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History was made at the Country Music Awards in Nashville

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

History was made last night at the Country Music Awards in Nashville, Tenn. And one of the big winners was a song written more than 30 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAST CAR")

LUKE COMBS: (Singing) You got a fast car. And I want a ticket to anywhere. Maybe we make a deal. Maybe together we can get somewhere. Any place is better.

MARTÍNEZ: Luke Combs' cover of Tracy Chapman's 1988 hit "Fast Car" took home Single of the Year, and Chapman got Song of the Year, making her the first Black songwriter win in that category. Here to tell us about some of the highlights from country's biggest night is Jewly Hight. She covers music for NPR and Nashville Public Radio. So, Jewly, some might be surprised to hear that Tracy Chapman got an award for a song that was 35 years old. Tell us more about that.

JEWLY HIGHT, BYLINE: That is true. Yeah. I mean, Luke Combs decided to rerecord the song that Tracy Chapman made famous decades ago, probably because it is such a compelling telling of a story of not having much, feeling trapped in a town, plotting to get out. If you're wondering, Tracy Chapman was not present for the award show last night because she famously is out of the spotlight by her choice. And I think it's interesting. There is a tradition of covers of pop or rock or folk hits later becoming country hits, but there has not been a tradition of country industry awards being given to Black songwriters. So that is a huge first indeed.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. Tracy's version was always the best anyway, so there you go with that.

HIGHT: (Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So let's get into some of the big winners. What were the standouts from last night?

HIGHT: Yeah. The surprise was that Morgan Wallen, who had an album that was dominant in all genres, not only country, did not win Album of the Year or Entertainer of the Year. But Lainey Wilson, this was just her second year of getting CMA award nominations, and she won two of the marquee awards - Album of the Year for "Bell Bottom Country" and Entertainer of the Year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WILDFLOWERS AND WILD HORSES")

LAINEY WILSON: (Singing) Yeah, my kind of crazy's still running its courses with wildflowers and wild horses.

HIGHT: And that album actually peaked at No. 9 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, so not nearly as commercially dominant as Morgan Wallen's. And it's also really rare for an artist to go from winning New Artist of the Year, as Lainey Wilson did just last year, to entertainer this year. But this year's new artist winner was Jelly Roll.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEED A FAVOR")

JELLY ROLL: (Singing) I only talk to God when I need a favor. And I only pray when I ain't got a prayer.

HIGHT: Also quite the story because he has had kind of a belated breakthrough for a long, long time. He was self releasing or releasing through really tiny labels his mixtapes of working class, white southern rap. And just before the age of 40, he signed with a country label. He started leaning into his redemption story and into gospel and arena rock elements. And he mentioned that his story is remarkable during his acceptance speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JELLY ROLL: There is something poetic about a 39-year-old man winning New Artist of the Year. I don't know where you're at in your life or what you're going through, but I want to tell you to keep going, baby. I want to tell you success is on the other side of it. I want to tell you it's going to be OK.

MARTÍNEZ: And quickly, Morgan Wallen - right? - empty handed.

HIGHT: Yeah. That is very, very notable that he did not win Entertainer of the Year or Album of the Year for a very, very commercially dominant album.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Jewly Hight from Nashville Public Radio. Thanks a lot, Jewly.

HIGHT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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