Last year, the Country Music Association entertained Country Radio Seminar registrants with a luncheon that spotlighted CMA singles of the year from 1967 to 2000. This year’s luncheon — held Saturday (March 2) at the Nashville Convention Center — featured the female vocalist of the year winners, with live performances by former crown-holders Lynn Anderson (1971), Tanya Tucker (1991), Trisha Yearwood (1997, 1998) and Martina McBride (1999).
The CMA kept the identities of the performers secret until they appeared on stage, but people waiting in line to enter the curtained-off luncheon area were able to make some educated guesses by overhearing last-minute rehearsing.
McBride opened the 40-minute show with her current single, “Blessed.” Anderson, who came next, sang her best-known hit, “Rose Garden.” Tucker showcased her still-formidable pipes with “Down to My Last Teardrop.” Yearwood wrapped up the solo performances with “I Don’t Paint Myself Into Corners.” All four singers returned to the stage and stood side-by-side, their arms draped over each other’s shoulders to sing “Stand by Your Man,” the signature tune of Tammy Wynette, who won the female vocalist prize in 1968, 1969 and 1970.
On the night in 1991 when Tucker won her award, she was in a Nashville hospital giving birth to her son, Grayson. When she came on stage to sing at Saturday’s luncheon, Grayson entered from the other side, holding out her CMA trophy. After this tender moment, Tucker blazed on. By the time she ended her song, she was bumping-and-grinding like the old days.
Anderson wore a white cowboy hat and duster but shucked off both midway through “Rose Garden” to reveal a black T-shirt, across which was emblazoned “MANUEL,” a reference to the famous costumer of country stars. At this point, she had the band speed up the song to a quasi-disco beat (to which she dutifully danced), explaining that this was her bid to be musically relevant. The crowd awarded her industrious display with a standing ovation.
Rivaling the performances in audience appeal were videoclips of the female-vocalist presentations from all the past televised award shows (1968-2001). Wynette looked more startled than triumphant when she accepted her first award. After Roy Acuff had stumbled over her name, Olivia Newton-John (1974) graciously accepted her honor by satellite and spoke of her plans to record an album in Nashville. Even as she prepared to strike out on her own, Dolly Parton (1975, 1976) thanked Porter Wagoner for his hard work on her career.
Emmylou Harris (1980) pleaded with the guys in her band, who were watching from her bus, “please don’t drink too much because we’ve got a show … ” Reba McEntire explained how her mother had bypassed her own dreams in order to support those of her now-famous daughter. Holding up the trophy, the tearful singer proclaimed, “This one’s for us, mama.” McBride speculated in her acceptance speech that the win probably meant more to her husband, John, who had always wanted it for her, than it did to her.
Taken together, the clips constituted the most informative and entertaining history lesson imaginable.
After the show, the four singers met briefly with the press. Yearwood said she was thrilled to be able to sing with Anderson. “When I was [tour-guiding] at the [Country Music] Hall of Fame,” she recalled, “I used to point out the handwritten lyrics to ‘Rose Garden.’” Tucker mused to one reporter that LeAnn Rimes must be as tired of being compared to her — in terms of vocal precocity — as she was of being compared to Brenda Lee . McBride said, “It was a real kick to sing ‘Stand by Your Man,’” at which point the romantically turbulent Tucker chimed in with, “I just don’t know what man it’s gonna be.”
Looking on was Anderson’s long-time companion, songwriter Mentor Williams, who lives with the singer in Taos, N.M. Williams, whose hits include “Drift Away” and “She’s Gonna Win Your Heart,” told CMT.com that he continues to compose songs and is working out an administration deal with DreamWorks Publishing in Nashville.