth trophy.

1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Conway Twitty
  • Don Williams

After losing to Jennings the previous year, Milsap returned to collect his second Male Vocalist trophy in 1976. Conway Twitty lost again in his final appearance in the category.

1975

  • John Denver
  • Freddy Fender
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

There was no love lost between Waylon Jennings and the CMA – he loathed the organization so much, he didn’t even show up at his Hall of Fame induction. This was the first of several CMA wins for Jennings, though the only one in this category that he would receive.

1974

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Charlie Rich
  • Cal Smith

Blind singer-songwriter and pianist Ronnie Milsap won for the first time; with Olivia Newton-John winning Female Vocalist the same night, pop was the flavor of the evening.

1973

  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Charlie Rich
  • Johnny Rodriguez
  • Conway Twitty

The Silver Fox won on the strength of a great year at radio. He’s still considered one of the era’s finest and most under-appreciated vocalists.

1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Johnny Paycheck
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Wallace

Charley Pride became the first artist to repeat in the category, winning for the second year in a row.

1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Ray Price
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The CMA had a wealth of great male vocalists to choose from in the early years of the awards, and they finally got around to acknowledging Pride, who had been nominated four times already.

1970

  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride
  • Marty Robbins
  • Conway Twitty

Merle Haggard dominated the show in 1970, winning Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single and Album of the Year.

1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Charley Pride

Cash was a huge winner in 1969, taking home five awards: Entertainer, Male Vocalist, Single, Album and Vocal Group (with wife June Carter Cash). He wouldn’t win again until after his death in 2003, when he took home another three awards.

1968

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Crossover star Glen Campbell won in a year that is so impressive, all five nominees are now in the Hall of Fame. He also took home Male Vocalist the same evening.

1967

  • Eddy Arnold
  • Jack Greene
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

Few casual country fans would recognize him today, but Jack Greene will forever go down in history as the first Male Vocalist winner at the CMA’s. He won on the strength of his signature hit “There Goes My Everything”, which also won Single of the Year and was the title track of his Album of the Year winner that same night.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill, George Strait
  • (3) – Ronnie Milsap, Keith Urban
  • (2) – Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Randy Travis

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (5) – Vince Gill (1991-1995)
  • (3) – George Strait (1996-1998), Keith Urban (2004-2006)

Most Nominations:

  • (25) – George Strait
  • (16) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Merle Haggard
  • (10) – Vince Gill
  • (10) – Brad Paisley
  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Ronnie Milsap, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban
  • (6) – Don Williams
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, George Jones, Charley Pride, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Conway Twitty

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (8) – Kenny Chesney
  • (7) – Willie Nelson
  • (5) – Garth Brooks, Conway Twitty
  • (4) – Hank Williams, Jr.
  • (3) – John Anderson, Larry Gatlin, Gary Morris, Collin Raye
  • (2) – Eddy Arnold, Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Rodney Crowell, Sonny James, Bryan White

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Clint Black (1990), Glen Campbell (1968), Vince Gill (1991), Lee Greenwood (1983), George Jones (1980), Toby Keith (2001), Ronnie Milsap (1974), Charlie Rich (1973), Ricky Skaggs (1982), Randy Travis (1987), Keith Urban (2004)

CMA Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Johnny Cash, Jack Greene, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, Ricky Van Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, Don Williams

ACM Male Vocalists of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Garth Brooks (1990 & 1991), Kenny Chesney (2003), Larry Gatlin (1980), Mickey Gilley (1977), Freddie Hart (1972)

CMA Male Vocalists Who Have Also Won the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male:
Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Lee Greenwood, George Jones, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Charlie Rich, Kenny Rogers, Randy Travis, Keith Urban

Winners of the Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male Who Have Never Won the CMA Male Vocalist Award:
Garth Brooks, David Houston, Lyle Lovett, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jerry Reed, Ralph Stanley, Dwight Yoakam

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