Country music’s girl power was in full force Wednesday night at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center, as CMT honored its first-ever all-female class of Artists of the Year.
Miranda Lambert and Pistol Annies kicked things off with plenty of attitude, debuting the new track “Sugar Daddy” before Elle King presented Miranda her award.
“Not a day will go by that I don’t honor and lift up other women in this industry, and want to work with them and collaborate,” she said in her acceptance. “…And it’s a small community and we’re all friends, so I really appreciate CMT celebrating that tonight.”
Honoree Kelsea Ballerini delivered a haunting version of the Shenandoah classic “Ghost in This House” with Alison Krauss, before Sheryl Crow led the tribute to Maren Morris.
“I feel like the women in this room that I’m honored with tonight are putting out the most compelling, emotional, bada** music right now of our lifetimes,” Maren said as she clutched her trophy.
The “My Church” hitmaker teamed up with Americana favorite Brandi Carlile to do “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” in remembrance of the late Aretha Franklin.
Hillary Scott offered a medley that matched Lady Antebellum‘s hit “American Honey” with the inspirational classics “Never Alone” and “O Happy Day,” with help from singer/songwriter Tori Kelly and gospel star Kirk Franklin.
As she accepted her honor from bandmates Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood, Hillary’s thoughts turned to her daughters.
“This just means so much to me… I’m a mom of three girls: five and eight-and-a-half-month-old twins,” she explained. “And it’s a gift that my mom gave me… that there is no dream too big, and that we can really, if we work hard and we’re kind that we can honestly see just what the world has to offer.”
The night’s top honor went to Loretta Lynn, as CMT proclaimed her its latest Artist of a Lifetime. Though the 86-year-old wasn’t well enough to attend, Martina McBride honored her with her trademark “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man,” while Sheryl Crow and Dierks Bentley teamed up for a fiery duet on the Loretta/Conway Twitty classic “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.”
Actress Sissy Spacek, who won the 1980 Best Actress Oscar for playing Loretta in Coal Miner’s Daughter, gave an emotional acceptance in her stead, recalling 40 years of close friendship, and revealing that Loretta earlier tried to give her one of her gowns to wear to the gala.
Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook feted their vocal partners Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, before the two joined R&B legend Gladys Knight on “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”
Carrie Underwood enlisted her 2019 opening acts for a gargantuan eight-song medley that included Tammy Wynette‘s “Stand By Your Man,” Dolly Parton‘s “9 to 5,” The Judds‘ “Rockin’ with the Rhythm of the Rain,” Martina McBride‘s “Independence Day,” Faith Hill‘s “Wild One,” Reba McEntire‘s “Why Haven’t I Heard from You,” and Shania Twain‘s “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” before ending with her own “Cry Pretty.”
Carrie ably summed up the entire night in her acceptance, to thunderous applause: “To all of the incredible, amazing, talented women that have been on this stage tonight, you are not here because you are women, you are here because you are dang good!”
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