Brandi Carlile and John Prine take top American honors
Over the past year, Carlile has been working hard on her next album In these days of silence, and took out the book Broken horses: a brief. During her acceptance speech, she also celebrated her female artist friends and fellow artists, including Amythyst Kiah, Yola and Allison Russell, who have released projects over the past year.
“My friends made music that uplifted me,” Carlile said.
Carlile also kicked off the evening, welcoming viewers into both Ryman’s audience and watching online with her combination of heart and mind.
“Last year we stayed at home and tried as a community to love each other the best we could in the uncertainty, the distance and even at times crazy closeness … shout at my wife Catherine”, she declared. “For me personally, Americana and WADA provided a ray of hope even with all the miles between me and Nashville. When a lucky few of us received awards in the mail, we put them on the mantle and thought about our missed friends and heroes.
Foremost among these was surely the man Carlile called “America’s godfather,” John Prine, who died in 2020 of complications from COVID-19. “May we feel his presence tonight in this room and do our best to make him smile and make him proud,” Carlile said.
Prine’s “I Remember Everything,” written by legendary singer-songwriter and Pat McLaughlin, was named Song of the Year. This team of writers also won in this category two years earlier for the song “Summer’s End”.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been in this building without John – I had tears in my eyes tonight, but I think he’s here,” Prine’s widow Fiona told the audience as she agreed. on behalf of Prine. “I want to thank the American Music Association for the love and respect they have shown in keeping John’s name and his music alive. We are very grateful for this posthumous recognition [for] John’s last recorded song. Carlile then joined Margo Price and Amanda Shires to honor Prine with a rendition of “Everything”.
Sturgill Simpson’s latest project, Cuttin ‘Grass – Vol. 1 (The butchery sessions), produced by Simpson and David Ferguson, was named Album of the Year. It was Sturgill’s second win in the category, after a win four years earlier for Sailor’s Guide to Earth.
Violinist and violinist Kristin Weber was named instrumentalist of the year. Weber is the fourth musician to win this category in the past six years, following the victories of Sara Watkins, Molly Tuttle and 2020 winner Brittany Haas. Texan Charley Crockett, who has just released his latest album City of Music United States, was named Emerging Artist of the Year.
“Lord have mercy… I am very grateful,” said Crockett. “I have 10 records and signed my first record deal on a cCty New York subway car. The thing is – I guess the emergence is every time they see you, isn’t it? In a category of so many amazing emerging women, it’s hard to accept this award… this is my first time in this building. For someone like me, if it hadn’t been for Americana, we probably wouldn’t have any recognition at all… so thank you very much.
Last year, Black Pumas won the honor of Emerging Artist of the Year, and this year they became the Duo / Group of the Year. The duo were not present and presenter Kiefer Sutherland agreed on behalf of the duo.
In addition to the evening’s winners, the evening featured a solid lineup of moving performances. Aaron Lee Tasjan and the house band led by Buddy Miller kicked off the evening by paying tribute to the late Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts with a rendition of the 1971 Stones classic “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”.
Other artists of the evening include Allison Russell (who performed “Nightflyer” from her album Outdoor child), Amythyst Kiah (“Fancy Drones (Fracture Me))” from his album Suspicious + strange), Crockett (“Are We Lonesome Yet”), Jason Isbell and Shires (“Letting You Go”), Sarah Jarosz (“I’ll Be Gone”), Price (“I’d Die For You”), Valerie June and Carla Thomas (“Call Me a Fool”), Thomas (“BABY”), The Highwomen (“The Highwomen”) and Carlile (“Right On Time”).
The evening also paid tribute to artists who have passed away over the past year, including Nanci Griffith, who won the America Music Association’s Pioneer Award in 2008. Aoife O’Donovan and Joe Henry honored Griffith with a performance of “Gulf Coast Highway”. Buddy Miller celebrated the life and career of the late Tom T. Hall with a performance of “This is how I got to Memphis”. Steve Earle paid tribute to his son, the late Justin Townes Earle, with a performance of “Harlem River Blues”.
“See you later when I get there, cowboy,” he said as he concluded the moving tribute to his son.
Throughout the evening, several Lifetime Achievement Award recipients were celebrated. Keb ‘Mo’ accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award, then showed Ryman’s crowd why he so deserved the honor, with a stunning performance from “Oklahoma” alongside the McCrary Sisters.
Other winners celebrated at the ceremony included Fisk Jubilee Singers (Legacy Award Winner), Trina Shoemaker (Producer / Engineer), Thomas (Inspiration Award) and The Mavericks (Pioneer Award). National Museum of African-American Music frontman Henry Hicks and songwriter / producer Shannon Sanders presented the Lifetime Achievement Honor to Dr. Paul Kwami and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.
“Sometimes we may think that the work we are doing is not being recognized,” Kwami said. “I think back to the story of the Fisk Jubilee singers, young men and women some of whom didn’t even know their parents but who left us a rich legacy. I am very grateful to the association for giving us this honor… because it inspires us and lets us know that people know what we are doing.
After receiving the Trailblazer Award, Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo said, “It’s a lifetime achievement award and we wouldn’t be here without our families. It’s a life of missed birthdays and celebrations but through it all my wife is still talking to me, so that’s something… I always say that musicians have guardian angels throughout their lives. If you do well and are a good person, they will always be there. And they’ve been there for us from the start.
Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell ended the show with a performance of “Let It Be Me”, a tribute to the late Don Everly.