The BMI Country Awards turned 54 in style with a gala at the performing rights organization's Nashville headquarters on Nov. 4.

The BMI Country Awards turned 54 in style with a gala at the performing rights organization's Nashville headquarters on Nov. 4.

When it came to the evening's biggest honors, Toby Keith's hit "As Good As I Once Was," co-written by Keith and Scotty Emerick, was named song of the year. Big Yellow Dog Music, Florida Cracker Music, Sony/ATV Tree and Tokeco Tunes published the tune.

Keith picked up his third songwriter of the year crown (he also won in 2001 and 2004), this time sharing the honor with Ed Hill and Vicky McGehee. The three songwriters each laid claim to three of the top 50 award-winning songs. For McGehee it was "All Jacked Up," "Hicktown" and "Like We Never Loved At All," while Hill's hits included "Georgia Rain," "Somebody's Hero" and "Songs About Me." It was Hill's first BMI songwriter of the year title. Keith, meanwhile, scored with "Big Blue Note," "HonkyTonk U" and "As Good As I Once Was."

With 17 entries among this year's top 50 most performed songs, Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville snagged publisher of the year honors for the fifth consecutive year. The publisher picked up similar honors from rival performing right organization ASCAP a few weeks earlier.

Meanwhile, American music legend Merle Haggard was honored as the newest BMI Icon. One of the evening's highlights was the tribute to Hag, which included performances by Martina McBride, John Anderson and Hank Williams Jr. Over the years Haggard has picked up 48 BMI Country Awards, nine BMI Pop Awards, a BMI R&B Award and 16 BMI "Million-Air" awards for hits like "Big City," "The Fightin' Side of Me," "Mama Tried," "Okie From Muskogee," and "Workin' Man Blues."

The 2006 awards also honored Brett Beavers, Ronnie Dunn, Emerick, Aimee Mayo, Terry McBride, Tom Shapiro, Shaye Smith, Jeffrey Steele, George Teren, Keith Urban and Phillip White, who each supplied two songs to the top 50 list.

Interestingly, "Goodbye Time," co-written by Roger Murrah and James Dean Hicks, earned its second BMI Country Award this year. Conway Twitty's 1989 version won the first time around and Blake Shelton's remake garnered this year's recognition. Joe South's "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden," 1971's country song of the year, won its seventh award this year thanks to Martina McBride's recent version. Lynn Anderson's 1970 version collected the song's first six awards.

Publishers winning three or more awards were Big Yellow Dog, Careers-BMG Music Publishing, EMI-Blackwood Music, Inc., Music of Stage Three, Sagrabeaux Songs, Songs of Windswept Pacific, Tokeco Tunes and Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp.

BMI first honored the genre's songwriters and publishers with its own awards show in 1953.