Lainey Wilson was the big winner at the 2023 CMA Awards, which were held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday (Nov 8). Wilson won in five categories, which ties the one-year record, first set by Johnny Cash in 1969 and later matched by Vince Gill (1993) and Alan Jackson (2002). This also sets a new, one-year record for a female artist. Alison Krauss, Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert each won in four categories in one night.
Just one year after winning new artist of the year, Wilson won entertainer of the year. That ties Garth Brooks’ quick sprint from the horizon award (as new artist of the year was then called) in 1990 to his first entertainer of the year award in 1991. No other artist in CMA history has made this leap that quickly. Just the fact that a woman has won entertainer of the year is newsworthy. Wilson is the first woman to prevail in that top category since Taylor Swift in 2011.
Wilson also won album of the year, female vocalist of the year and two awards shared with HARDY – musical event of the year and music video of the year. This was the second year in a row that Wilson won female vocalist of the year. She’s the first artist to win consecutive awards in that category since Miranda Lambert won six in a row from 2010-15.
And Wilson’s Bell Bottom Country won album of the year. The album peaked at No. 9 on Top Country Albums. It’s just the fourth album that didn’t reach the top five on that chart to win this award. The three previous ones that didn’t were Merle Haggard’s Let Me Tell You About a Song (1972, No. 7), Anne Murray’s A Little Good News (1984, No. 9) and Patty Loveless’ When Fallen Angels Fly (1995, No. 8). (Of course, it’s possible the album will surpass its original No. 9 peak in the wake of the awards. Stay tuned.)
Luke Combs won single of the year for his hit remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car.” The smash topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart for four weeks. In addition, “Fast Car” logged eight weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s just the fifth CMA single of the year winner to reach No. 1 or No. 2 on the all-genre Hot 100. It follows Jeannie C. Riley’s “Harper Valley P.T.A.” (1968, No. 1), Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue” (1969, No. 2), Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” (1975, No. 1) and Lady A’s “Need You Now” (2010, No. 2).
“Fast Car” also won song of the year for its songwriter, Tracy Chapman (who was not in attendance). Chapman’s original version of “Fast Car” reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 in 1988. It’s the third CMA song of the year winner that was widely known before the version that prompted the CMA to award the song. “Always on My Mind” won in both 1982 and 1983, tied to Willie Nelson’s hit version, but many knew the song from previous versions by Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. “The Wind Beneath My Wings, which won in 1984, was known for other versions by Sheena Easton and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
“Fast Car” is the first song written by a solitary writer to win song of the year since Taylor Swift’s “Better Man” took the award six years ago. Four other CMA song of the year winners in this century were written by solitary writers – “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2002, Alan Jackson), “Stay” (2008, Jennifer Nettles), “If I Die Young” (2011, Kimberly Perry) and “Humble and Kind” (2016, Lori McKenna).
Chapman is the first Black songwriter to win for song of the year, and joins a short list of Black CMA winners. Charley Pride won entertainer of the year and male vocalist of the year in 1971 and repeated in the latter category in 1972. Darius Rucker won new artist of the year in 2009. Jimmie Allen won in that same category in 2021. (We might have seen two Black acts win CMA Awards for the first time this year. The highly-regarded The War and Treaty were nominated for vocal duo of the year, but Brothers Osborne prevailed again.)
Jelly Roll won new artist of the year. Jelly Roll, 38, is the second-oldest solo artist to win in this category (or its predecessor category, the horizon award). Darius Rucker was 43 when he won in 2009. Other solo artists who were 35 plus when they won are Ricky Van Shelton (36 in 1988), Suzy Bogguss (35 in 1992), Chris Stapleton (37 in 2015), Ashley McBryde (36 in 2019) and Jimmie Allen (36 in 2021).
Jelly Roll said he was 39 in his acceptance speech, which he delivered with the zeal of an evangelical preacher. It’s unusual in this youth-focused business for an artist to make himself out to be older than he actually is. Jelly Roll turns 39 next month.
Jelly Roll opened the telecast with his breakthrough smash “Need a Favor,” on which he was backed by Wynonna. Wynonna won the horizon award, the forerunner of new artist of the year, in 1984 with her mother Naomi as The Judds.
Brothers Osborne won vocal duo of the year for the sixth time. Only two other duos in CMA history have won six or more awards in this category. Brooks & Dunn lead with 14 wins. The Judds won seven times (counting three wins in the group category). The Judds’ seven wins were consecutive. Brooks & Dunn’s long streak was interrupted in 2000 by Montgomery Gentry. Brothers Osborne’s run was interrupted in 2017-18 by Dan + Shay.
Old Dominion won vocal group of the year for the sixth year in a row. Old Dominion is just the fourth group to win six years in a row in this category. They follow The Statler Brothers (1972-77), Rascal Flatts (2003-08) and Little Big Town (2012-17). The Statlers won nine times total, more than any other group in the history of the category.
Fiddler Jenee Fleenor won musician of the year for the fifth year in a row. That’s the longest winning streak in that category since guitarist Mac McAnally won eight years in a row (2008-15). With Fleenor’s win, steel guitarist Paul Franklin lost in the category for the 31st time. That’s not a typo – he has been nominated, and lost, in the category 31 times.