Tag Archives: Sonny James

CMA Awards: Entertainer of the Year (1967-2013)

Since its inception, the top honor an artist could be given at the Country Music Association awards is this one: Entertainer of the Year.   Originally a revolving door of winners, the winner in early years was often not even nominated the following year.  In 1981, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist to win the award twice.   Alabama succeeded her with a three year run from 1982-1984.   Fourteen years later, Garth Brooks became the first artist two win four times, a feat later matched by Kenny Chesney in 2008.

Here’s a look back at the award from the very beginning, along with some facts and feats about the category and its nominees.

Eddy Arnold1967

  • Bill Anderson
  • Eddy Arnold
  • Merle Haggard
  • Sonny James
  • Buck Owens

One year after being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Eddy Arnold was named the very first Entertainer of the Year at the inaugural CMA awards in 1967. Don’t assume it was a sympathy vote. Arnold had three #1 hits in the twelve months leading up to the ceremony, as he was in the middle of his impressive mid-sixties comeback, a period best defined by the 1965 classic, “Make the World Go Away.”  He remains the only member of the Hall of Fame to win this award after being inducted.

Glen Campbell1968

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

Glen Campbell was a big awards favorite in 1968, with “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Gentle On My Mind” both dominating the Grammy awards earlier that year.   His win in this category foreshadowed bigger things, as he soon became a network variety star, while also scoring major country and pop hits with “Wichita Lineman” and “Galveston.”

 johnny-cash1969

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Johnny Cash’s career was rejuvenated on the strength of two live prison albums, the latter of which produced the massive Shel Silverstein-penned smash, “A Boy Named Sue.”   His victory came in a year that marked the beginning of his network variety show and had him dominating the country singles charts, spending ten combined weeks at #1 with “Sue” and “Daddy Sang Bass.”

Merle Haggard1970

  • Glen Campbell
  • Johnny Cash
  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Charley Pride

Merle Haggard was a mainstay in this category from the beginning, nominated in each of the first seven years of the CMA Awards.  His victory in 1970 coincided with his commercial peak, with signature hits “The Fightin’ Side of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee” helping him secure his only win in this category.

Charley Pride1971

  • Merle Haggard
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed
  • Conway Twitty

The last of four consecutive years where the Male Vocalist winner matched the Entertainer winner, Charley Pride went home with both awards in 1971.   A winner on his fourth nomination, his popularity skyrocketed upon the release of “Kiss an Angel Good Morning,” which was climbing the charts at the time of the awards ceremony.

Loretta Lynn1972

  • Merle Haggard
  • Freddie Hart
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride
  • Jerry Reed

Instead of attending the awards show, Loretta Lynn’s husband Mooney went hunting.  He didn’t want to watch her lose, but he missed watching history unfold as she became the first woman to win Entertainer of the Year.  Lynn’s victory came on the heels of both solo hits like “One’s on the Way” and her popular duets with Conway Twitty.

Roy Clark1973

  • Roy Clark
  • Merle Haggard
  • Tom T. Hall
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Charley Pride

Today he’s best known for Hee Haw, the country music variety show that he co-hosted, and it’s no coincidence that he won while the show was in its prime. Still, Clark is also one of country’s most admired legends, and his legacy goes far beyond the television show that showcased his extensive musical and comedic talents.

Rich_Charlie_002_c_MOA.jpg1974

  • Roy Clark
  • Mac Davis
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Olivia Newton-John
  • Charlie Rich

The massive success of “The Most Beautiful Girl” and “Behind Closed Doors” helped Charlie Rich win this award.  It was a long time coming, as Rich toiled in obscurity despite critical acclaim for his work.   He would continue to score big hits on the country and pop charts over the next couple of years, at one point charting hits on different labels at the same time.

John Denver1975

  • John Denver
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Loretta Lynn
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Conway Twitty

John Denver’s victory in this race led to the most infamous moment in CMA history. Though he claimed it was due to medication later on, presenter Charlie Rich seemed to be making a furious statement against the pop crossover artists dominating country music when he opened the envelope, read it, and then lit a cigarette lighter and burned the envelope. The paper went up in flames as he derisively snarled the winner’s name, “My friend, Mister John Denver.” Poor John, accepting via satellite, was clueless to what was going on at the Opry house, and graciously accepted his award.

