Nashville Journalist Chronicles 43 Years of CMA Awards Shows

Fancy New Book Also Includes Inserted Reproductions of Memorabilia

And the winner is: Deborah Evans Price for her fact-filled, you-are-there chronicle, Country Music’s Biggest Night: The CMA Awards Vault.

The hefty history — which weighs in at more than five pounds with its slipcase — covers the awards series from its inception as a radio program in 1967 through its 2009 edition as a three-hour TV extravaganza.

Saturated with color photos on most of its 144 pages, the book touches on musical trends, notable hosts and hostesses, fashion triumphs and faux pas and embarrassing and/or controversial occurrences.

Zealous country fans will savor the more than 60 reproductions of documents associated with the ceremonies down through the years. These include show and after-show party tickets, winner slips, foldout stage diagrams, show schedules, CMA membership newsletters and promotional postcards, all housed in pockets pasted directly onto the pages.

“I didn’t start working on the book until about CMA Awards time last year,” Price says. “Athena Patterson [the Country Music Association’s director of creative services] called me just a little bit before that to see if I was interested. So I went to rehearsals last year and started right after the show doing interviews.”

A former country and Christian music editor for Billboard, Price has also written for Radio & Records, Country Weekly, CMA Close Up and many other national entertainment outlets.

In the course of her research, she interviewed 44 artists, music industry executives and fashion designers, including 80-year-old Grand Ole Opry star Jack Greene, the big winner in the first awards show, and 81-year-old Sonny James, who co-hosted that show with singer Bobbie Gentry.

To outline the book, Price consulted with Patterson and other CMA media reps.

“We had a brainstorming session,” she says, “just on some things that the CMA felt should be in the book. We drafted a rough outline, and then I ran with that. There were a lot of changes as I was getting the interviews and putting the book together. But after that initial meeting, I pretty much had free rein, which was wonderful.”

The book’s publisher is Whitman Publishing LLC of Atlanta, which specializes in turning out “vault” volumes. “They’ve done one for pretty much every college sports team,” says Price, including her alma mater, Louisiana State University.

“The books follow a very specific formula — 24,000 words and eight chapters,” Price explains. “So I knew that I had to make everything fit within those confines.” She completed the research and writing in four months and turned in the final chapters on April 5 of this year.

Robert Williams, the in-house art director at Whitman, selected the photos to correspond with Price’s text.

Given that the CMA oversaw this project, one might have expected the organization to discreetly overlook certain sensitive and unplanned moments. But they are all duly accounted for, including:

Charlie Rich setting fire to the slip that announced John Denver as the 1975 entertainer of the year

• Chart-topper Hank Williams Jr. sarcastically noting that “I try to make a little audio, too” after he won only the music video award in 1985

• Self-described “reluctant activist” Kathy Mattea speaking out for AIDS victims in 1992

Alan Jackson singing a snippet from George Jones’ “Choices” after Jones refused to sing an abridged version of that song on the 1999 show

Price also devotes a few hundred words and one glorious photo to the bosom-baring red gown Reba McEntire wore for the 1993 show, a garment surely deserving of its own entertainer of the year trophy.

Price will no doubt be watching attentively as the 44th annual CMA Awards show rolls out Wednesday (Nov. 10) at 8 p.m. ET on ABC-TV.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to