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Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris lead 2021 ACM Awards nominations; Black artists, women make history

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"Starting Over" may lead country music powerhouse Chris Stapleton down a familiar path: Award season dominance.

With six nods each, Stapleton and “The Bones'' hitmaker Maren Morris lead nominations for the 56th annual Academy of Country Music Awards, set for April 18 in Nashville.

Behind his 2020 record “Starting Over,” Stapleton enters top categories including Entertainer, Male Artist, Song and Album of the Year. He competes for Entertainer of the Year — considered one of country music’s top prizes — with Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and co-defending 2020 recipient Thomas Rhett.

Morris, the defending ACM Female Artist of the Year, earned Female Artist, Single, Song and Video of the Year nominations, the latter for “Better Than We Found It,” her timely, self-described “protest song” that supported the Black Lives Matter movement.

Racism in country music: Maren Morris tells Rissi Palmer 'we all should be uncomfortable'

Maren Morris performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., on  June 15, 2019 , left, and Chris Stapleton performs during Marty Stuart's Late night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. on June 7, 2018. Morris and Stapleton lead the nominations for this year's Academy of Country Music Awards.
Maren Morris performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn., on June 15, 2019 , left, and Chris Stapleton performs during Marty Stuart's Late night Jam at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. on June 7, 2018. Morris and Stapleton lead the nominations for this year's Academy of Country Music Awards.

She returns to the top gendered category alongside category newcomer Carly Pearce, as well as previous nominees Kelsea Ballerini and Ashley McBryde. Miranda Lambert, the winningest artist in ACMs history, receives her 15th Female Artist of the Year nod. For the first time since 2005, the category won’t feature Carrie Underwood, who split Entertainer of the Year with Rhett in 2020.

Behind Stapleton and Morris comes Lambert with five nominations. McBryde and Rhett earned four each.

Four Black artists — Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton, Jimmie Allen and John Legend — earned nominations, the most in ACMs history. Brown, a modern hitmaking force in country music who’s yet to win an ACM Award and overdue for a nomination at the CMA Awards, scored his first Album of the Year nod for summer 2020 EP “Mixtape Vol. 1.” Allen and Guyton compete in respective New Male and Female Artist of the Year categories; Legend received his first career ACMs nod in Video of the Year for the Carrie Underwood holiday duet “Hallelujah.”

However, diversity shrinks in the top-tier categories. Entertainer of the Year returns to an all-male contest and no artist of color earned billing in Entertainer, Male Artist, Female Artist, Single or Song of the Year categories — the latter notably missing Mickey Guyton’s lauded single “Black Like Me,” which competes for a Grammy Award next month.

And despite shutting out women from Entertainer of the Year, ACM voters agreed women dominated single releases in 2020. For the first time in show history, the category features five women: Lambert (“Bluebird); Gabby Barrett (“I Hope”) Pearce with Lee Brice (“I Hope You’re Happy Now”); Ingrid Andress (“More Hearts Than Mine”); and Morris (“The Bones”).

The Academy of Country Music withdrew Morgan Wallen, a breakout star in 2020, from eligibility after a video published in early February that showed the singer shouting a racial slur in Nashville.

Morgan Wallen controversy: He used a racist slur but his popularity is skyrocketing. How did we get here?

The ACM Awards returns to April this year after COVID-19 precautions delayed the show to September in 2020. Nashville venues The Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry House and Bluebird Cafe will host the show for a second consecutive year.

The 56th annual ACM Awards air April 18 at 7 p.m. CST on CBS.

56th annual ACM Awards nominees

Entertainer of the Year

  • Luke Bryan

  • Eric Church

  • Luke Combs

  • Thomas Rhett

  • Chris Stapleton

Female Artist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini

  • Miranda Lambert

  • Ashley McBryde

  • Maren Morris

  • Carly Pearce

Male Artist of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley

  • Eric Church

  • Luke Combs

  • Thomas Rhett

  • Chris Stapleton

Duo of the Year

  • Brooks & Dunn

  • Brothers Osborne

  • Dan + Shay

  • Florida Georgia Line

  • Maddie & Tae

Group of the Year

  • Lady A

  • Little Big Town

  • Old Dominion

  • The Cadillac Three

  • The Highwomen

New Female Artist of the Year

  • Ingrid Andress

  • Tenille Arts

  • Gabby Barrett

  • Mickey Guyton

  • Caylee Hammack

New Male Artist of the Year

  • Jimmie Allen

  • Travis Denning

  • HARDY

  • Cody Johnson

  • Parker McCollum

Album of the Year [Awarded to artist(s), producer(s), record company–label(s)]

  • Born Here Live Here Die Here – Luke Bryan

    • Producers: Jeff Stevens, Jody Stevens

    • Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville

  • Mixtape Vol. 1 – Kane Brown

    • Producers: Andrew Goldstein, Charlie Handsome, Dann Huff, Lindsay Rimes

    • Record Label: RCA Nashville

  • Never Will – Ashley McBryde

    • Producer: Jay Joyce

    • Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • Skeletons – Brothers Osborne

    • Producer: Jay Joyce

    • Record Label: EMI Records Nashville

  • Starting Over – Chris Stapleton

    • Producers: Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb

    • Record Label: Mercury Nashville

Single of the Year [Awarded to artist(s), producer(s), record company–label(s)]

