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Maren Morris was the top winner at Wednesday’s 54th Annual Country Music Association Awards, picking up three trophies for Song of the Year and Single of the Year for “Bones” as well as Female Artist of the Year. It was during that final trip to the podium that Morris opted to use her air time to champion Black female artists that have broken the color barrier in country music — starting with Linda Martell, who in 1969 became the first Black woman to play the Grand Ole Opry.
“I have a lot of people to thank, and they’re the typical ones that lift me up and made this dream come true with me. But there are some names in my mind that I want to give recognition to, because I’m just a fan of their music and they are country as it gets,” Morris began. “And I just want them all to know how much we love them back. And just check out their music after this. It’s Linda Martell, Yola, Mickey Guyton, Rissi Palmer, Brittney Spencer, Rhiannon Giddens. There are so many amazing Black women that have pioneered and continue to pioneer this genre. And I know they're going to come after me; they've come before me. You've made this genre so, so beautiful. I hope you know that we see you. Thank you for making me so inspired as a singer.”
Not Maren Morris making a bish cry shouting out all the Black women in country and telling people to go listen to them😭 this is how you use your platform!! pic.twitter.com/17ZxnzmkRt
— Ashley P (@Gyllenhaalic15) November 12, 2020
Wednesday’s CMA Awards were historic for Black country artists in a couple of notable ways. Darius Rucker — who recently revealed in an interview on Rissi Palmer’s Apple Music show “Color Me Country” that a radio programmer once told him, “I don’t think my audience will accept a Black country singer” — became only the second Black person to host the CMAs ceremony, almost a half-century after country legend Charley Pride co-hosted with Glen Campbell in 1975.
And in a full-circle moment, the 86-year-old Pride was honored with the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by rising Black country star Jimmie Allen — who, after performing his hit “Best Shot,” which went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in 2018, stated, “I might never had a career in country music if it wasn’t for a groundbreaking artist who made the best kind of history. … Thank you, Mr. Charley Pride, for all the songs and for breaking down so many barriers with your remarkable life.”
The son of Mississippi sharecroppers, Pride was signed by Chet Atkins to RCA Records in 1966 and went on to become that label’s bestselling artist since Elvis Presley, earning 36 No. 1 hits and three CMA Awards, including Entertainer of the Year in 1971. Pride, still sounding in fine form, performed his classic “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” on Wednesday’s awards telecast, then delivered a humble acceptance speech, avoiding any sociopolitical statements and sweetly confessing that he was “nervous as can be.”
Ironically, the night’s final and biggest award, for Entertainer of the Year, went to Eric Church, who beat out the two major female nominees, Carrie Underwood and presumed frontrunner Miranda Lambert. (No artists of color were nominated in the category.) “If there was ever a year not to win this award!” Church joked, admitting that he hadn’t expected to win and hadn’t prepared a speech, before he waxed more poetically about the power of music to bring people together.
The 54th Annual Country Music Awards, co-hosted by Rucker and Reba McEntire, took place at the Music City Center in Nashville on Nov. 11. For a full list of winners, click here.
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