Performances by Brooks & Dunn, Reba McEntire, Jon Pardi and Maren Morris highlighted BMI’s Country Awards ceremonies Tuesday night (Nov. 7) as the performance rights organization saluted its top songs, songwriters and music publishers of 2017.
As customary, the celebration was held in the brightly decorated fifth-floor parking area at BMI’s Music Row headquarters.
Singled out for special honors were songwriter Bob DiPiero and recording artist, songwriter and philanthropist Keith Urban.
Ross Copperman was proclaimed BMI’s songwriter of the year, “H.O.L.Y” the most popular song and Sony ATV the top publisher.
Ross Copperman and Bob DiPiero
Although fans lined the street outside BMI hoping to glimpse arriving stars, this year the red carpet parade was moved indoors, and the cocktail party, which formerly had been held in BMI’s cavernous entry hall, was switched upstairs to the awards area.
Among the famous faces spotted within the hundreds of celebrants were singer-songwriter Patty Smyth and her husband, former tennis great John McEnroe, Tim McGraw, Alabama’s Randy Owen, Mac Davis, Chris Young, Thomas Rhett, Luke Bryan, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Steve Cropper, Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, John Oates of Hall & Oates and Randy Travis.
Because DiPiero was being honored with the Icon award, BMI’s highest prize, snippets of his songs, along with video testimonials to his influence, played throughout the evening, beginning with a sampling of his hits that included “American Made,” “Blue Clear Sky,” “Church on Cumberland Road,” “Money in the Bank,” “Walking Away a Winner,” “Wink” and “Southern Voice.”
Mike O’Neill, BMI’s president and CEO, shared hosting duties with fellow BMI executives Jody Williams, Bradley Collins and Leslie Roberts.
“We’re in the company of music legends,” O’Neill told the crowd. “[They’re] writing the songs that are igniting the world.” He announced that BMI had, for the first time within a single year, distributed $1 billion in performance royalties to its songwriters and publishers.
He then acknowledged previous Icon winners who were seated around the room, specifically Davis, Oates, Braddock and Dean Dillon.
The next order of business was presenting Urban BMI’s Champion award for his charitable work, especially his advocacy for music education through such groups as the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Grammy Foundation and the Mr. Holland’s Opus Fund.
Urban’s “All for the Hall” all-star concerts, O’Neill said, have netted the Country Music Hall of Fame nearly $6 million.
Mike Dungan, who heads Urban’s record label, said via video that he’s referred to him many times as “the perfect human,” owing to his open-heartedness and concern for others. “He’s very thankful for everyone around him,” Dungan added.
At this point, Maren Morris came to the stage with a group of students from Nashville School of the Arts to voice her admiration for Urban and serenade him with a cover of his first No. 1 hit, “But for the Grace of God.” All the students who backed Morris with guitars played instruments that Urban had donated to their school. Their performance sparked a standing ovation.
“This is really a beautiful honor,” Urban said when he came forward to accept his award. “I’m very far from being a perfect human being. I’ve been flawed.” He said he had been in and out of “rehab” three times and had always been buoyed up by the support of friends.
“When I was 10, our family’s house burned down,” he continued. “We were members of a country music club, and they were the first to step up and help.” That event, he indicated, had inspired him to help others.
Music has been his passion, he said. Even if he hadn’t reached his current level of achievement, he asserted, he would be playing music on the streets. Then, alluding to the lyrics of the song Morris had just sung, he told the applauding crowd, “I’ve been blessed by the gift of your love.”
After that, the focus returned to DiPiero, with Jon Pardi taking the stage to sing a high-octane version of “Daddy’s Money,” the 1996 Ricochet chart-topper DiPiero co-wrote with Mark D. Sanders and Steve Seskin.
Still crackling with the good-ol’-boy mischief and energy that first made them famous, Brooks & Dunn next commanded the spotlight. With Dunn handling the lead vocals and Brooks wailing away on harmonica, they romped through DiPiero and Bart Allmand’s 2003 rave-up, “You Can’t Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl.”
Brooks & Dunn
Noting that DiPiero has been a BMI member since 1980, O’Neill recited a few of the more impressive statistics he had compiled since then — more than 1,000 of his songs recorded and more than 50 million radio plays of his songs (an amount, O’Neill pointed out, that exceeds 250 years of air time.)
Reba McEntire, who in 1980 charted DiPiero’s first song, “I Can See Forever in Your Eyes,” was the last to sing his praises. Roaming the stage and inciting spontaneous applause, she sang “Till You Love Me,” her 1994-95 hit that DiPiero co-penned with Gary Burr.
DiPiero delivered his acceptance remarks with the ease and flair of a stand-up comic. A refuge from Youngstown, Ohio, where he played guitar in a rock band, DiPiero said, “I moved to Nashville because I knew my car wouldn’t make it to L.A.”
His subsequent achievements were “all god things,” he said, rather than the fulfillment of any carefully laid plans.
In Nashville, he initially supported himself by teaching guitar lessons. Once, he recalled, a 60-some-year-old guy came to him wanting to learn to play bass. To illustrate the kind of music he wanted to play, he gave DiPiero a cassette tape of country songs. That act turned DiPiero’s head in a new musical direction. Another “god thing.”
After landing his first publishing contract with Combine Music, DiPiero discovered the virtues of co-writing, a habit, he said, he’s pushed to the limits. “I think I’ve even written with a couple of the servers here,” he cracked.
Following the announcement of songwriter and song of the year winners, the crowd was ushered downstairs to forage on coffee, liqueurs and fancy desserts, while a DJ pumped out country-flavored dance beats.
Here is the complete list of the evening’s song winners, with only BMI-affiliated songwriters cited:
busbee, Maren Morris
“A Guy With a Girl”
“A Little More Summertime”
Tony Martin, Wendell Mobley
“American Country Love Song”
“Break On Me”
“Dirt On My Boots”
Rhett Akins, Jesse Frasure
Sarah Buxton, Jesse Frasure
“From the Ground Up”
busbee, Nate Cyphert
“Head Over Boots”
Luke Laird, Jon Pardi
“How I’ll Always Be”
Chris Janson, Jamie Paulin
“Humble and Kind”
Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”
Rhett Akins, Luke Bryan, Dallas Davidson
“I Know Somebody”
Rhett Akins, Ross Copperman
“If the Boot Fits”
“It All Started With a Beer”
“It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To”
“Kill A Word”
Eric Church, Luke Dick, Jeff Hyde
“Lights Come On”
Tyler Hubbard, Brian Kelley, Brad Warren, Brett Warren
“Livin’ the Dream”
Tom Douglas, Luke Laird
Big Kenny, Tim McGraw
“May We All”
“Middle of a Memory”
busbee, Maren Morris
“Nobody to Blame”
Barry Bales, Ronnie Bowman
Kenny Chesney, Ross Copperman
Eric Church, Jeff Hyde
“Road Less Traveled”
Lauren Alaina, Jesse Frasure
Casey Beathard, Tucker Beathard
“Running For You”
Blair Daly, Kip Moore, Troy Verges
“Setting the World on Fire”
“Sleep Without You”
“Sober Saturday Night”
Brad Warren, Brett Warren, Chris Young
“Somewhere On a Beach”
“Star of the Show”
Rhett Akins, Thomas Rhett
“Think a Little Less”
Barry Dean, Thomas Rhett
“Think of You”
“Wanna Be That Song”
Ross Copperman, Brett Eldredge
“You Look Like I Need a Drink”
Rodney Clawson, Natalie Hemby
“You Should Be Here”