Mel Tillis1976

  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Willie Nelson
  • Dolly Parton
  • Mel Tillis

This 2007 Hall of Fame inductee won this award just as he was changing labels.  Tillis first gained notoriety for his remarkable songwriting talent, but eventually he was scoring enough hits to earn a place in this category. He would go on to have several more big hits after winning this award, earning another nomination in this category two years later.

Ronnie Milsap1977

  • Merle Haggard
  • Waylon Jennings
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers

Ronnie Milsap dominated the CMA Awards, becoming one of its most frequently honored performers during the formative years of the awards show.  He finally won the big prize on his third try, powered by the success of his classic hit, “It was Almost like a Song.”

Dolly Parton1978

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Dolly Parton
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Mel Tillis

Her famous quote – “I’m not leaving country. I’m taking it with me” – must have held some water with the Nashville establishment, as Parton won this award at the height of her pop crossover success with “Here You Come Again,” the title track of her first platinum album.  The front of her dress popped open before she went up to receive the trophy, prompting her to quip, “That’s what I get for trying to put fifty pounds of mud in a five pound bag.”

Willie Nelson1979

  • Crystal Gayle
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers
  • Statler Brothers

He never won Male Vocalist of the Year, but superstar Willie Nelson was given his due by the CMA in 1979 when they awarded him Entertainer of the Year.   While it wasn’t his biggest year on the charts, residual goodwill from Stardust and his collaborations with Waylon Jennings helped carry him to victory.

Barbara Mandrell 21980

  • Charlie Daniels Band
  • Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Kenny Rogers

She had a few big hits in 1980, like “Crackers” and “The Best of Strangers.”  But it was her incredibly popular variety show with sisters Louise and Irlene that truly showcased her versatility as an entertainer, securing the first of two wins in this category.

Barbara Mandrell 11981

  • Alabama
  • George Jones
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Kenny Rogers

Despite sharing the category with four artists who had never won this award, Barbara Mandrell became the first artist in CMA history to win Entertainer of the Year for the second time.  Credit the continued popularity of her television show and the biggest hit of her career, “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”,  which featured a guest turn by fellow nominee George Jones.

Alabama 21982

  • Alabama
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Oak Ridge Boys
  • Ricky Skaggs

The band that laid the groundwork for all other country bands that followed, Alabama set a new bar for commercial success in the early eighties.   The eligibility period included the release of their biggest-selling studio album, and also two of their signature hits: “Mountain Music” and “Love in the First Degree.”

Alabama 31983

  • Alabama
  • Merle Haggard
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs

As their studio albums sold in the millions, every single Alabama released to radio was hitting #1, a stretch that would eventually include 21 consecutive chart-toppers.  They repeated in this category on the strength of hits like “Dixieland Delight” and “The Closer You Get.”

Alabama 11984

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Barbara Mandrell
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • Oak Ridge Boys

A mere three years after Barbara Mandrell made history by being the first artist to win two Entertainer awards, Alabama went her one better and won three. They remain one of only two acts to win this award three years in a row, doing so as their hits “Roll On (Eighteen Wheeler)” and “If You’re Gonna Play in Texas (You Gotta Have a Fiddle in the Band)” dominated the airwaves.

1Ricky Skaggs985

  • Alabama
  • Lee Greenwood
  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

Few country artists command as much respect as Ricky Skaggs, a consummate singer and musician. Skaggs’ victory in this category signaled the resurgence of traditional country music, as he was the first winner since 1976 to not have achieved crossover hits on pop radio.

Reba McEntire1986

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • Willie Nelson
  • Ricky Skaggs
  • George Strait

One of the most popular new traditionalists of the mid-eighties, McEntire achieved her commercial breakthrough with “Whoever’s in New England”, which was aided in popularity by her first of many high-concept music video clips.  McEntire would eventually become the most nominated woman in history, scoring ten nominations over eleven years.

Hank Williams Jr 11987

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

When Hank Williams, Jr. won the Music Video award the previous year, he reminded voters, “I make audio, too.”  They finally got around to acknowledging his meaningful contributions to the genre,  awarding him the first of two Entertainer trophies in 1987.

Hank Williams Jr 21988

  • The Judds
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Hank Jr. may have waited a long time for some CMA love, but once it came, it was in droves. He won Album of the Year the same night he repeated in this category.  His biggest hit of the year, “Young Country”, featured guest appearances by up and comers like Highway 101 and Marty Stuart.

