2016: A Year in Country Music News

Awards, Tributes, Fundraisers and a New Home for Nashville

What with the plethora of award shows and No. 1 parties, virtually everybody who was anybody in the country music industry had at least one trophy to brandish at some time during the year.

But none of this manufactured enthusiasm could lessen the real sadness that enveloped Music Row when such titans as Merle Haggard, Sonny James and Ralph Stanley died. James and Stanley had carried the country music torch from the end of World War deep into the Internet Age. And Haggard was simply one of the most forceful recording acts, songwriters and musical influences to come along since country music first found a name for itself.

Besides Haggard and James, two fellow Country Music Hall of Fame members — Bonnie Brown (of the Browns) and Jean Shepard — also exited the stage.

Continued chart-topping album sales and armloads of new awards demonstrated that Chris Stapleton was no CMA Awards-show flash in the pan. His debut album, Traveller, was approaching the 2-million sales mark as 2016 coasted to an end. Garth Brooks sold out New York’s Yankee Stadium twice, as if to demonstrate the crown he first donned in the early ’90 is still firmly in place.

The divine Dolly Parton rounded out her year of touring, movie-making and generally spreading sunshine by hosting a telethon to raise money for the homefolks in and around Gatlinburg, Tennessee, who’d lost their homes and businesses in a forest fire.

And shortly after ABC announced in May that the Nashville TV series was being cancelled, CMT announced plans to bring the show to a new home for a fifth season scheduled to officially begin on Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Here are some other country-related events for which 2016 will be remembered:

January
Nielsen’s year-end sales report for 2015 reveals country music albums constituted only 8.5 per cent of total album sales in the U.S. Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt and Chris Stapleton were the year’s bestselling country artists.

February
Rhonda Vincent voted entertainer of the year by Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music of America. … Chris Janson, Cam, Kelsea Ballerini, Brothers Osborne and Old Dominion perform at Country Radio Seminar’s New Faces Show. … Chris Stapleton and Little Big Town are top country Grammy-winners. … Country Music Hall of Fame member Sonny James died Feb. 22 at age 87.

March
Stars pay tribute to iconic songwriter in “The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson” concert at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. … Following the death of Joey Feek on March 4, Joey + Rory’s Hymns spends two consecutive weeks at top of Billboard’s country albums chart. … Country Music Association announces that native North Carolinians Fred Foster, Charlie Daniels and Randy Travis will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

April
Jason Aldean named entertainer of the year at Academy of Country Music Awards, with Miranda Lambert taking female vocalist honors and Chris Stapleton copping both male and new male vocalist prizes, as well as the album of the year trophy for Traveller. … Country Music Hall of Fame member Merle Haggard’s death on April 6, his 79th birthday, reverberates throughout the country music industry, inspiring spate of tributes and stories. … Keith Urban and Vince Gill host “All for the Hall” fundraiser in Nashville for Country Music Hall of Fame with guest performers Luke Bryan, Sam Hunt, Emmylou Harris, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Janson, Maddie & Tae, Maren Morris, Tracy Lawrence and Peter Frampton.

May
ABC-TV confirms it will cancel the series Nashville at the end of its fourth season.

June
CMT announces it has picked up the Nashville series and will present its fifth season. … Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw and Blake Shelton are top winners at CMT Music Awards. … Final show of the 2016 CMA Music Festival at Nissan Stadium on June 12 honors the 50 victims killed and 53 wounded earlier that day at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. … The Dixie Chicks return to perform at Madison Square Garden after 10-year absence from that venue. … Nashville actors Clare Bowen, Chris Carmack, Charles Esten, Sam Palladio and Jonathan Jackson (all of whom are also singers and songwriters) do concert tour of the United Kingdom.

July
Garth Brooks headlines two sold-out shows at Yankee Stadium July 8 and 9. … Dierks Bentley’s dog Jake, who appeared regularly in Bentley’s early music videos and publicity, dies… Rocker Steven Tyler tops Billboard’s country albums chart with We’re All Somebody From Somewhere. … Bonnie Brown, of the singing trio, the Browns, died July 16 at age 77.

August
Jason Aldean wins Triple Crown award at Academy of Country Music’s Honors show, which is televised for first time. Hosted by Lady Antebellum, the event included performances by Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, The Band Perry and a cluster of rising stars.

September
Annual Farm Aid concert held in Bristow, Virginia. … Jason Isbell wins album and song of the year honors at the Americana Awards, and Chris Stapleton is proclaimed artist of the year… Vince Gill, James Taylor, Joe Walsh, Chris Stapleton and Kacey Musgraves perform at “All for the Hall” concert in Los Angeles to benefit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. … Earls of Leicester win entertainer of the year prize at International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, while Flatt Lonesome takes vocal group, song and album of the year trophies. … Country Music Hall of Fame member Jean Shepard died Sept. 25 at age 82.

October
The 2016 CMT Artists of the Year special honors Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett its artists of the year, with Kelsea Ballerini tapped as breakout artist and Shania Twain as artist of a lifetime. … Lady Gaga kicks off her “Dive Bar” tour at Nashville’s 5 Spot saloon. … Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame inducts Bob Morrison, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Aaron Barker and the late Townes Van Zandt. … Randy Travis surprises audience by singing at the Medallion ceremony at which he, Charlie Daniels and Fred Foster are inducted as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. … Garth Brooks & the G-Men, Don Felder, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Reed, the Sigma Sound Studio rhythm section, Lou Bradley, Mark Miller, Allen Reynolds, Ron “Snake” Reynolds and Joe Tarsia inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame. … SESAC crowns Josh Hoge songwriter of the year and “Somewhere on a Beach” top song.

November
Ricky Skaggs, Chris Stapleton and Ashley Gorley are primary winners at ASCAP Awards. … BMI presents President’s Award to Kenny Chesney, names Ross Copperman songwriter of the year and “Die a Happy Man” song of the year. … Performance by Dixie Chicks and Beyoncé grabs national headlines at CMA Awards show where Garth Brooks takes entertainer of the year honor. … Grand Ole Opry announces Crystal Gayle will become its newest member. … Tim McGraw wins American Music Award for favorite country song, “Humble and Kind.’ …Ty Herndon releases the album House on Fire, his first since coming out as gay. … Charlie Daniels celebrates his 80th birthday with another Volunteer Jam in Nashville with guests Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Randy Travis, Kid Rock, Travis Tritt, Larry the Cable Guy and 3 Doors Down.

December
Granger Smith hospitalized after fall from stage at New Jersey venue. … Dolly Parton hosts “Smoky Mountain Rise” telethon and raised more than $9 million for victims of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, forest fire.

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