Maren Morris won a leading three awards at Wednesday’s 2020 CMA Awards, bringing home three, for single of the year, song of the year and female vocalist of the year. It was the first win in any of those categories for Morris, whose song “The Bones” was a smash in both the pop and country fields during the past year.
Eric Church won only one award, but it was the big one: entertainer of the year, generally considered the Country Music Association’s top prize. He had been nominated for the award three times before, including last year, when Garth Brooks got it, but this was Church’s first time accepting the win.
“If there was ever a year not to win this award,” Church said at the top of his climactic acceptance speech. Church explained that this year had mostly been “about loss — loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of kids being in school.” But, he added, in a rouse-the-troops speech, “It’s gonna be music that brings us out of this… That is the one thing that is gonna save the entire world.” He added, “Politics are about division; music is about unity.”
Morris had three trips to the podium, and in her final turn, winning for female artist, she said, “I’m really gonna try not to curse. Sorry, Robert (Deaton, the show’s executive producer), if I do.” She then turned serious in citing a list of Black country or Americana singers that she wanted “to give recognition to, because I’m a fan of their music and the’yre as country as it gets: Linda Martell, Yola, Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Britney Spencer, Rhiannon Giddens. … You’ve made this genre so so beautiful. I want you to know we see you.” In closing, Morris, the mother of an 8-month-old, said, “It’s been the most magical night. I get to go see my baby after this.
Luke Combs, who had also been considered a strong contender for entertainer of the year, was the only other multiple winner besides Morris. He took two honors, male vocalist of the year and album of the year, for “What You See Is What You Get.” Combs recently ascended back to the top of the album chart with a deluxe re-release of that collection, released a year after the original set.
Other winners accepting their prizes in person at Nashville’s Music City Center were Morgan Wallen, for best new artist, and Old Dominion as vocal group of the year. Dan + Shay accepted their vocal duo of the year award remotely from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl, where they had filmed a performance of “10,000 Hours” with duet partner Justin Bieber.
Despite the CMA’s promise in a controversial social media post that the show would be a “drama-free” zone, there was plenty of drama to go around immediately before and after the start of the ABC telecast, as three scheduled performers announced they had dropped out in quick succession. First came Lady A, an hour before the start of the show, revealing on social media that the COVID-19 diagnosis of a family member had caused the trio to exit the telecast. Shortly after the show, a similar revelation came from Rascal Flatts, who had been slated to do a farewell performance but canceled because of a band member contracting the coronavirus. A lesser-known performer, fiddle player Jenee Fleenor — who won the off-camera musician of the year award — was notably missing from her scheduled spot in the opening salute to Charlie Daniels, and revealed shortly afterward on social media that she had contracted COVID.
Those three performers joined two who had departed the show earlier in the week after testing positive, Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line and Lee Brice. After those two exits, the CMA released a statement saying, “Although this is incredibly disappointing, not only for the show but also for CMA personally as we care deeply for these artists and only want the best for them and their families, it does reassure us that our protocols are working. Our process enabled us to manage each situation immediately and before either artist ever entered our set. Most importantly, it prevented anyone else from being exposed.”
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