Named for Waugh, a veteran broadcaster who was instrumental in gaining national television exposure for country music during the ’50s and ’60s, the award is presented to an individual whose ideas and actions have “dramatically broadened and improved country music’s influence on a national or international level for the benefit of the industry as a whole.”
Since its initiation in 1983, the award has only been presented to six individuals. Usually reserved for music industry executives, Johnny Cash received the honor in 2003 and is the only other musician to receive the designation.
Waugh, who died in 2007, was instrumental in securing sponsorships that prompted NBC-TV to create the CMA Awards, the first music awards show of any kind to be nationally televised. He was also a key player in the creation of Fan Fair, the Opryland Hotel and the Opryland theme park in Nashville.
“A lot of you may not know who Irving Waugh was. … He’s the reason the CMA Awards ever wound up on television,” Gill explained in accepting the award. “He was the first guy to ever see that light.
“When I first heard of my opportunity to host these awards all those years ago, I heard what Irving said about me. He said, ‘Vince Gill is a fine specimen of a man.’ Straight up, that made me feel a little weird,” Gill laughed.
“Irving was the consummate gentleman. He was always (well) attired, well groomed, well mannered. He was a gentleman’s gentleman. And something a young gentleman can do is learn from an old gentleman how to be a better gentleman. And Irving Waugh epitomized that so beautifully.”
Gill, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2007, said he misses hosting the CMA Awards show and admitted being envious of the relationships now shared by younger artists.
“I want to tell you all, I admire so much how you treat each other,” he said. “Your generation of artistry, the camaraderie that you have, I’m envious of it. I watch you all love each other and high-five each other and hug each other. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
Gill said it had been an eventful week for him. In addition to receiving BMI’s Icon Award for his work as a songwriter, he also noted he has been immortalized in a statue that was unveiled at his high school in Oklahoma.
“It’s 9 and a half-foot tall and anatomically correct,” he joked. “I’m just sayin’.”
However, he closed his remarks by sharing a story from his earlier years in Nashville.
“I have to tell you a story of why I am the way I am,” he said. “I was sitting at breakfast one morning, and the former governor of the great state of Tennessee came by and patted me on the head and said, ‘You’re a good boy.’ He said, ‘A lot of good things are happening to you, and I just want you to know one thing:
“The attendance at your funeral will be largely dependent on the weather.”View complete coverage of 48th annual CMA Awards.