Faith, family and country music were celebrated Friday night (Oct. 28) at the 17th Annual Inspirational Country Music (ICM) Awards at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Ricky Skaggs was the evening's top winner, claiming the Entertainer of the Year award as well as the trophy for Musician of the Year.
"It's wonderful. I thought this was the last thing I would win tonight," Skaggs told Billboard.com backstage just moments after accepting the entertainer trophy. "I was very, very surprised."
Skaggs is no stranger to awards shows. The veteran entertainer has won 14 Grammys, eight Academy of Country Music Awards and eight Country Music Assn. Awards, but admits there's something different about the ICM Awards.
"It was really great to win entertainer of the year in country music in 1985," Skaggs said referencing his win at the Country Music Assn. Awards. "I remember when I won it that night, I thanked my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and it stirred up a hornet's nest in 1985 with television and 40 million people watching. I certainly got called on the carpet on that one, but this is a whole different mindset. These people are about evangelism. They are about honoring the Lord in everything that they do."
Chuck Day also won two awards, taking home the male vocalist of the year accolade as well as the Inspirational Country Song of the year for "I'll Stand Up and Say So." Kali Rose was named female vocalist, and the husband/wife duo Joey + Rory won the Vocal Duo of the year. As they accepted the honor, Joey commented that when they started the duo four years ago, her husband was hesitant about being in the spotlight. "I kind of like it now," Rory Lee Feek interjected as the crowd clapped and laughed.
"You believed in me and you believed in us," Joey said, thanking her spouse. "And I want to thank the Lord for the opportunity."
Tennessee-based trio Sunday Drive was named vocal group of the year. "We'd like to thank our family, friends and all of you. This is such a blessing," Misty Treece said as the group collected their trophy.
Justin Moore's hit "If Heaven Wasn't So Far Away" was named Inspirational country song, and Moore accepted in a video taped speech. Lady Antebellum's "Hello World" video, directed by Roman White, was honored as the video of the year, but the group was performing in Augusta, GA and missed accepting the award in person. Jeff Bates was named mainstream country artist of the year. "Ain't that awesome!" he said in accepting the honor. "I just told a lady, I've never even won a game of tic tac toe.'"
The award was particularly sweet for Bates, who has battled some tough times. "I first learned of God's grace, love and his mercy through my mama back in Mississippi. I gave my life to Christ when I was 15-years-old and spent the next 20 years taking it all back. I found it again in a jail cell right here in Nashville for meth addiction and theft. I want to thank Him for giving me a second chance."
Johnny Lee Cook received the ICM Award for comedian of the year and was also honored as the Music Evangelist of the Year. Chuck Hancock earned the New Artist of the year title. ICM president Gene Higgins presented the Living Legend Award to the Fox Brothers. "If I'd known we were going to win an award, I wouldn't have sit so far back," Roy Fox joked after the trio made their way to the stage to accept the honor.
"We were needing a home and the Christian Country Music Assn. took in the Fox Brothers," Lynn Fox said. (The ICMs were previously known as the CCMA Awards.) "We love all those who voted for us and those of you who didn't vote for us. We love you too."
"Just not as much," interjected Roy as the crowd erupted in laughter.
During the evening, J.R. Pitsenbarger was named radio personality of the year and the top radio station honor went to WCWV in Summersville, WV. Renee Spencer was honored with the Youth in Music Award. "Soul Surfer," the biopic about surfer Bethany Hamilton, the teen who survived a shark attack and returned to competitive surfing to win the championship, was named Inspirational movie of the year. Producer/director/screenwriter Sean McNamara accepted the award.
The Roys were named Inspirational bluegrass artist of the year. During the show, siblings Elaine and Lee Roy performed 'That's What Makes It Love" and were joined on stage by Ricky Skaggs and the Whites (his wife Sharon White and her sister Cheryl). "I knew this kids when they were little," Skaggs says of the Roys. "They used to come out to our shows when they were little kids and now they're grown up. I'm so proud of them. They're great singers, great songwriters and really great people. I feel that some seed I have sown along the way has taken root in some good soil in these kid's hearts. They've grown up and they think this is the way to go. They think that following Christ with the music God has given them is a good thing to do and I'm behind them 100%. I love the Roys."
The siblings say sharing the stage with Skaggs and the Whites was a bit nerve wracking. "To go up there to sing and look over and see your musical heroes is a bit intimidating," says Lee Roy, "but he put us at ease. He's a wonderful man."
The show was packed with stellar performances. Skaggs' received a standing ovation for his thoughtful rendition of "Somebody's Praying." Lee Greenwood brought the house to its feet with his classic hit "God Bless the USA" and Guy Penrod performed the upbeat anthem "More Power To Ya." The Issacs delivered an emotion version of "I'm Gonna Love You Through It," which daughter Sonya co-wrote with her husband Jimmy Yeary and songwriter Ben Hayslip. The song is currently a hit single for Martina McBride.
TV personalities Megan Alexander and Storme Warren hosted the evening, which began with celebrities arriving on a pink carpet in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month. During the show there were 136 breast cancer survivors seated in a special section above the stage. Interspersed throughout the evening's awards and performances, there were video taped messages from breast cancer survivors about their experiences. "Tonight was a special night because of the focus on breast cancer awareness and all the survivors being there in the choir loft behind," Sharon White said backstage. "It was very moving. We've had relatives and friends who've had breast cancer, some who survived and some who didn't make it. This was a moving night to me."
The ICM Awards concluded the annual Inspirational Country Music Week, presented Oct. 24-28, by the Inspirational Country Music Association. Produced by Graham Bustin, the awards were streamed live on a custom URL ( www.stageit.com/faithfamilycountry  ) and will air on several networks in coming weeks, including Total Living Network.