Little Big Town and CMA Fest Artists Honor Music Educators

31 Instructors Receive Stipends at CMA Music Teachers of Excellence Dinner

Long before they signed their first record deals, many of music’s biggest acts’ careers started with a music teacher believing in their talent.

On Wednesday (April 26) at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, Little Big Town and the CMA Foundation hosted the second annual CMA Music Teachers of Excellence dinner to honor 31 music educators from across the nation for their dedication to their students and school communities. Each instructor was presented with a stipend from the foundation in recognition of their accomplishments.

Joining the teachers at each table were acts who have played the CMA Music Festival. Historically, those who perform at the annual event do so for free, with ticket proceeds from the nightly concerts supporting music education through the CMA Foundation. To date, the CMA has donated more than $17.5 million for music education.

Those in attendance at Wednesday’s event included Chase Bryant, Kristian Bush, Lindsay Ell, Seth Ennis, David Fanning, Chelsea Gill, Hunter Hayes, Olivia Lane, Dustin Lynch, Scotty McCreery, William Michael Morgan, Jerrod Niemann and Corey Smith.

Before the dinner, the CMA surprised Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet with a reunion with their former music teachers. Fairchild reconnected with her former church choral music director Billy Jack Green, who can recall discussing her talent with her parents before they discovered she could sing.

Westbrook was reunited with Sarah Glover, his former choral teacher, while Sweet got to reconnect with Julia Lansford, his choral director in college. Kimberly Schlapman’s teachers were unable to make the event, but they sent her letters.

Five-time CMA Vocal Group of the Year Little Big Town is surprised by their former music teachers on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee as part of the CMA Foundation's Music Teachers of Excellence event. Little Big Town was host of the gala, and the group's Karen Fairchild serves on the CMA Foundation Board of Directors. Dusty Draper/CMA

The night included video remarks from Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, who had the Nashville skyline illuminated in blue in honor of the event.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.