George Strait 11989

  • Reba McEntire
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis
  • Hank Williams, Jr.

Three years after his most recent Male Vocalist trophy, megastar George Strait was named Entertainer of the Year. He would go on to have one of his biggest years at radio, with two multi-week #1 singles in the twelve months that followed his victory.

George Strait 21990

  • Clint Black
  • Kathy Mattea
  • Ricky Van Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Randy Travis

While Randy Travis dominated the Male Vocalist race, George Strait was given his due again in the Entertainer category.   He wore an Entertainer of the Year cowboy belt on the cover of Livin’ it Up, perhaps giving him good luck toward his second victory.  He remains the most nominated in this category, and is only the second Hall of Famer to receive a nomination after being inducted into the Hall.

Garth Brooks 19911991

  • Clint Black
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Reba McEntire
  • George Strait

A mere year after winning the Horizon award, Garth Brooks was the Entertainer of the Year at the CMA Awards. He was breaking every sales record in the book by that point.  Shortly before the ceremony, he became the first country artist to enter the overall album chart at #1, leading to a media frenzy that gained unprecedented exposure for both Garth and the genre he represented.

Garth Brooks 21992

  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire
  • Travis Tritt

Given that he was already the biggest-selling country artist the world had ever seen, it was no surprise that Garth Brooks won his second Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1992.  His continued popularity was fueled by sold out live shows that soon led to network specials showcasing his unique brand of arena country.

Vince Gill 11993

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

Vince Gill capped off an amazing night at the 1993 CMA Awards with his first victory in this category. It was his fifth win of the night, as he also took home Male Vocalist, Song, Album and Vocal Event.   As he was also the show’s sole host, the collective exposure pushed him to multi-platinum sales.

Vince Gill 21994

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

The soft-spoken Gill won for a second year, which was no big surprise given his widespread popularity in Music City. He also went home with Album and Male Vocalist the same night, giving him a stunning fourteen trophies in only five years.

Alan Jackson 11995

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Reba McEntire

As one of the evening’s top nominees, Alan Jackson brought his parents as his special guests.  After losing in every other category, he expressed relief that he finally won something, as going home empty handed would’ve been embarrassing.   Jackson would eventually become one of the organization’s most awarded artists.

Brooks and Dunn1996

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

They were already winners of five CMA awards, due solely to their domination of the Vocal Duo category. But in 1996,  they finally won another race, and it was a big one. Brooks & Dunn remain the only duo to win this award, with The Judds and Sugarland being the only other duos to receive nominations.

Garth Brooks 31997

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Alan Jackson
  • George Strait

In a year when all five nominees had won this award before, it was Garth Brooks who returned to the winner’s circle, tying Alabama’s long-standing record of three victories in this category.   Adding to the sense of déjà vu, this was the third year in a row where all five nominees were the same.

Garth Brooks 41998

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Garth Brooks
  • Vince Gill
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

As hard as it is to believe that there were any records left for him to break by 1998, Garth Brooks shattered another one, becoming the first artist in the history of the CMA to win four Entertainer of the Year awards. By this time, Garth had already sold more than 60 million albums, and while he has yet to win this award again, he remains the top-selling solo artist of all time in the United States.

Shania Twain1999

  • Garth Brooks
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait
  • Shania Twain

The odds seemed against Shania Twain, as she had never won a CMA award before and the last woman to win was Reba McEntire thirteen years earlier.  Fittingly, McEntire was on hand to present the trophy to Twain, who won on the strength of Come On Over, which eventually became  top-selling country album of all time and the top selling album of the decade from any genre.

Dixie Chicks2000

  • Dixie Chicks
  • Faith Hill
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

The Dixie Chicks capped off a stunning three-year run at the CMA Awards with this victory, one of nine that they racked up since 1998.   Within those three years, their first two albums each sold over ten million copies, and the band was widely credited for championing country radio and traditionalism while other top acts were crossing over to pop radio.

Tim McGraw2001

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Alan Jackson
  • Tim McGraw
  • George Strait

After winning two Male Vocalist and two Album of the Year honors in the previous three years, Tim McGraw finally won the CMA’s top award. It was a satisfying acknowledgment of an artist who’d had his talent underestimated in the first few years of his stardom, but built up a reputation for his stellar taste in choosing material.