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

    • Producer: Jay Joyce

    • Record Label: Vanner Records/RCA Records Nashville

  • I Hope – Gabby Barrett

    • Producers: Ross Copperman, Zach Kale

    • Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice

    • Producers: busbee

    • Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records

  • More Hearts Than Mine – Ingrid Andress

    • Producers: Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis

    • Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • The Bones – Maren Morris

    • Producer: Greg Kurstin

    • Record Label: Columbia Nashville

Song of the Year [awarded to songwriter(s), publisher(s), artist(s)]

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

    • Songwriter(s): Luke Dick, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby

    • Publishers: Emileon Songs; Little Louder Songs; Pink Dog Publishing; Songs of Universal, INC; Sony ATV Tree Publishing; Wrucke for You Publishing

  • One Night Standards – Ashley McBryde

    • Songwriter(s): Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hayford, Shane McAnally

    • Publishers: Canned Biscuit Songs; Smackworks Music; Smack Blue, LLC; Smackstreet Music; Tempo Investments; Warner Geo Met Ric Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp

  • Some People Do – Old Dominion

    • Songwriter(s): Jesse Frasure, Matt Ramsey, Thomas Rhett, Shane McAnally

    • Publishers: Carrot Seed Songs; EMI Blackwood Music INC; Smackville Music; Songs of ROC Nation; TelemitryRhythm House Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp; Smack Hits; Tempo Investments; Warner Gro Met Ric Music

  • Starting Over – Chris Stapleton

    • Songwriter(s): Chris Stapleton, Mike Henderson

    • Publishers: I Wrote These Songs; Straight Six Music; WC Music Corp

  • The Bones – Maren Morris

    • Songwriter(s): Jimmy Robbins, Maren Morris, Laura Veltz

    • Publishers: Big Machine Music, LLC; Extraordinary Alien Publishing; International Dog Music; Oh Denise Publishing; Round Hill Songs; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.

Video of the Year [Awarded to producer(s), director(s), artist(s)]

  • Better Than We Found It – Maren Morris

    • Director: Gabrielle Woodland

    • Producers: Sarah Kunin, Jennifer Pepke

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

    • Director: Trey Fanjoy

    • Producer: Heather Levenstone

  • Gone – Dierks Bentley

    • Directors: Wes Edwards, Ed Pryor, Travis Nicholson, Running Bear and Sam Siske, with animation by Skylar Wilson

    • Producer: David Garcia

  • Hallelujah – Carrie Underwood and John Legend

    • Director: Randee St. Nicholas

    • Producer: Greg Wells

  • Worldwide Beautiful – Kane Brown

    • Director: Alex Alvga

    • Producer: Christen Pinkston

Songwriter of the Year (off-camera award)

  • Ashley Gorley

  • Michael Hardy

  • Hillary Lindsey

  • Shane McAnally

  • Josh Osborne

Music Event of the Year (a tie within category increased nominees) [awarded to artist(s), producer(s), record company–label(s)]

  • Be A Light – Thomas Rhett featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, Keith Urban

    • Producer: Dann Huff

    • Record Label: The Valory Music Co.

  • Does To Me – Luke Combs featuring Eric Church

    • Producer: Scott Moffatt

    • Record Label: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville

  • I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice

    • Producer: busbee

    • Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records

  • Nobody But You – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani

    • Producer: Scott Hendricks

    • Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • One Beer – HARDY featuring Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson

    • Producers: Derek Wells, Joey Moi

    • Record Label: Big Loud Records

  • One Too Many – Keith Urban, P!nk

    • Producers: Cutfather, Dan McCarroll, Keith Urban, PhD

    • Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville

ACM studio recording awards nominees

Bass Player of the Year

  • Jarrod Travis Cure

  • Mark Hill

  • Tony Lucido

  • Steve Mackey

  • Glenn Worf

Drummer of the Year

  • Fred Eltringham

  • Evan Hutchings

  • Derek Mixon

  • Jerry Roe

  • Aaron Sterling

Guitar Player of the Year

  • J.T. Corenflos

  • Kris Donegan

  • Jedd Hughes

  • Ilya Toshinskiy

  • Derek Wells

Piano/Keys Player of the Year

  • Dave Cohen

  • David Dorn

  • Charlie Judge

  • Mike Rojas

  • Benmont Tench

Specialty Instrument Player of the Year (tie within category increased nominees)

  • Alicia Enstrom

  • Jim Hoke

  • Danny Rader

  • Mickey Raphael

  • Ilya Toshinskiy

  • Kristin Wilkinson

Steel Guitar Player of the Year

  • Spencer Cullum

  • Dan Dugmore

  • Mike Johnson

  • Russ Pahl

  • Justin Schipper

Audio Engineer of the Year

  • Jeff Balding

  • Jason Hall

  • Gena Johnson

  • Vance Powell

  • F. Reid Shippen

Producer of the Year

  • Buddy Cannon

  • Dave Cobb

  • Dann Huff

  • Jay Joyce

  • Joey Moi

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: ACM Awards 2021 nominations: Chris Stapleton, Maren Morris lead