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Country Music Honors Best Talent at CMA Awards

The 41st annual Country Music Association, CMA, Awards were handed out November 7 in Nashville. This year's winners included several predicted favorites, as well as a couple of surprises. VOA's Mary Morningstar has this report on Country music's biggest night.

It was a 'friends-fest' in Nashville, where the biggest names in Country music gathered for the 41st annual Country Music Association Awards.

Veteran performer Tracy Lawrence earned his very first CMA Award by winning the Musical Event of the Year award for "Find Out Who Your Friends Are," a collaboration with two of his musical friends, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney.

Carrie Underwood won her first Single of the Year CMA Award for "Before He Cheats." She also repeated her 2006 win for Female Vocalist of the Year, beating out Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride.

The biggest upset of the night was Sugarland's Vocal Duo of the Year win. Their toughest competitor, Brooks and Dunn, has won that category 14 times during the past 16 years. Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles was humbled to take their place at the winner's podium.

"We're standing up here and we have this lofty view and I know you've heard this quote before, but it's because we're standing on the shoulders of giants, of those people who have come before us," she said. "And I've got to say something. Everybody in this category - Brooks and Dunn, they always rock it out and they are so deserving. So, we are happy to be receiving this tonight. We'll make you proud, I promise."

Brad Paisley went into the CMA Awards race with five nominations, which tied him with George Strait to lead this year's contenders. Brad has earned a record 38 nominations since receiving his first seven in 2000. He picked up two more trophies this year, including his first win for Male Vocalist of the Year and his third Music Video of the Year honor for Online.

Other winners included Rascal Flatts, who were named Vocal Group of the Year for the fifth consecutive year and newcomer Taylor Swift, who earned her first CMA Award nomination this year. The 17-year-old from Eastern Pennsylvania took home the Horizon Award, which is given to the artist who showed the most career growth during the past year. Taylor, who is still in high school, was overcome with emotion after hearing last year's Horizon Award recipient, Carrie Underwood, announce her name as this year's winner.

"I can't even believe that this is real," she said. "I want to thank God and my family for moving to Nashville so that I could do this. I want to thank Country radio. I will never forget the chance you took on me. Brad Paisley - thank you for letting me tour with you. And the fans - you have changed my life. I can't even believe this. This is definitely the highlight of my senior (high school) year. Thank you CMA."

The Album of the Year category was a tight race between Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Vince Gill and George Strait. Strait won the award for the sixth time in his career for "It Just Comes Natural."

"Wow! Thank you so much. I'll tell you, of the awards that I was nominated, this is really the one that I was hoping I could come up here for tonight, because it's such a group effort to make an album," he said. "From the engineer to the songwriters to the musicians - long live the critters. Everybody, the record label and radio and you fans, of course, my family, I love you all."

George Strait's hit single "Give It Away," earned songwriters Bill Anderson, Jamey Johnson and Buddy Cannon this year's Song of the Year award.

Highlights of the three-hour CMA Awards telecast included duets by Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx and Rascal Flatts, and Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes; Nashville's Brentwood High School Marching Band, which opened Brad Paisley's performance of "Online;" and the very first awards show performance by the Eagles, who sang their current Country hit, "How Long."

The 41st annual Country Music Association Awards ended with Kenny Chesney being named Entertainer of the Year for the third time since 2004. From his latest album Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, His recent Number One hit, is "Never Wanted Nothing More."