Luke Combs was the big winner at the 56th annual CMA Awards, which were held at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday (Nov. 9). Combs won three awards – entertainer of the year for the second year in a row and album of the year (he won two awards in that category – one as artist and one as a producer).
Combs is the first person to win entertainer of the year two years running since Garth Brooks won his final two awards in the category in 2016 and 2017. (Brooks subsequently removed himself from future consideration in that category.)
And Combs is the first person to win entertainer of the year and album of the year on the same night since Taylor Swift in 2009.
This is the 11th consecutive year that a male artist has won entertainer of the year. Swift was the last woman to win the award, in 2011. That 11-year stretch of nothing-but-male winners? It’s the longest since the 12-year all-male stretch between Reba McEntire’s 1986 win and Shania Twain’s 1999 victory.
There were several record-breakers among this year’s winners.
Chris Stapleton became the first six-time winner for male artist of the year. He surpassed Vince Gill, Blake Shelton and George Strait, each of whom has won in that category five times.
“Buy Dirt” became the first song in CMA history that was written by as many as four songwriters to win song of the year. The song was written by two pairs of brothers (Jacob and Jordan Davis and Josh and Matt Jenkins). The single rendition of the song by Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan became a No. 1 hit on both Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay.
Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde won musical event of the year for “Never Wanted to Be That Girl.” They were the first all-female collaboration to win in 28 years — since Reba McEntire with Linda Davis’ “Does He Love You” (1994).
As noted, Combs won album of the year for Growin’ Up, his first studio album since What You See Is What You Get, which won the award two years ago. Combs is the first artist to win this top award with back-to-back studio albums since Stapleton won with Traveller (2015) and From A Room: Volume 1 (2017). In all of CMA history, just four other artists have won album of the year with back-to-back studio albums – Charlie Rich, Brooks, Strait (who did it twice) and Tim McGraw.
Wilson, who led all nominees with six nods, won female artist of the year and new artist of the year. Wilson maintained the recent streak of first-time winners for female vocalist of the year. The last four winners in this category, Kacey Musgraves (2019), Maren Morris (2020), Pearce (2021) and now Wilson, have all been first-time winners in the category. Wilson is the first artist to win female artist of the year the first time she was nominated since Carrie Underwood in 2006.
Johnson’s “Til You Can’t” won single of the year and music video of the year. The single reached No. 1 on both Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay. Johnson’s video prevailed over strong competition that included Swift’s “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault),” which features Stapleton. Swift is a two-time winner in the video category.
Brothers Osborne won their fifth award for vocal duo of the year, becoming one of just three duos to win five or more times. Brooks & Dunn (who were nominated again this year) lead with 14 wins in the category. Sugarland won five times.
Old Dominion won vocal group of the year for the fifth year in a row. Only The Statler Brothers (nine wins), Rascal Flatts (six) and Little Big Town (six) have won as many as five times. In accepting the award, lead singer Matthew Ramsey paid tribute to Alabama’s Jeff Cook, who died on Monday. Alabama won vocal group of the year three times, from 1981-83.
Fiddle player Jenee Fleenor won musician of the year for the fourth year in a row. She’s the first and only female musician to win in the category. Her win means that steel guitarist Paul Franklin came up short in the category for the 30th time. (Of course, you can’t lose 30 times in a category without being nominated 30 times in the category, an amazing achievement.)
Alan Jackson received the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award. Jackson, 64, is by far the youngest recipient of the award. The last three recipients, Kris Kristofferson, Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn, were in their 80s when they received the honor. Pride and Lynn died not long after.
The eligibility period for the 56th annual CMA Awards was July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.