Believe it or not, the Academy of Country Music Awards have been taking place since 1966. The 53rd annual incarnation of the famed awards show is happening this weekend in Las Vegas and there’s an awful lot of history behind it.
The star-studded affair has played host to a who’s who of major players in the country music industry, and, as such, has been responsible for some of the genre’s most memorable, historic moments.
1970 – Merle Haggard Captures the Very First Entertainer of the Year Award
Though the ceremony had been taking place since 1966, the entertainer of the year award trophy wasn’t given until 1970, when Merle Haggard took home the honors. In honor of the legendary artist (who passed away at 79 last year) the ACM established the Merle Haggard Spirit Award, with the inaugural honor going to Miranda Lambert at a ceremony in August 2016.
1976 – Loretta Lynn’s Entertainer of the Year Award Win
Loretta Lynn made history in 1976 when she became the first woman to win the coveted entertainer of the year trophy. Lynn herself seemed shocked by the win, delivering a heartfelt acceptance speech and telling the crowd, “I’d like to say that I sure am proud, and I want to thank all of you.”
1983 – Mr. T Reads the Rules
Celebrity cameos are a dime a dozen at awards shows, but this appearance from Mr. T was one of the ACM’s best. The A-Team star took the stage to read the show’s rules, an otherwise boring segment made entertaining by the actor’s insistence that he’s “the boss.”
1994 – Alan Jackson’s Epic Protest
Alan Jackson made headlines at the 29th annual ACM Awards in 1994 when he made no effort to conceal his anger at the producers’ insistence he perform to a pre-recorded track rather than live with his band. For his performance of “Gone Country,” he donned a Hank Williams T-shirt — which may not look out of place now, but was taboo at the time — and had his drummer pretend to play with no sticks in his hands.
1997 – LeAnn Rimes Rakes Top New Female Vocalist
1997 was a huge year for LeAnn Rimes, who, then only 15, was still riding high from the success of her 1996 debut album Blue. She’d win another award that evening, best female country vpcal performance, for that album’s title track.
2003 – The ACM Awards Hit Vegas for the First Time
By now, the ACM Awards are synonymous with Vegas, but that wasn’t always the case. The show moved from Los Angeles to Sin City in 2003, initially broadcasting from Mandalay Bay Events Center. That same year, George Strait treated the Las Vegas audience to a special medley of hits in celebration of his 50th number one song.
2013 – Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert’s Emotional Wins For “Over You”
Ex-husband-and-wife pair Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton joined forces to write “Over You,” a song on Lambert’s 2011 album Four the Record that was inspired by the unexpected death of Shelton’s older brother. When the song won song of the year in 2013, the two accepted the award together in what became one of the show’s most emotional moments to date.
2016 – Dolly Parton’s Performance With Katy Perry
Dolly Parton recruited Katy Perry to celebrate her historic catalog at the 2016 ceremony, with the pair performing a medley that included “Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene,” and “9 to 5.” Perry would later present Parton with the Tex Ritter Award for Parton’s 2015 NBC television movie, Coat of Many Colors.