Shane McAnally was honored as 2019 ACM songwriter of the year at Wednesday evening’s (Aug. 21) ACM Honors ceremony at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The evening celebrated the special honorees and off-camera category winners from the 54th Academy of Country Music Awards in April.
A frequent co-writer of Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow,” “Merry Go Round”), Sam Hunt (“Body Like a Back Road,” “Leave the Night On”), and countless others, McAnally received the award for the second time. Following an introduction and performance of “Burn Out” and “Make a Little” by Midland, the ace songwriter took the famed stage and delivered one of the most emotional speeches of the night. During his acceptance speech, he recalled coming out to his mother and her worries about his career in the country genre.
“When I came out to my mom, she was so scared that I wouldn’t get this dream, that this wouldn’t happen for me,” he said upon accepting his trophy. “This town has never for a minute made me feel anything but loved and accepted.”
Visibly emotional, the hit songwriter and producer of NBC’s Songland shared his early love for Barbara Mandrell’s music and songwriter Kye Fleming, who was awarded the ACM poet’s award before him. He then went on to marvel at the genre’s openness before thanking his husband, Michael Baum.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams because not only did I want to be in country music, didn’t know you could write songs for people, didn’t know that was a job, I really didn’t know you could be in country music and be gay,” McAnally, who was recently named one of 40 executives on Billboard’s Pride List as well as served as a panelist on Billboard’s inaugural Pride Summit, continued.
“Most importantly, I do have to acknowledge my husband, and it’s so cool to get to say that on this stage. He is the one who dreamed this big for me,” McAnally said. “He tells me every day that I can do anything, and we are living our truth and our dream with our children and our life. Our closer-than-family friend who is going through something, I just want to dedicate this award to our sweet Chelsea and when you say those prayers tonight, mention her name. I love country music and I love this town, thank you very, very much.”
Ahead of the ceremony, Midland shared early memories of working with McAnally, who co-produced their debut album On the Rocks and its follow-up Let it Roll, out Friday (Aug. 23). “The thing about Shane is he’s a great, great sandwich maker,” Cameron Duddy told Billboard on the red carpet. “And when you get hungry halfway through the session, and you want a sandwich, the man is there.”
After a few laughs, bandmate Jess Carson got serious, admitting that the songwriter was one of the first believers in the country trio. “Him and Josh [Osborne] were one of the first co-writes that we did in Nashville, and it was like an intermediate chemistry,” he recalled. “We wrote ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ and ‘Burn Out’ in the first two sessions that we had with them, and he’s one of our closest friends here too.”