Alan Jackson 22002

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • George Strait

Jackson’s win in 1995 came as he was reaching his commercial peak.  In the years that followed, Jackson remained a successful and well-respected artist that got less attention every year when it came time to hand out awards. Then came the one-two punch of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” and “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, both of which were viewed as the very embodiment of all that makes country music unique and essential.   This was one of five awards he was honored with that night.

Alan Jackson 32003

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Although the ACM had chosen Toby Keith as their standard bearer a few months earlier, the CMA stuck with the previous year’s winner Alan Jackson. By 2003, Jackson had evolved into an elder statesman for the genre, but still managed to stay relevant with hits both clever (“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere”) and poignant (“Remember When.”)

Kenny Chesney2004

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Tim McGraw

Chesney’s long dry spell at the CMA’s came to a satisfying end as the superstar collected both Entertainer and Album of the Year trophies. He had been charting for eleven years before finally winning his first CMA award.

keith-urban2005

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Alan Jackson
  • Toby Keith
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban

One of the most surprising and endearing wins in the history of this category, a shocked and humbled Urban accepted this award in New York City. He couldn’t have picked a better night to bring his Australian parents to the ceremony.

kenny-chesney2006

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • Keith Urban

It’s pretty rare to come back and win this award for a second time, as most multiple wins have been consecutive in this category. But Kenny Chesney joined Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson as the only other artists to pull it off when he won in 2006, a club that would later be joined by Taylor Swift.

kenny_chesney2007

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Rascal Flatts
  • George Strait
  • Keith Urban

Chesney entered the elite company of Garth Brooks, Alabama, and Alan Jackson with his third victory in this category. Rascal Flatts, meanwhile, became the first group since the Dixie Chicks to score back-to-back nominations, a feat also accomplished by Alabama and the Oak Ridge Boys.

Kenny Chesney2008

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Sugarland
  • Keith Urban

As Sugarland became only the third duo in history to receive a nomination and George Strait extended his record number of nominations to sixteen, Kenny Chesney tied Garth Brooks for the most wins in this category with his fourth victory.  His popularity at radio and retail was remarkable, but it was Chesney’s highly attended summer stadium tours that earned him these wins.

Taylor Swift CMA2009

  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Taylor Swift both made history and prevented it with her win in this category.  She simultaneously became the youngest artist ever and the first female solo artist in ten years to take home the prize. She also kept Kenny Chesney from becoming the sole all-time champion in this category, as he remains tied with Garth Brooks with four wins to date.

paisley2010

  • Lady Antebellum
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Brad Paisley
  • Keith Urban
  • Zac Brown Band

2010 shook up the category, with three first-time contenders in the running for the crown for the first time since 1981. Despite all the new blood, sixth time proved to be the charm for Brad Paisley, who finally won this award after five consecutive losses.  Paisley’s persistent popularity helped him earn the nod in a year where the two previous winners weren’t even nominated.

Taylor Swift Fearless Tour 2009 In New York City2011

  • Jason Aldean
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift
  • Keith Urban

Thirty years after Barbara Mandrell became the first woman to win this award twice, Swift became the second to do so.  She won the award on the strength of her third set, Speak Now, which showcased her growing maturity as a songwriter and her growing appeal beyond her teenage and young adult fan base.

Shelton2012

  • Jason Aldean
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Brad Paisley
  • Blake Shelton
  • Taylor Swift

One of the most surprising wins in CMA history, few saw Blake Shelton’s victory coming.  But it isn’t too surprising when you consider the number of artists who parlayed network television exposure into a win in this category.  Perhaps in this new era of media saturation and minimal album sales, television may once again become a deciding factor when choosing the genre’s top star every year.

question_mark2013

  • Jason Aldean
  • Luke Bryan
  • Blake Shelton
  • George Strait
  • Taylor Swift

George Strait’s farewell tour helped return him to the category for the first time since 2009, earning him a record-extending  eighteenth career nomination.  Strait joins previous winners Taylor Swift (2009, 2011) and Blake Shelton (2012) in attempting a return to the winner’s circle.   Luke Bryan earns his first nomination, just months after winning the ACM trophy.  Jason Aldean, meanwhile, is hoping to get lucky the third time around.

Facts & Feats

Multiple Wins:

  • (4) – Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (3) – Alabama, Alan Jackson
  • (2) –Vince Gill, Barbara Mandrell, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Hank Williams, Jr.

