NASHVILLE — Darius Rucker became the first black singer to win new artist of the year at the Country Music Association Awards, joining Charley Pride as the only African-American to win a major individual award, while Taylor Swift won two awards, including album of the year.
Rucker, whose first country album, “Learn to Live,” sold more than 1 million copies, took the stage Wednesday night to wild cheers from the crowd and shouted, “What a year!”
“First of all, to the fans, thank y’all for accepting me,” the jubilant Rucker said. “And I think most importantly, to country radio, you took a chance on a pop singer from Charleston, S.C. Thank you so much for that!”
Swift’s thanked the fans for their support of “Fearless,” the top-selling album of the year. She also won video of the year for “Love Story.”
“You guys, this album is my diary and so to all the people who voted for me for this is a thank you for saying you love my diary because that’s the nicest compliment,” Swift said.
Lady Antebellum won two awards, for vocal group and single of the year. The win in vocal group ended Rascal Flatts’ six-year dominance in that category.
“Rascal Flatts, you’ve inspired us for such a long time,” Lady Antebellum singer Charles Kelly said. “Thank you so much for letting us be up here.”
Jamey Johnson, along with James Otto and Lee Thomas Miller, won song of the year for “In Color.”
“I never thought you guys would even let me come to things like this,” Johnson, the country outlaw with the scruffy beard, said jokingly as the audience at the Sommet Center laughed.
Swift was up for four CMA awards with Zac Brown, George Strait and Johnson. Brad Paisley, up for a leading seven awards, took male vocalist for the third straight year and won event of the year for the duet “Start a Band” with Keith Urban, nominated for five awards.
The entertainer of the year category has been fairly predictable the last five years, with Chesney winning four out of five times. But there seems to be plenty of chatter around nominee Swift, who can also end Carrie Underwood’s streak. Swift is competing with her for female vocalist of the year, an award that Underwood has won three straight years.
While there seemed to be a groundswell of support for Swift, longtime watchers wonder whether she’ll actually win entertainer of the year.
“Just watching the awards for so many years, I would be surprised if Taylor wins,” Vince Gill said as he made his way up the red carpet with Daughtry. “I know people are probably speculating it’s too early to win. But that’s the beauty of having the ability to vote. You can’t got wrong with any of them.”
Swift was a favourite with the fans, though, kicking off the show with a playful version of her song, “Forever&Again,” throwing a chair off a raised podium, sliding down a poll and dropping to her knees to the delighted cheers of the crowd.
It was the Zac Brown Band that set the room on fire, though, with their high-rev version of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” The fan favourite had the crowd screaming throughout the performance.
Co-hosts Paisley and Underwood opened the show with a few new songs of their own, skewering Kanye West for his interruption of Swift’s MTV Video Music Awards win — “Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be Kanye” — and lamenting the break up of Brooks&Dunn.
Later in the show, telecast on ABC, country novelty singer Little Jimmy Dickens interrupted Paisley after Underwood told him that “Welcome to the Future” was one her favourite videos.
“Excuse me sir, excuse me. I’ll let you finish later. Now, Brad Paisley, I know you had a nice video, but … Taylor Swift made the best video in her time. You go girl,” the diminutive Dickens said, goofing on West, who famously took the stage during Swift’s acceptance speech to say that Beyonce deserved Swift’s prize.
Brooks&Dunn, the best-selling duo who announced their split earlier this year, teamed with ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons on a scorching version of “Honky Tonk Stomp” in what was billed as their last performance at show.
But CMA voters weren’t moved by sentiment in the vocal duo of the year category, again awarding Sugarland with the honour over Brooks&Dunn.
“We don’t usually expect this but we obviously didn’t this year,” said Jennifer Nettles, half of the duo that extended an invitation to Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn to come up and speak to their fans, but they declined.
“Well, I will say thank you for what you’ve done for us, thank you for what you’ve done for country music,” Nettles said before leaving the stage.
Several tributes were paid to veterans with the show falling on Veterans Day. Underwood saluted service members and Randy Houser wore a POW/MIA hat among other nods.