Reba McEntire, Crystal Gayle Performances Highlight SESAC Awards

Cary Barlowe Named Songwriter of Year; “Homegrown” Cited as Top Song

Performances by Reba McEntire and Crystal Gayle highlighted SESAC’s annual Nashville music awards ceremony held Sunday evening (Nov. 1) at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The big winners were Cary Barlowe, named songwriter of the year; “Homegrown,” song of the year; and Magic Mustang Music, publisher of the year.


SESAC is one of the three major performance rights organizations – the others being ASCAP and BMI – that collect royalties for songwriters and publishers for the public uses of their songs.

SESAC presented songwriter Richard Leigh its Songwriter Legacy Award for having written such by-now classics as “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” “Somewhere In My Broken Heart,” “Come From the Heart” and “Only Here for a Little While.”

A cocktail party and red carpet parade were held before the awards dinner started.

Pat Collins, president and CEO of SESAC, welcomed guests and recited some of SESAC’s achievements during the past year. Among these were its acquisition of Rumblefish, which micro-licenses songs for such uses as apps and music videos, and the Harry Fox Agency, which collects mechanical-rights royalties for the physical sale of recorded music.

Collins also reported that the company represented more hit songs in the past year than during any other similar period in its 85-year history.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 01:  Michael Ray performs onstage during the SESAC 2015 Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on November 1, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC) Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC

Warner Bros. recording artist Michael Ray was the first to perform for the crowd. Accompanied by two backup musicians, he sang his first hit, “Kiss You in the Morning,” to loud applause.


Tim Fink, SESAC’s vice president of writer-publisher relations, hosted the proceedings with his usual good humor and aplomb. Sharing emcee duties with him were Shannan Hatch, senior director of writer-publisher relations, and Dennis Lord, executive vice president.

Fink saluted the Grand Ole Opry on its 90th anniversary and noted the deaths this year of two Music Row stalwarts, Jeff Walker, head of AristoMedia Group, and Billy Block, host and producer of the long-running Billy Block Show. Both were active in promoting country music.

Lord came to the stage to introduce and praise Leigh, his friend of many years. “He is one of the seminal songwriters of our time,” Lord said, adding that “his body of work is a virtual American songbook.”

Leigh came to Nashville in 1974, Lord said, and within two years had scored his first No. 1 hit, “I’ll Get Over You.” The song was also Gayle’s first No. 1.

Lord commended Leigh for continuing to write songs despite his many honors (including his 1994 induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.) Addressing Leigh directly, he said, “You still have boats to build.”

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 01:  Reba McEntire performs onstage during the SESAC 2015 Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on November 1, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC) Michael Loccisano/Getty Ima

Then came the musical tributes from the two stars who enjoyed hits from Leigh’s pen – McEntire singing “The Greatest Man I Never Knew,” accompanied by pianist Catherine Marx, and Gayle rendering “I’ll Get Over You” and “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” with Will Barrow on piano.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 01:  Crystal Gayle performs onstage during the SESAC 2015 Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on November 1, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC) Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC

Both singers earned standing ovations.

Billy Dean, who recorded an entire album of Leigh’s songs in 2009, praised the songwriter via video for co-writing the hits “Only Here for a Little While” and “Somewhere in My Broken Heart.”

“This is the highest honor of my life,” Leigh said when he came forward to accept his award. “I was so excited I barely slept last night.”

Richard Leigh Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC

He said when he was first told he was getting the award he thought he might have been mistaken for fellow songwriter, Dickey Lee, who’s also in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.

“I got up so early this morning [for this occasion], this is my second tux,” he quipped.

Leigh, who was orphaned at two and not legally adopted until he was 15, said he knew something about having emotionally distant parents, the theme of “The Greatest Man I Never Knew.”

He said that when his songs make people feel warm toward the artists who sing them, he feels a tiny fraction of that warmth.

To McEntire and Gayle he said, “You gave me millions of peoples’ love – a love I’ll never know. … That’s important for an orphan.”

Songwriter Jim Lauderdale presented the SESAC trophies for Americana music.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 01:  Randy Houser performs onstage during the SESAC 2015 Nashville Music Awards at Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on November 1, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC) Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SESAC

Randy Houser was the last performer of the evening. He turned in such a bravura rendition of “Like a Cowboy” that the crowd repeatedly interrupted it with cheers and applause.


Kelsea Ballerini toasted Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott for co-writing three award-winning songs.

Lee Brice saluted Rob Hatch for co-writing Brice’s hit, “I Don’t Dance.” And Cole Swindell came onstage to give a thumbs-up to Josh Martin for co-writing his chart-topping “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey.”

