In her acceptance speech, Underwood told the women gathered in the room that they were the backbone of the industry.
Sissy Spacek, who won an Oscar for her portrayal of Lynn in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” said Lynn was a trailblazer whose honest lyrics made her unlike any other songwriter in the genre. Lynn, who is 86 and just released a new album, “Wouldn’t It Be Great,” last month, was unable to attend the show and Spacek accepted the honor on her behalf.
Spacek called her “my sister, my best friend” and teared up a bit on stage.
“She’s just direct and authentic,” Spacek told The Associated Press on the red carpet before the show. “She tells it like it is. She can say things that you and I couldn’t say, or would be afraid to say.”
Throughout the night, the country artists showed off their influences outside the genre with collaborations with artists from soul, gospel, Americana and more.
Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town sung “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” with soul icon Gladys Knight. During the show, Fairchild pulled out her iPhone to list off about two dozen women in country music that deserved to get radio play.
Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, who performed with Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin, brought her 5-year-old daughter to the show, hoping to show her that women can be anything they want to be.
“She can dream as big and as far and wide as she can possibly can,” Scott said prior to the show.
Maren Morris was joined by acclaimed singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile in a duet tribute to Aretha Franklin. Morris and her husband and singer Ryan Hurd both dismissed an oft-repeated claim that female country music fans don’t want to listen to many women on country radio, which has often been used as an excuse to limit women on playlists and on radio.
“I don’t think it’s real,” Morris said. “I don’t think any woman has said out loud, at least to me, ‘I don’t like to listen to women.’ I think that’s so ridiculous.”
Miranda Lambert performed with her group, the Pistol Annies, with Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe and said every day she recognizes what other women have done to help her.
“Not a day will go by that I don’t honor and lift up women in this industry and want to work with them and collaborate because we have to be there for each other,” Lambert said.
Kelsea Ballerini and Alison Krauss did a cover of “Ghost in This House.” Ballerini said many women that she has looked up to have reached out their hands to her, including Shania Twain, Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift.
“What I have learned from this is to lift each other up, to support each other and to share our stage no matter how big or small it is,” Ballerini said.