The event started modestly, with a guitar-shaped cake and a buffet dinner at the Red Barrel Nightclub in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif., just outside of Los Angeles. The down-home menu set the tone for a 1963 awards banquet honoring country and western musicians who drew crowds to the nightclubs of Southern California. By 1965, the people behind the banquet had organized officially, creating the Academy of Country and Western Music. A year later, the first official awards show was staged at the Hollywood Palladium. Bonanza family patriarch Lorne Greene was the host.
The ACM (which dropped “Western” from its name by 1973) has “stayed true to its roots in Southern California and the notion that great country music is a sound that…comes from the heart and not from a location on a map,” writes Lisa Lee, author of This Is Country: A Backstage Pass to the Academy of Country Music Awards (Insight Editions), from which these photos are taken. From Roy Clark to Toby Keith, Loretta Lynn to Taylor Swift, the ACMs have honored every country star of the past half-century.
On April 19, the 50th annual ACM Awards will broadcast live on CBS from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, hosted by Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, and produced by Dick Clark Productions. (DCP and Billboard are both owned by Guggenheim Partners.) This year’s entertainer of the year nominees are Bryan, Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Miranda Lambert and Florida Georgia Line. On April 17 and 18, the ACM Party for a Cause Festival, headlined by Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Eric Church, will raise funds for charities. CBS will tape festival sets for a special airing on May 15.