Billboard's 2019 Country Power Players Event Honors Cindy Mabe, Luke Combs

The 2019 Billboard Country Power Players list has been revealed and the honorees were celebrated on Tuesday evening (June 4) at the Dream Nashville Hotel. The invite-only star-studded event sponsored by Shiner recognized the top 100 Country Music Power Players featured in the latest issue of Billboard magazine.

Universal Music Group Nashville president Cindy Mabe was honored as the 2019 Country Power Players executive of the year and accepted the honor after her nine-year-old daughter, Lexi McCormick, introduced her to the stage. Delivering an empowering speech (posted in its entirety below), Mabe spoke of the female country music heroes that helped pave the way before her.

“As women, our culture tells us we aren’t good enough and we too easily accept that,” she told the room of music industry professionals. “In 2019, there are no places for women’s voices and stories and perspective in country music, the one place I sought complete refuge as a young girl growing up in North Carolina. It breaks my heart… until we prove it wrong. Along with my mother, Dolly, Loretta, Barbara, Tammy, Reba and The Judds changed who I was. I don’t know if I would be here without their voices, their stories, their music and their sheer presence to show me that women can do it all...They are directly responsible for the position I have today because I stood on their shoulders and their voices carried mine.”

Several artists on the UMG roster were in attendance to support Mabe, including Keith Urban, Caylee Hammack and Little Big Town, who performed their poignant new song, “The Daughters.” Ahead of the ceremony, Hammack praised Mabe for her endless encouragement since signing with the label last year.

“Cindy Mabe is our female head honcho at Universal. I think it’s really important for us younger artists to come and show support for [those who] have paved the way for people like us,” Hammack told Billboard on the red carpet. “The smartest and most concise thing she’s ever said to me is the simplest thing. She said, ‘Truly take care of yourself.’ She’s very sweet about checking up on me. She cares about the artist as much as she cares about the music. It’s one of those things that artists really truly appreciate.”

Sarah Trahern, CEO, Country Music Association and a 2019 Country Power Players recipient, was in attendance and visibly excited over the outpouring of female recognition. “We have a lot of really strong business women in the music business in Nashville,” she noted.

Newcomer Lauren Jenkins was also appreciative of the recognition of females throughout the evening. “My entire team is mostly women so it’s a new era for country music being able to lift other women up. I don’t think people realize how many women are in positions of power in country music and it’s important to acknowledge that,” she said. “Paying homage to those who paved the path for us, it’s nice to be a part of a community and honor everybody else.”

Added Lindsay Ell, “Strong women are what make this industry so unique and so special and really so badass. We’re the ones that are holding it together. The fact that women are being honored is even more of what makes this event so special and I’m all about the girl power.”

In addition to Mabe being honored, Luke Combs received his three 2019 Billboard Music Awards during the event for top country album, top country male artist and top country artist. Humbled at the recognition as well as being on Billboard’s latest cover, Combs took the stage to share his appreciation for his team.

“This is real hard-to-believe stuff for me. It hasn’t even been five years since I moved to Nashville,” he marveled. “So, there’s part of me that feels like I don’t deserve to be up here but there’s another part of me that knows how hard my team and how hard so many people in this room have worked to make this possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to my team [who] make sure that stuff like this happens. I’m probably one of the luckiest dudes in the world right now. Thank you Billboard for the cover. Nashville, I love you. Thank you.”

Big Machine Label president/CEO and founder Scott Borchetta was in attendance since being named one of 100 Country Power Players as were many of his artists including Jenkins, Eli Young Band and Brett Young. “I think it’s great that Billboard is acknowledging the country music industry because it’s always been potent,” Borchetta said on the red carpet ahead of the event. “There is a special bond in Nashville among the artists and executives.”

This artist/executive bond was felt by Jenkins. “Scott Borchetta has always encouraged me to be honest, authentic and truthful and let that be enough. If people like it, fine. If they don’t, then that’s O.K.” she said. “I really respect that because I was pretty young when I signed with Big Machine and I had no experience with the industry and he’s always championed me and given me permission to be who I am which is really great.”

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if it weren’t for these entire teams that put all of their heart and soul into our music,” Eli Young Band’s Mike Eli told Billboard. “The artist is only as good as his team. When people come in and they work their butts off, it encourages us to work our butts off. It’s nice to say thank you every once in a while.”

Brett Young walked the red carpet with Van Haze of Red Light Management, and praised his longtime manager. “There isn’t a single thing that I’ve done since I signed my record deal that Van hasn’t been out in front making sure it was right and good for us and making sure I had everything I needed,” Young said. “It really does take a village and that’s why I think awards like this are so important to recognize the people that are working, quite honestly, way harder than we are.”

Among the other artists in attendance were Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Chris Janson, Eric Paslay, Chris Lane and Ingrid Andress.

Cindy Mabe's acceptance speech:

I asked Lexi to introduce me today because she has such a different view of me than most and though I am so fortunate to get to work amongst some of the most gifted people and artists who move the world every day, my No. 1 job is being Jesse, Lexi and Ella’s mom. The balance of both worlds is a struggle some days and an impossibility most days but today I get to combine both worlds.

Lexi is my mini-me. When I look at her I think back to that 9-year-old girl that I was, who looked an awful lot like she does now ... running fearlessly barefoot through tobacco fields, with a curiosity for the world around me and a twinkle in my eye for what was ahead and I wonder if I’ve lived up to all the dreams, all the hope and light that shone through that little girl. I think about how she saw the world. The beauty she saw and the beauty I was. As a mom, I recognize that beauty and grace in my three kids that I probably never thought about in myself but reflecting upon her now is really important.

There are such mixed messages frequently received by young girls and women who are just looking for a strong female role model today. Looking for where they belong in this world. Looking for a female perspective, a recognizable voice, someone to show them that it can be done by example. As women, our culture tells us we aren’t good enough and we too easily accept that. Just like when I was told little girls can’t play baseball at six-years-old. It broke my heart … until I proved it wrong.  In 2019, there are no places for women’s voices and stories and perspective in country music, the one place I sought complete refuge as a young girl growing up in North Carolina. Again, it breaks my heart… until we prove it wrong. Along with my mother, Dolly, Loretta, Barbara, Tammy, Reba and The Judds changed who I was. I don’t know if I would be here without their voices, their stories, their music and their sheer presence to show me that women can do it all...what they represented was everything to me. They are directly responsible for the position I have today because I stood on their shoulders and their voices carried mine.

But my message today is for MY daughter. Just for today I want you to keep this 9-year-old memory in a time capsule in your heart where you will always remember what it’s like to celebrate a woman. I want you to remember your dreams are as real as the dirt underneath your finger nails. Remember you can have male and female role models and know that you can be anything you dream up. I pray that you can realize all the potential you’ve been given and that you don’t let the negative words and thoughts, the self-defeat, the lack of woman’s voices and expression hold you back.

At 9-years-old, in my heart I was equal parts Reggie Jackson and Dolly Parton. And the thing that inspired me then and continues to inspire me the most now, was and is MUSIC. It spoke to me, helped me connect to my own heart and view point and escape through someone’s words, melodies and stories to a different world. They are now so intertwined in my memories that they’ve become a part of who I am today. 

Thank you Billboard for recognizing me as the 2019 Billboard executive of the year. Music is the most powerful influence in the universe and it’s for everyone.