Kelsea Ballerini, Eric Church, Toby Keith, Reba McEntire, Dolly Parton, George Strait and CMT’s Nashville are among the entities being honored with special awards from the Academy of Country Music.
The honorees reflect the off-camera winners from the 52nd annual ACM Awards, and they will be recognized for their specific achievements during the 11th annual ACM Honors ceremony at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Aug. 23. The recipients of the industry and studio recording awards will be revealed at a later date.
Strait will receive the new Cliffie Stone Icon award, which honors individuals whose careers have significantly contributed to the advancement of country music in popular culture. The honor was previously titled the Cliffie Stone Pioneer award, and past recipients include Alabama, Garth Brooks and Glen Campbell.
With more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, Strait is among the top-selling artists of all time, and he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2013, he extended his record contract with MCA Nashville for five more albums with his latest releases being 2015’s Cold Beer Conversation and 2016’s Strait Out Of The Box: Part 2. Although he retired from touring following 2014’s Cowboy Rides Away tour, he will return to Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena for his 2 Nights of Number 1s shows on Sept. 1-2.
The Crystal Milestone award has been renamed the Gene Weed Special Achievement award, which will go to Kelsea Ballerini. The honor is presented to a country act or industry leader for their unprecedented achievements during the preceding calendar year. Ballerini’s first three singles “Love Me Like You Mean It,” “Dibs” and “Peter Pan” are No. 1 hits. She and Maren Morris represented country in the all-genre Best New Artist category at the 59th annual Grammy Awards. Having staged her first national headlining tour, Ballerini is currently recording a new album and on the road with Lady Antebellum’s You Look Good Tour. Previous recipients for the ACM honor include Jason Aldean, Little Big Town, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
Eric Church will be honored with the Merle Haggard Spirit award. The honor is presented to a singer-songwriter who embodies the legacy of the late country icon with authentic storytelling and genuine performances. Miranda Lambert was the inaugural recipient of this award in 2016.
CMT’s Nashville will receive the Tex Ritter Film award, which recognizes a television movie, series or feature film released during the preceding calendar year that prominently features country music. Now in its fifth season, the hour-long drama has been seen in 225 territories worldwide. The show has been credited as part of the recent tourism boom in the city of Nashville, which has seen an amazing increase in visitors over the past five years. The CMT midseason premiere is Thursday (June 1) at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Dolly Parton will receive the ACM Lifting Lives Gary Haber award, which recognizes artists and industry figures for their philanthropic endeavors. Since its 1995 inception, Parton’s Imagination Library non-profit has provided 100 million books to children in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Her Smoky Mountains Rise telethon helped raise more than $10 million for those affected by the East Tennessee wildfires that devastated the area in November 2016.
The 2017 Poet’s award honorees are Toby Keith, Willie Nelson and the late Shel Silverstein for their longstanding musical contributions throughout their respective careers.
Keith is the writer and co-writer behind many of his songs including “How Do You Like Me Now,” “Beer for My Horses,” “I Love This Bar,” “American Soldier” and his 1993 breakout hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015.
Nelson is considered one of the genre’s most prolific music makers. Before scoring his first No. 1 in 1971 with his version of Fred Rose’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” Nelson broke out as a songwriter behind hits performed by Patsy Cline, Ray Price and others. He wrote “Crazy,” “Funny How Time Slips Away” and “Night Life” within one week. To date, Nelson has written more than 2,500 songs, recorded more than 250 albums and appeared in more than 25 films.
Known internationally as a beloved children’s book author, offbeat poet and illustrator, Silverstein will be recognized posthumously for his contributions to country music, which include the Johnny Cash classic “A Boy Named Sue,” Bobby Bare’s “Marie Laveau” and Loretta Lynn’s “One’s On the Way.” Previous Poet’s award recipients include Bobby Braddock, Kris Kristofferson, Roger Miller, Jimmy Webb and Hank Williams.
The Mae Boren Axton Service Award will be presented to Reba McEntire and radio veteran Bob Kingsley. The honor recognizes years of service and dedication to the ACM.
As previously announced, Lori McKenna is the first female recipient of the ACM’s songwriter of the year award. Her more recent songwriting credits include Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind,” Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” and “Your Side of the Bed.” She also received three Grammy nominations with her 2016 album The Bird & the Rifle.