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Country Music's Best Honored During New York Awards Ceremony

The 39th annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards were presented November 15 in New York City. It was the first time the event took place outside of Nashville, Tennessee, and also the first time the awards ceremony was open to the general public. VOA's Mary Morningstar has this wrap-up of Country music's biggest night in "The Big Apple."

Australian Country star Keith Urban was the big winner at the 39th annual Country Music Association Awards. The 38-year-old singer-songwriter repeated his 2004 win in the Male Vocalist of the Year category. In his acceptance speech, Keith gave special thanks to the people who don't often receive the recognition they deserve.

"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you firstly to New York for welcoming us out this time. New York, thank you very much," he said. "A huge thank you to Country radio and CMT [Country Music Television] and GAC [Great American Country], everybody that gets our music out to the people. To the fans for buying it. God bless you, thank you. I want to thank my road band. I have the best road band. Road bands out there, in general, don't get enough appreciation. I want to send my love and thanks out to all the road bands tonight, particularly my own. Thank you very much. God Bless."

In addition, Keith Urban beat out Brad Paisley, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney for the night's top honor, Entertainer of the Year. And, the Country Music Association presented Urban with its International Artist Achievement Award. The honor recognizes artists who make major contributions to the awareness and development of Country music throughout the world.

The Country Music Association's Board of Directors moved its annual awards to New York City this year to strengthen Country music's worldwide recognition. A week-long celebration of Country music events led up to the show. One of New York's famous nightspots, Joe's Pub, held a songwriter's series of concerts, as well as nightly shows by some of the biggest names in Country and bluegrass music. New York's Broadway actors teamed with Country music stars for the charity event "Broadway Meets Country." The city's Museum of Television and Radio began running a CMA Awards retrospective film, which will be shown through the end of the year. And, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry held an 80th anniversary concert at New York's Carnegie Hall. The move, however, was only temporary. The Country Music Association has already announced that the awards ceremony will return to Nashville in 2006 for its 40th anniversary.

Last year's CMA Horizon Award winner, Gretchen Wilson, gained even more popularity at Country radio, and showed CMA voters that she was worthy of being named this year's top female vocalist. A fifth Female Vocalist of the Year win by Martina McBride would have set a new CMA record for most wins in that category. Martina was sidelined for most of the year, however, due to the birth of her third child.

Among this year's other CMA Award winners were Rascal Flatts, who won the Vocal Group of the Year award for the third year in a row. Toby Keith received the Music Video of the Year trophy for "As Good As I Once Was" and Jon Randall and "Whisperin" Bill Anderson shared the Song of the Year award for writing the Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss duet "Whiskey Lullaby." An emotional Bill Anderson reflected on the longevity of his career.

I'm supposed to be whispering, but I feel like shouting," he said. "I have probably been writing songs in Nashville longer than just about anybody. My first co-writer was Andrew Jackson. But to still be able to be a part of this wonderful industry and to share moments with people like Jon Randall, who's so talented [and] Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss, who made such a wonderful record. Thank you so very, very much. Thanks just for letting me continue to be a part of this Country music business, still, after all this time."

Three of this year's five Horizon Award contenders were nominated for the same award last year. The winner was second-time nominee Dierks Bentley, who was recognized for making the greatest advances in his career during the past year.

Perennial favorite Brooks and Dunn won in the Vocal Duo of the Year category, an award the duo has lost only once during the past 14 years.

Brooks and Dunn hosted the live, three-hour CMA Awards show, which was filled with spectacular performances. Highlights included a breathtaking performance by husband and wife Faith Hill and Tim McGraw of their new duet, "Like We Never Loved At All." Duets were also performed by Dolly Parton and Elton John, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon with Norah Jones on piano, and Bon Jovi and Sugarland's lead singer Jennifer Nettles. And, Garth Brooks came out of retirement for one night to perform his new single, "Good Ride Cowboy," at New York's Times Square. The song is his tribute to the late Country singer and rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, who died this past March.

Vince Gill was on hand to help induct three legends into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Joining the prestigious institution are the late DeFord Bailey, Glen Campbell and Alabama. Alabama's Teddy Gentry talked about what the honor meant to the vocal quartet.

"You know, I thought when we got Entertainer of the Year some eight times that that was great," he said. "When we got Artist of the '80s, that was wonderful. Being [named] Country Group of the Century was amazing, and this is the pinnacle of the awards, right here. Thank you."

Lee Ann Womack was a leading CMA Award contender this year with six nominations. She took home three trophies, including Single of the Year for "I May Hate Myself In The Morning." Lee Ann returned to a more traditional Country sound on her latest album, and she showed her gratitude to the song's writer.

"I love Country music. Yes I do," she exclaimed. "Odie Blackmon, you saved me. Odie Blackmon wrote this song. My husband, Frank Liddell, brought it home to me one day. He said, 'Lee Ann, sit down. This is what you need to be doing.' He played the song for me and here it is. I thank you Country radio. You people out there, if you are listening to music that doesn't touch you, that doesn't mean anything to you, tune in to your Country station."

Lee Ann also won the CMA's Album of the Year award for There's More Where That Came From, and she shared the Musical Event of the Year honor with George Strait for their collaboration, "Good News, Bad News."

Lee Ann Womack's recent Top 10 hit "I May Hate Myself In The Morning" was the Country Music Association's Single of the Year.