Randy Travis, Top Songwriters Honored by ASCAP

Garth Brooks, Carrie Underwood Sing to the Country Legend

From performers such as Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood, to honorees like Randy Travis and songwriter Hillary Lindsey, the ASCAP Country Music Awards honored the writers and publishers of its most-played songs of the past year on Monday evening (Nov. 10) at Nashville’s Renaissance Hotel.

ASCAP president and board chairman Paul Williams (shown above with Brooks, Underwood and Travis) presided over the event. Also highlighting the performing rights organization’s annual gala were appearances from Kelsea Ballerini, Dan + Shay, and Little Big Town.

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Apart from the honorees for individual songs, the major award winners were Ashley Gorley, who copped his seventh ASCAP songwriter of the year trophy; Randy Travis, Founders Award; Hillary Lindsey, Global Impact Award; Brothers Osborne, Vanguard Award; Old Dominion’s Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen, songwriter-artists of the year; “One Number Away,” co-written by Steven Battey, song of the year; and Warner Chappell Music, publisher of the year.

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Bright though the lights were inside the hotel, it was an increasingly dreary and menacing evening outside. A cold, insistent rain had set in well before show time and forecasters were promising the season’s first sifting of snow. These ominous notes led sizable portions of the crowd to exit the event early.

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Still, it was a warm and glittery affair. First there was the welcoming cocktail party, soon followed by the lavish, wine accompanied dinner of herb-grilled filet and pan-seared snapper with roasted cipollini onions, roast root vegetables and Asiago mashed potatoes. Multiple dessert trays delivered to each table radiated with samplings of apple stack cake, blackberry mousse tartlets, bourbon chocolate tarts, pecan pie squares and assorted macarons.

The opening music of the evening came from Dan + Shay, who, with songwriter Jordan Reynolds, sang the duo’s by-now-classic “Tequila.”

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Paul Williams, who is also an Oscar-winning songwriter, greeted the guests and, as is his custom, had glowing praise for his fellow composers. “You tell the truth and you create a work of art with that,” he said.

Williams also memorialized ASCAP’s long-time goodwill ambassador, Ralph Murphy, who died in May. “He was so much for so many,” Williams proclaimed. “Ralph’s legacy will always live on at ASCAP.”

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Kelsea Ballerini came forward to present Hillary Lindsey to the audience for her Global Impact prize. As a young and aspiring songwriter herself, Ballerini said she took Lindsey as a role model and now counts her a friend. (Lindsey was a co-writer of Ballerini’s fourth No. 1 single, “Legends.”)

Lindsey’s award honored her songwriting success in multiple genres and formats, from records to movies. Among those who’ve recorded her songs are Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Jon Bon Jovi, Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves. She’s also scored two Grammys and 22 No. 1 singles.

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Little Big Town came up to sing one of these chart-toppers, “Girl Crush,” which Lindsey co-wrote with Liz Rose and Lori McKenna and which gave Little Big Town a 13-week No. 1

“Music is everything I always remembered,” Lindsey told the crowd that had just given her a standing ovation. She said her co-writing provided her “some of the best therapy sessions I’ve ever sat in.” She concluded with, “Thank God for the gift of music” and left the stage with the audience again rising in salute.

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Williams returned to the stage to laud Randy Travis for his “traditional country music that spoke to everyone.” He introduced Carrie Underwood, who said she had been so drawn to Travis’ music and presence that she cried when she finally met him.

“He’s the nicest person in the world,” she added. Then she stood fixed at the microphone and, accompanied only by an acoustic guitarist, delivered a heart-wrenching cover of his 1989 hit, “Promises,” which she called her favorite Travis song.

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Garth Brooks was up next to ring out a resounding “Forever and Ever, Amen,” Travis’ 1987 Grammy winner. Backed by a band and background vocalists, Brooks was spellbinding as he paced the stage and leaned into the lyrics.

First giving thanks to George Strait and Ricky Skaggs for influencing him and carrying the country music torch, Brooks then added, “It’s my belief that this guy [Travis] saved country music single-handedly. And I tell you I wouldn’t be standing here without Randy Travis.”

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Standing straight and exhibiting his broad grin, Travis, who still suffers from the stroke that nearly killed him, held hands with his wife Mary, who accepted the award on his behalf.

Pop and R&B songwriter Steven Battey scored his first country hit this past year as co-writer and co-producer of Luke Combs’ “One Number Away.” This led to his accepting the song of the year award, which he followed with a performance of it.

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Others making appearances include Dierks Bentley, actors Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, and Brett Young,

Here is a complete list of winners.

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