Although Garth Brooks wasn’t present to accept his Entertainer of the Year trophy at the 31st Annual CMA Awards, chances are he was still jumping with excitement as he watched the live telecast on CBS. Deana Carter, however, literally jumped for joy when she picked up the Single of the Year honor for her country smash, “Strawberry Wine,” the hit that also snagged the Song of the Year award. When country veteran Ricky Skaggs announced Deana’s name as the winner, she made her barefoot way to the podium in triumphant leaps which surprisingly ended with a full-throttle, leg-wrapping jump into Ricky’s arms.
“I was just floored,” she admitted afterwards. “Somebody said to me, ‘Deana, it was just for Single of the Year!’ And I said, ‘You know what? It’s still a CMA award.’ I almost did a handspring. It’s been a while, but I was going to give it a shot, and I apologize to Ricky Skaggs, too. I certainly didn’t mean to insult his wife like that,” she explained of her straddling jump. “I was just excited about it.”
The excitement from this year’s gala event, again hosted by Vince Gill, kicked off in high speed and in high fashion from the word go. Entertainment was at its best, ranging from Brooks & Dunn’s romping “Honky Tonk Truth” and Wynonna’s super sassy new single, to Shania Twain’s long-awaited stage return and Toby Keith and pop megastar Sting’s duet of “I’m So Happy I Can’t Stop Crying.” The star-studded show couldn’t have made this Grand Ole Opry House audience any happier.
Although extremely happy camper Trisha Yearwood didn’t actually jump when her name was announced as this year’s Female Vocalist of the Year, she did, however, cause the audience to jump to their feet — creating one of the evening’s few standing ovations.
“I don’t know what to say,” admitted an overwhelmed Trisha, “except that this is what I have wanted ever since I saw Reba McEntire win Female Vocalist of the Year and stand on this stage and say into the TV set, ‘If you have a dream you can make it come true.’ I believed you Miss Reba and I’m here.” Trisha went on to thank those who’ve supported her towering career, including a special moment of thanks to her parents. “Most of all, I want to thank my parents. As proud as you are of me right now, I’m prouder to be your daughter.”
All-time country great George Strait also had a reason to be proud. He walked away with the most honors — racking up on both the Album and Male Vocalist of the Year awards. “I read an article one time that said ‘If you can survive time, eventually it will give you a gift,’” said George. “And tonight I got a couple of gifts.” The new Male Vocalist later expressed how much he’d appreciated his unusual time off the road this year — spending more time with his son and enjoying just hanging out around the house.
What’s hanging out at LeAnn Rimes’ house is yet another award to add to the collection she’s managed to build throughout this past year. LeAnn accepted the prestigious Horizon Award, an honor that’s undoubtedly become one of the long-running award show’s highlights.
Always a highlight, and certainly again this year, were the musical induction tributes to the new Hall of Fame members, brilliantly performed by Lorrie Morgan, Michael Peterson, Mindy McCready, Travis Tritt, Sara Evans, Joe Diffie, Barbara Mandrell, Chely Wright and Terri Clark. “Little Miss Dynamite” Brenda Lee and songwriters Harlan Howard and Cindy Walker were this year’s very deserving honorees.
“Something that you never think will happen to you like this makes me feel real tall.” “God gave me a voice and my audience gave me a career,” said a teary-eyed Brenda. “For that I’m eternally grateful. All of you here tonight from the Country Music Association have given me the greatest gift of all. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I love you for letting me sing.”
Hall of Fame inductee Cindy struck an emotional chord with the audience when she shed some sweet tears during her acceptance speech. “It’s a wonderful thrill to be in Nashville and to be here on the stage and I thank you so much and I thank everybody who’s ever sang a song of mine or liked them. The emotional moment grew even more intense when the legendary songwriter recited the following poem:
“In the 1980s, my mother bought me a dress for a BMI affair and she said ‘when they put you in the Hall of Fame, that’s the dress I want you to wear.’ And I said ‘Oh Mama, the Hall of Fame? Why that will never be.’ And the years went by, but my mother’s words remained in my memory. And I know tonight she’d be happy, though she’s gone now to her rest. But I think of all that she did for me, and tonight I’m wearing this dress.”
Other country greats who left the annual affair wearing a winning smile on their faces were Brooks & Dunn, who for the sixth consecutive year took home Vocal Duo honors; Diamond Rio, who picked up the Group of the Year trophy — their first since 1994; Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, who latched the Vocal Event of the Year award for their super hit, “It’s Your Love”; guitarist Brent Mason, who won the Musician of the Year title, which breaks fiddler Mark O’Connor’s six-year monopoly; and Kathy Mattea, a 1989 and 1990 Female Vocalist of the Year winner. Kathy made a thrilling return to the winner’s circle to accept the Video of the Year trophy for her gutsy “455 Rocket.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been back here,” said Kathy, who was suffering from laryngitis. “I was shocked. I didn’t know if this would ever happen to me again. My father has cancer and spent all last week at the Mayo Clinic and they think that he’s going to be fine and doesn’t have to have chemo,” she explained backstage. “He just got home yesterday and I spent the whole week with him and that’s why I have laryngitis. It puts all this stuff in perspective and I’m just so glad he’s going to be around for awhile. I’ve had my day in the sun,” she continued, “and it feels so good to be able to come back and have your peers pat you on the back. This is just like icing on the cake.”
The show continued with other spectacular highlights, including such performances as those by Tim McGraw, Trisha Yearwood, Pam Tillis, Lee Ann Womack, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Patty Loveless and George Jones, LeAnn Rimes, Matraca Berg, Clint Black and Martina McBride, Neal McCoy, Collin Raye and Bryan White. The show concluded with a star-studded finale led by Alabama’s Randy Owen. The “We Are The World”-themed number is featured on a new disc entitled Country Cares For Kids. Proceeds from the album will benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Vince Gill, who introduced Deana Carter’s performance, allegedly barefoot himself, was once again the host with the most. He was also the host who left with new meaning in life. “I just thought of something,” he quipped. “If you never wear shoes, your feet never stink.”
The following is a complete list of this year’s 31st Annual CMA Awards winners:
Brooks & Dunn
George Strait for Carrying Your Love With Me
Single of the Year
Deana Carter for “Strawberry Wine”
Song of the Year
Matraca Berg & Gary Harrison for “Strawberry Wine”
Faith Hill & Tim McGraw for “It’s Your Love”
Kathy Mattea for “455 Rocket”