Country music's changing of the guard never seemed as clearly defined as it did after last night's Country Music Association Awards. The old guard was totally shut out as young blood like George Strait, Reba McEntire, the Judds and Ricky Skaggs swept all the major awards with a sound and an esthetic rooted in the rich traditions of bluegrass, hard country and honky-tonk music. Even Alabama, the best selling country act over the past five years, was shut out after having won a bushel of CMA awards, including Entertainer of the Year the past three years.
The awards were telecast from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
Alabama, which has sales of more than 20 million albums to console it, saw its Entertainer of the Year award go to Skaggs, who used to perform locally with the Country Gentlemen and who has been a leading figure in the movement championing what has come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine (after Bill Monroe) and its authentic, principled bluegrass and country inspirations with little connection to rock 'n' roll and few concessions to pop. Skaggs' band also won the instrumental group award.
"It looks awful good out there, but this looks better," said Skaggs, choking back sobs. His career dates back to 1971, when he dropped out of high school to become a performer.
George Strait, the handsome young Texan who has been tearing up the country charts for the last three years, signaled his arrival as a superstar by taking the male vocal and album awards for "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?" The Judds, the entrancing mother-daughter duo, also won two awards, for vocal group and for best single ("Why Not Me").
"I've been given the opportunity to fulfil every dream I've ever had," said Wynonna Judd. "We are just plain eat up with our music," added her mother, Naomi.
McEntire, the big-voiced Louisiana singer who is being compared to Patsy Cline, though her sound is still decidedly hard country rather than pop, won her second straight female vocalist award. "I like to sing better than eat," she said in receiving the award. She paused and then added, "No, that's not right."
Cline, the Winchester, Va., singer who died almost 23 years ago, was honored during the ceremony. Ironically, she was one of the artists who provoked Nashville's crossover dreams a quarter of a century ago, but last night's awards seem a clear signal that the Music City's most vibrant energies have been redirected. Outside of the Loretta Lynn/Anne Murray tribute to Cline, the only major bow to veteran performers was almost inevitable: the appearance by the all-star Highwaymen -- Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings, but the dominant spirits in Nashville last night belonged to the young.
The show itself, broadcast by CBS, was excellent, moving quickly from strong performances to awards. Host Kristofferson had said early on that "We've got more show than we got time for," but in fact, the 90 minutes plus seemed just about right.
The night's best line came from Sawyer Brown, a frequent opening act for Kenny Rogers. "We couldn't have picked a better closing act," he said, referring to Rogers. Winners were chosen by 7,500 singers, musicians, songwriters and other country music professionals belonging to the Country Music Association.
The winners of the 19th annual Country Music Association awards:
Single of the Year (awarded to artist): The Judds, "Why Not Me"
Song of the Year (awarded to song writer): "God Bless the USA," Lee Greenwood
Album of the Year: "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind," George Strait
Entertainer of the Year: Ricky Skaggs
Female Vocalist of the Year: Reba McEntire
Male Vocalist of the Year: George Strait
Vocal Group of the Year: The Judds
Vocal Duo of the Year: Anne Murray and Dave Loggins
Music Video of the Year: "All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin' Over Tonight," Hank Williams Jr.
Instrumentalist of the Year: Chet Atkins
Instrumental Group of the Year: Ricky Skaggs' Band
Horizon Award: Sawyer Brown