Most Consecutive Wins:

  • (3) – Alabama (1982-1984), Kenny Chesney (2006-2008)
  • (2) – Garth Brooks (1991-1992, 1997-1998), Vince Gill (1993-1994), Barbara Mandrell (1980-1981), George Strait (1989-1990), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987-1988)

Most Nominations:

  • (18) – George Strait
  • (12) – Alan Jackson
  • (11) – Brooks & Dunn
  • (10) – Reba McEntire
  • (9) –  Garth Brooks, Kenny Chesney
  • (8) –  Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Brad Paisley
  • (7) – Keith Urban
  • (6) – Barbara Mandrell, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Charley Pride, Keith Urban
  • (5) – Alabama, Loretta Lynn, Ronnie Milsap, Kenny Rogers

Most Nominations Without a Win:

  • (5) – Kenny Rogers
  • (4) – Toby Keith, Randy Travis
  • (3) – Jason Aldean, Waylon Jennings, The Judds, Oak Ridge Boys

Winners in First Year of Nomination:
Eddy Arnold (1967), Garth Brooks (1991), Glen Campbell (1968), John Denver (1975), Charlie Rich (1974), Taylor Swift (2009), Mel Tillis (1976), Shania Twain (1999), Keith Urban (2004), Hank Williams, Jr. (1987)

CMA Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the ACM Award:
Eddy Arnold, Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, John Denver, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw, Ronnie Milsap, Brad Paisley, Charlie Rich, Blake Shelton, Ricky Skaggs, Taylor Swift, Mel Tillis, Keith Urban

ACM Entertainers of the Year Who Have Never Won the CMA Award:
Luke Bryan, Mac Davis, Mickey Gilley, Freddie Hart, Toby Keith, Kenny Rogers, Carrie Underwood

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100 Greatest Men: #51. Sonny James

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Decades before Taylor Swift found her way from country to pop radio, Sonny James scored the first teenage love crossover hit, setting up a long-running career that would eventually earn him a slot in the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Sonny James hails from Alabama.   His birth name, James Hugh Loden, and he grew up in a musical clan that performed as the Loden Family.   In the band, he used the handle Sonny Loden, and his father quickly noticed that his son's talent meant the band could perform full-time.  Now dubbed Sonny Loden and the Southerners, they played radio stations and dance halls across the south, until the marriages of his bandmate sisters set in motion the band's demise.

Sonny went back and finished high school, and after a brief military stint in Korea, he returned to professional music, signing with Capitol Records.  The label suggested the stage name Sonny James, and the young singer made a name for himself on radio and television spots, while also scoring modest country hits.

His big break came with the smash hit “Young Love”, a sweet song about teenage devotion that skyrocketed to gold-selling status in 1956.  It topped the country chart for nine weeks, and reached #2 on the pop chart.   On the latter tally, its success was limited by Capitol's inability to meet demand for the 45.  Actor Tab Hunter reaped the benefits of this, and had the #1 pop single despite radio preferring James' version.

During this period, James became known as the Southern Gentleman through his various television appearances, and he joined the Grand Ole Opry cast for a time, beginning in 1962.   Throughout the early sixties, he recorded for a handful of different labels before returning to Capitol in 1963.  It was with his second stint at the label that he achieved his greatest success, scoring a stunning string of hits that included sixteen consecutive #1 singles.  In 1971, he earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He switched to Columbia in 1972, and for a brief period, radio played hits from his new label while also spinning records that Capitol continued to release after his departure from their roster.  As with many artists from his era, the hits slowed down as the seventies came to an end, and he reached the top ten for the 43rd and final time in 1977, with the appropriately titled, “You're Free to Go.”

James retired in 1983, but made his first television appearance in more than two decades in 2006, as he accepted his induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame.   He continues to reside in Nashville, and he makes occasional public appearances for special events.

Essential Singles:

  • Young Love, 1956
  • You're the Only World I Know, 1964
  • I'll Never Find Another You, 1967
  • It's the Little Things, 1967
  • Running Bear, 1969
  • It's Just a Matter of Time, 1970
  • Empty Arms, 1971

Essential Albums:

  • The Southern Gentleman, 1957
  • Sonny, 1957
  • Need You, 1967
  • Empty Arms, 1971

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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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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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