Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Look Back at the 1991 CMA Awards

TV screen shot of President & Mrs George H W Bush with Reba McEntire at the 1991 CMA Awards.

The 1991 CMA Awards marked the 25th Anniversary of the awards which was a big enough reason to celebrate. However, a bigger reason came when noted country music fans President George H. W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush announced they would be attending the show.

President Bush was the first president to attend a music award show, so it made all the national news shows, and generated incredible amount of free publicity for the show and country music.

Hosted by Reba McEntire, the show is significant for another reason. It signaled a new era of country music an era that would propel country to a new huge level of popularity, and alter America and world’s perception of country music.

As you read on remember the show was only two hours in length, and all the awards were given during the show. Also Female Vocalist of Year Kathy Maetta and Lorrie Morgan did not get to perform while fellow nominee Patty Loveless only got to sing on a Vince Gill song. Think that is bad? No one of the vocal group or duo of the year nominees got to perform. Tanya Tucker won the Female Vocalist of the Year, but was not there to accept for perform because she was in the hospital having just given birth.

To open the show Ricky Skaggs, Steve Warnier, Vince Gill sang “That’s Where I’ll Be Found” with an all-star band featuring amongst others Mark O’ Connor, Carl Perkins, Bill Monroe, Marty Stuart, and Earl & Randy Scruggs.

President and Mrs Bush arrived after the first song, introduced by host Reba McEntire. Roy Rogers was the first artist to shake the President’s hand, Alan Jackson was the second. Country legend Roy Acuff sat next to Barbra while Crystal Gayle sat next to President Bush. Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Kenny Rogers, and George Strait sat in front of President who for security reasons was sat in the second row.

It should be noted the seating assignment of Crystal Gayle next to President Bush was intentional. Not only did President Bush love her music, she and her elder sister Loretta Lynn were major supporters of his. It also should be noted that the show as held at the Grand Ole Opry House where there are not seats, but pew benches, so people were literally rubbing elbows with each other.

12 minutes into the show the 2nd musical performance. Yes, I said 12 minutes. Today award shows probably would have had four performances in the first 12 minutes. George Strait performed “You Know Me Better That”. Strait was a good friend of President Bush who loved his music. Strait was also the two-time reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year.

In a fashion statement worthy of a country music act, The Kentucky Hunters accepted their Group of the Year award wearing their FFA (Future Farmers of American) jackets. I suspect several viewers that night were former or current members of the FFA.

Trisha Yearwood sang “She’s in Love the Boy”. Alan Jackson performed “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” Vince Gill & Patty Loveless did “Pocket Full of Gold”, and Clint Black & Roy Rogers sang “Hold on Partner”. Jackson and Gill were exploding on the scene in 1991, and both would go on to significant success. Black on the other hand would begin to decent from lofty success he had achieved in 1989 – 90.

Namoni and Wynonna Judd appeared to introduce the nominees for the Horizon Award which is given to the best new artist. Each of the nominees was given a performance slot which showed how committed the CMA at the time was to promoting new artists. Travis Tritt “Here’s a Quarter”, Doug Stone “In Different Light”, Pam Tillis “Put Yourself in My Place,” Mark Chesutt “Brother Jukebox” and Mary Chapin Carpenter “Down at the Twist and Shout,” were the performers. Tritt won the award, but Carpenter won the most praise for her performance. I, on the other hand, love “Brother Jukebox” and have always thought Chesnutt was an under appreciated artist though he would be nominated for the award again the next year and win.

Former pro football player and accomplished song writer Mike Reid – did a melody of songs he had written for others and Walk on Faith a song he had recorded in 1990 and became a #1 hit for him. He was followed by one Garth Brooks doing “Shameless.”

Dolly Parton simply walked out on stage with no introduction to perform “She’s an Eagle” which dedicated to Mrs. Bush. Reba McEntire finished the performances with “For My Broken Heart."

As he accepted the Entertainer of the Year Award Garth Brooks said “no body is anything without his heroes. I love my George’s – George Strait, George Jones - thank you guys.” (pause) “No offense Mr. President. Sorry.” Everyone roared with laughter including the Bushes.

Roy Acuff, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Ray Price, Barbara Mandrell, the Judds, Eddy Arnold, Anne Murray, Buck Owens, Kathy Maetta, Rickey Van Shelton, Larry Gatlin, Alabama, Roy Rogers and Sweethearts of the Rodeo were all in attendance that night. Still 9 and the 15 performance slots went to Brooks, Jackson, Gill, Yearwood, Tritt, Black, Stone, Chesnutt, and Carpenter all artists who charted the first country single in 1989 or later. The show opening number was a great way to get a lot of older artists like Ricky Skaggs and Bill Monroe involved, but it was obvious which generation the night belonged too. A new generation of country artists was about to take Country Music to heights it had never seen before.