The country singer-songwriter took home three of the four Grammy Awards in the country categories, and he performed with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient and 13-time Grammy winner Emmylou Harris. They took the stage together to pay tribute to everyone the music world lost in 2017, including some of country’s biggest losses like Glen Campbell, Mel Tillis, Troy Gentry and Don Williams. Just the two of them, armed only with their acoustic guitars and each other, they played Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” off his 1994 album of the same name.
Even more powerful than that, though, was the moving country performance from Eric Church, Maren Morris and Brothers Osborne. They were just a few of the country artists who had been on the Route 91 Harvest festival stage in Las Vegas where 58 people were killed and 489 were injured in the worst mass shooting in American history. They came together at the Grammys to pay tribute to the fans who died in the tragic 2017 incident and as a result of the bomb that was detonated outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England.
“On October 1, all of country music was reminded — in the most tragic way — of the connection we share with our fans, and of the healing power that music will always provide,” Church said. Morris added that they wanted to come together “to honor the memory of the beautiful music-loving souls so cruelly taken from us.”
They did so with “Tears in Heaven,” Eric Clapton’s 1991 Grammy-winning song that many have speculated was about his son Conor, his four-year-old son who died when he fell from a New York apartment in 1991.
In another country performance, Little Big Town took to the rooftop to harmonize on their Grammy-winning “Better Man” earlier in the show. Their stage built on the stage was a makeshift roof with the New York City skyline backing the band.
With James Corden hosting the show live from New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the live broadcast featured performances and tributes from every genre. One of the best was Lady Gaga’s. After singing a few verses of the title track of her album Joanne, she wove a few verses from her Grammy-nominated “Million Reasons” song into her time on stage. Sitting at a grand piano covered with white angel wings, she sang the 2016 ballad that she’d written with Mark Ronson and one of Nashville’s most prolific country hitmakers, Hillary Lindsey. Backed by a sideman on acoustic guitar, four violinists and two background vocalists, Lady Gaga’s performance was a major highlight of the show.
Two hours into the show, the Grammy Award for country album was announced. The criteria for the category is that the album must contain at least 51 percent playing time of new country recordings. The nominated albums were Kenny Chesney’s Cosmic Hallelujah, Lady Antebellum’s Heart Break, Little Big Town’s The Breaker, Thomas Rhett’s Life Changes, and Stapleton’s From a Room: Volume 1.
The winner — From a Room: Volume 1 — meant that Stapleton had won the most country Grammy Awards of the night, including his two from the pre-telecast show.
“This is a wonderful room to be in tonight. We’re so proud. We always try to make great records, as good as we can, and I guess this is a testament to that. It’s a real joy to get to make music,” Stapleton said before turning the mic over to his producer Dave Cobb, who simply thanked Stapleton, the band, God, and his family.
Before the official television broadcast started, the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony announced the winners in more than 70 categories, including a handful of country music categories that came near the very end of the live stream. First up was the Grammy for country solo performance, which went to Chris Stapleton for his song “Either Way.”
“Sorry I’m out of breath. I just ran six miles. I literally walked in the door as they read the last one,” a hatless Stapleton laughed. “So I’m so happy that I made it. This is amazing, this is always an amazing honor to be here and get to be a part of this. This song is just me and an acoustic guitar. That’s all it is. So for that to win is a beautiful thing to me,” he said before thanking the Recording Academy and anyone who had ever bought his record. “Either Way” was originally recorded by Lee Ann Womack for her 2008 album Call Me Crazy.
The Grammy for country duo/group performance went to Little Big Town for “Better Man.” They could not be at the Premiere Ceremony to accept the award.
The country song Grammy — also known as the songwriter’s award — went to Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson, the songwriters of Stapleton’s “Broken Halos.”
“To win this with my good friend Mike Henderson — I was in a bluegrass band with him for many years — and to win this with him means so, so much to me. I’ve written lots and lots of songs, but a lot with him. I spent a lot of time with him in a van, going down the road, trying to learn how to do something proper,” Stapleton said.
Another country star being celebrated at the Grammys was Reba. She won a Grammy during the Premiere Ceremony, too, but this time she wasn’t in a country category. She won for the best roots gospel album for her Sing It Now: Songs Of Faith & Hope. She was quick to thank everyone at her country label, and also Bill Hearn at Capitol Christian Music Group.
“Bill Hearn’s not with us to be here to celebrate this today. I know he’s looking down on us,” she said of Hearn, 58, who died in December 2017. “Our job in the entertainment business is to heal hearts, and that’s what God put me on this earth for. I know it is. Music is so healing. I love my job, and I’m so grateful to get to do it. I’m gonna give this back to God.”
The winners in the Americana, bluegrass, folk and American roots categories included Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the Infamous Stringdusters, Rhonda Vincent and the Rage, Alabama Shakes and Aimee Mann.
Zac Brown was one of the presenters during the Premiere Ceremony in the American Roots, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Folk, Regional Roots, Reggae, World Music and Children’s categories.
The Premiere Ceremony — held at New York’s Theater at Madison Square Garden — was hosted by former David Letterman musical director Paul Shaffer.