CMT designed its Artists of the Year special to celebrate the biggest stars of the past 12 months.
But for its tenth anniversary, it far exceeded anyone’s expectations. It reminded everyone -- whether you were in the ballroom at Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville or watching at home -- what country music does best: come together as a family and help each other in desperate times.
Even though he was a 2019 honoree, Kane Brown was expected to be absent in the wake of the unexpected death of his longtime drummer Kenny Dixon in a car accident last weekend. Instead, he felt it important to show up, and express his love for his longtime friend, supporter and bandmate.
"I want to dedicate this to my drummer Kenny," Brown told the crowd, choking back tears. "He started with me coming out of Chattanooga off Facebook. People didn't think we would make it. He was with me the whole time. He was so supportive of me. And I love you man, I miss you. The band misses you."
Chris Young, Kane’s label mate and longtime friend, gave him the award and sang in his stead. Young's current single, “Drowning,” about dealing with the loss of a close friend, couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Fellow Artist of the Year Thomas Rhett was featured in his own emotional segment: his pregnant wife Lauren introduced him and he sang “Dream You Never Had” in her honor.
TR said his polite thanks, but didn’t dwell on himself. Instead, he led a prayer of support in honor of his hurting friend.
"I just want to lift up Kane and his family, and I want to lift up his drummer and their family. I don't know if this is very conventional, but can I just pray really fast? Is that OK with everybody?" he asked.
"Father, God, we love you so much," Rhett continued. "Loss is something that we can't comprehend. And so right now, I pray that you would be with Kane and his family, and his drummer Kenny and his family."
"And bring them peace that only you know how to bring somebody," he added. "And thank you for this night."
"God bless country music. And in your name we pray. Amen," he closed.
Sitting in the audience, Artist of a Lifetime recipient Reba McEntire was moved to tears. During the commercial break, she stopped TR as he walked past her, voicing her respect for what he did.
When longtime friend Vince Gill presented her award, she took the chance to thank TR publicly.
"Thomas Rhett -- God bless you for praying in front ..." Reba trailed off, interrupted by the cheers of the audience. "You're special! You're special. That took guts!"
Dan + Shay, Luke Combs and Carrie Underwood were honored as CMT's 2019 Artists of the Year as well. Ashley McBryde is this year's Breakout Artist of the Year.