Nashville veteran Steven Curtis Chapman, newcomer Brandon Heath and perennial favorites Casting Crowns topped the list of artists taking home honors at the Gospel Music Association's 40th annual GMA Dove Awards last night (April 23) at the Grand Ole Opry house in Nashville. The show was broadcast live on the Gospel Music Channel.

The most awarded artist in Dove Awards history, Chapman won his seventh artist of the year title and his 10th songwriter of the year honor. "Tonight it was so awkward in a way to receive these awards because I know a lot of it has to do with people wanting to say 'We love you and are with you,'" said Chapman, acknowledging the prayers and support his family has received after his five-year-old daughter, Maria, was killed in a tragic accident nearly a year ago.

Chapman has been touring with Michael W. Smith on the United Tour and says getting back in front of an audience has been helpful. "There's something so powerful, so profoundly healing about proclaiming the word of God is true. There's so much I didn't understand until I walked through this. . .The psalms have become so much more real to me because I understand so much more now of the struggle David was going through in writing those. All the verses that have always been in my brain, this experience has made me take them into my heart."

For the first time ever, Christian music consumers had a voice in the Dove process as fans were able to vote in the artist and new artist of the year categories. There were 250,000 votes cast on and via text messaging. Voting continued through the first portion of the live broadcast. Tenth Avenue North was named new artist of the year. The band's Reunion Records debut, "Over and Underneath" made them the best-selling new act in the Christian genre last year.

"We didn't write this record to win this award. We wrote it so that people would know the truth," lead vocalist Mike Donehey said. "From the letters we receive, we're humbled that God is using us."

Last year's new artist of the year winner, Heath won three Doves, taking home honors in the song of the year and pop/contemporary recorded song of the year for the hit "Give Me Your Eyes" as well as male vocalist of the year. "It takes a little while to learn what you want to say and how you want to say it," Heath told Billboard backstage. "I love that my vehicle gets to be music, gets to be Christian music. I'm proud to be part of the next generation that gets to carry this on hopefully to millions and millions more peoples' lives. My goal has always been to glorify God but to learn along the way as I do."

Natalie Grant collected her fourth consecutive female vocalist of the year accolade, and her husband, Bernie Herms, was named producer of the year. The Curb Records chanteuse had a rocky start early in her career as the first two labels she was signed to (Benson Records and Pamplin Music) shuttered just as she was starting to break through. "Those difficulties made me realize my call to do this. I discovered this is what I was created to do-with this or without it," she said holding her Dove. "With a record company or without it, it's what I was created to do and I can definitely say it helped develop me as a songwriter."

Atlanta-based worship band Casting Crowns netted three Doves, including a fifth consecutive win in the group of the year category. The band also won Christmas album of the year for "Peace on Earth" and shortform video for "Slow Fade." Other multiple winners include Michael W. Smith earning praise & worship album for "A New Hallelujah" and inspirational song of the year for the title track, and the Blind Boys of Alabama who won traditional gospel album for "Down in New Orleans" and traditional gospel song for "Free At Last."

INO records artist Laura Story had a breakthrough year and won the Dove for inspirational album of the year for "Great God Who Saves." "We have prayed that God would use our lives, our story, our songs in whatever way he wants to. It's cool that it was recognized here and that the songs are impacting lives," Story said backstage.

During the evening, Jars of Clay were honored with the Gospel Angels Award, recognizing Blood:Water Mission, a non-profit organization the band launched to aid Africa in dealing with the HIV crisis and to help provide clean water to impoverished areas.

Voted on by the members of the Gospel Music Assn., Doves were presented in 43 categories, recognizing the diversity of music under the Christian/gospel umbrella. "Doesn't this remind you of a Klingon warrior's weapon?" KJ-52 asked reporters in the pressroom after collecting the rap/hip hop recorded song Dove for "Do Yo Thang." "I wish it came with a chain. I'd wear it like a rapper."

This year is the second the Doves were broadcast live on the Gospel Music Channel. (In recent years, they had been taped and broadcast later through syndication.) "It's awesome," KJ-52 said backstage of the Doves being broadcast live on GMC. "I like the fact too that you can go online and watch. Technology has leveled the playing field and brought legitimacy to this genre and this market."

DecembeRadio collected rock album of the year Dove for their sophomore set "Satisfied." "It was unexpected. We feel very honored and very blessed," said drummer Boone Daughdrill. The band also won rock album in 2007 for its self-titled Slanted Records debut. "We feel like we've paid our dues but at the same time we run into people every day who've never heard of us. Right now we're on tour with Newsboys and some nights we have people come up to us and say 'I've never heard you guys, but you're my new favorite band and that touches your heart in a way that's unpredictable."

Martha Munizzi won the Dove for Contemporary Gospel Album. "Change the World." Backstage she recalled her father winning the 1977 song of the year Dove for "Learning to Lean on Jesus." "I remember coming to the Doves with him and trying to hold onto the Dove. I was a little girl and I got stabbed by one of the little points. It's burned in my memory," she said smiling. "Tonight it's great to have my own award."