Here is the complete list of award winners:

Songwriter of the Year:
Cary Barlowe

Song of the Year:
“Homegrown”
Written by Zac Brown, Niko Moon, Wyatt Durrette
Recorded by Zac Brown Band

Publisher of the Year:
Magic Mustang Music

Country Performance Activity Awards:

“Homegrown”
Written by Zac Brown, Niko Moon, Wyatt Durrette
Published by Day for the Dead Publishing
Southern Ground
Rosest Music
Recorded by Zac Brown Band

“Loving You Easy”
Written by Zac Brown, Niko Moon
Published by Day for the Dead Publishing
Southern Ground
Recorded by Zac Brown Band

“Make Me Wanna”
Written by Larry McCoy
Published by Hondo Creek Music
Recorded by Thomas Rhett

“Like a Cowboy”
Written by Brice Long
Published by SingaBLongSong
Tunes of Parallel
Recorded by Randy Houser

“Sun Daze”
Written by Cary Barlowe
Published by We Be Pawtying
Castle Bound Music
Recorded by Florida Georgia Line

“Where It’s At (Yep, Yep)”
Written by Cary Barlowe
Published by We Be Pawtying
Castle Bound Music
Recorded by Dustin Lynch

“Ain’t Worth the Whiskey”
Written by Josh Martin
Published by Josh Martin Music
Recorded by Cole Swindell

“Kiss You in the Morning”
Written by Justin Wilson
Published by Legends of Magic Mustang Music
Recorded by Michael Ray

“Hell of a Night”
Written by Jaron Boyer
Published by Jaron Boyer Music
peertunes ltd
Recorded by Dustin Lynch

“Riot”
Written by Jaron Boyer
Published by Jaron Boyer Music
peertunes ltd
Recorded by Rascal Flatts

“Freestyle”
Written by Hillary Scott
Published by Hobbs Hill Publishing
Recorded by Lady Antebellum

“Long Stretch of Love”
Written by Hillary Scott
Published by Hobbs Hill Publishing
Recorded by Lady Antebellum

“Bartender”
Written by Hillary Scott
Published by Hobbs Hill Publishing
Recorded by Lady Antebellum

“Hard to Be Cool”
Written by Rob Hatch
Published by Way Down The Hatch Music Publishing
Legends of Magic Mustang Music
Recorded by Joe Nichols

“I Don’t Dance”
Written by Rob Hatch
Published by Way Down The Hatch Music Publishing
Legends of Magic Mustang Music
Recorded by Lee Brice

“Goodnight Kiss”
Written by Rob Hatch
Published by Way Down The Hatch Music Publishing
Legends of Magic Mustang Music
Recorded by Randy Houser

“Drink to That All Night”
Written by Lance Miller
Published by Spirit Nashville Three
Melvins Pistol Music
Melvins Bullets Music
Recorded by Jerrod Niemann

Americana Honorees (titles refer to albums)

Didn’t It Rain
Contributions by Beth Nielsen Chapman
Published by Songs of Prismlight Music
Recorded by Amy Helm

The Blade
Contributions by Jamie Floyd
Published by Jamie Floyd Music
Recorded by Ashley Monroe

Traveller
Contributions by Jerry Salley
Published by Den What Music
Recorded by Chris Stapleton

Bound by the Blues
Contributions by Robert Johnson, Sonny Landreth
Published by MPCA King of Spades
Land Line Music
Recorded by Sonny Landreth

The Ruffian’s Misfortune
Contributions by Ray Wylie Hubbard
Published by Snake Farm Publishing
Recorded by Ray Wylie Hubbard

Down to Believing
Contributions by Allison Moorer
Published by Petybug Tunes
WBM Music Corp
Recorded by Allison Moorer

Watkins Family Hour
Contributions by Bob Dylan
Published by Rams Horn Music
Recorded by Watkins Family Hour

Django and Jimmie
Contributions by Bob Dylan
Published by Special Rider Music
Recorded by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard

Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes
Contributions by Bob Dylan, Marcus Mumford
Published by Special Rider Music
Recorded by The New Basement Tapes

The Firewatcher’s Daughter
Contributions by Seth Avett, Scott Avett
Published by First Big Snow Publishing
Nevoivmusic
Ramseur Family Fold Music
Recorded by Brandi Carlile

And the War Came
Contributions by Esme Patterson
Published by Kid Tiger
Recorded by Shakey Graves

The Way I’m Livin’
Contributions by Hayes Carll
Published by Hwy 87 Publishing
Recorded by Lee Ann Womack

Promise of a Brand New Day
Contributions by Bonnie Bramlett
Recorded by Ruthie Foster

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