Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" won song of the year and single of the year, and Kenny Chesney took entertainer of the year and album of the year honors during the Country Music Association awards Tuesday night.
"Of course the song is special to me, but I think it is special to a lot of people," McGraw said. "The song to me is not about death, it's an affirmation about life."
Chesney, whose "When the Sun Goes Down" won him the album award, said, "I've been making records and been on the road 12 years now, and this is my first CMA award and I'm very proud of it."
Martina McBride, who won female vocalist of the year -- her fourth in that category and third in a row, said, "When I was a little girl in Kansas I had some big dreams, but I don't think I ever dreamed this big."
Other winners included Keith Urban, Gretchen Wilson, Brad Paisley and the trio Rascal Flatts.
Written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, "Live Like You Were Dying" spent eight weeks at No. 1. The song was special for McGraw, who lost his father, former New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Tug McGraw, to cancer in January.
It was chosen for song of the year over Wilson's "Redneck Woman," Josh Turner's "Long Black Train," Alan Jackson's "Remember When" and the Paisley-Alison Krauss duet "Whiskey Lullaby."
A dark tale about a broken-hearted man and a guilt-ridden woman, "Whiskey Lullaby," written by Bill Anderson and Jon Randall, won for musical event of the year and music video of the year.
"I want to thank country radio for playing this," Paisley said. "It says a lot about the great people in our format who will take a chance on a double suicide in a drinking song."
In one of the evening's surprises, Urban won the male vocalist award over veterans Jackson, George Strait, Toby Keith and Chesney.
"I thought I was just rounding out the category," Urban said.
Keith had six nominations but was shut out of the awards for the second straight year.
Jackson, who led all nominees for the ceremony with seven, also left empty-handed.
Wilson, who has sold 3 million copies of her debut album, "Here for the Party," won the Horizon Award for best new artist. She fought back tears as she accepted.
"I came here last year and sat way back there in the very back and dreamed of standing up here someday. I just had no idea it would happen this fast for me," she said.
Rascal Flatts won the vocal group award for the second consecutive year.
"It's overwhelming," said bass player Jay DeMarcus. "We had big hopes and aspirations when we started out in this business. . . . To have something like this in hand at the end of the day sort of gives validity to what you want to accomplish."
Singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame. His friend Willie Nelson introduced him and sang his "For the Good Times." Faith Hill performed "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and Randy Travis did his "Sunday Morning Coming Down."
Kristofferson, who has been outspoken during his career on political and social issues, sang "Me and Bobby McGee," a song made famous by Janis Joplin.
He thanked the late Johnny and June Cash "for endorsing me back when nobody knew me and defending me later when everybody did and for standing up for truth and justice and human rights."