The motto of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) is “It All Begins With a Song.” But on Tuesday evening (Sept. 26), Tim McGraw told the audience of music industry denizens and country music fans gathered at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville that he wanted to briefly amend that statement.
“It all begins with the songwriter,” McGraw said.
Since 1967, NSAI has worked in service of songwriters at all stages of their careers and across various musical genres, working to advocate for songwriters’ rights. It was those songcrafters — and those who support songwriters — who were honored on Tuesday evening, during the sixth annual Nashville Songwriter Awards.
Chief among them was songwriter-producer (and 2011 Country Music Hall of Fame inductee) Bobby Braddock, who was saluted with the Kris Kristofferson Lifetime Achievement Award. Braddock, of course, is a co-writer on George Jones’ signature hit, the ballad often lauded as the best country song ever made: “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” (“Stopped” was powerful enough to win the CMA Award for song of the year honor twice, in 1980 and 1981.) Braddock got his start performing as part of Marty Robbins’ road band, and earned his first hit as a songwriter with Robbins’ 1965 hit “While You’re Dancing.” Demonstrating the breadth of his influence, Braddock has earned chart-toppers in five different decades.
Braddock’s considerable gifts to country music also include Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and the Wynette-Jones duets “Golden Ring” and “(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” all of which were performed Tuesday evening by Jimmy Yeary (wearing a shirt Jones had owned) and Sonya Isaacs in honor of Braddock. Other songs in his sterling catalog include T.G. Sheppard’s “I Feel Like Loving You Again,” John Anderson’s “Would You Catch a Falling Star,” Bill Anderson’s “Peanuts and Diamonds,” Lacy J. Dalton’s “Hard Times” and Billy Currington’s “People are Crazy.”
Or, as Garth Brooks put it more succinctly while honoring Braddock on the Ryman stage, “Bobby Braddock is country music.”
Blake Shelton honored Braddock by performing “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” but also offered his gratitude to Braddock for being a champion for Shelton’s own career. “Bobby Braddock is the guy that found me when I was just a kid here in Nashville trying to make it,” Shelton told the audience. “He took me under his wing, literally took me around Music Row, got me a record deal, produced my first three albums. He’s literally the reason that I am standing here tonight.”
Tracy Lawrence performed his Braddock-penned 1996 hit “Time Marches On,” while Toby Keith offered a mighty-voiced rendition of his 2001 hit “I Wanna Talk About Me,” which Braddock also wrote. “This lyric to me is an epitome of country music; it’s a work of art,” Lawrence said of “Time Marches On.”
“I love country music and I feel fortunate to play a small part in country music,” Braddock said from the podium, as Lawrence, Shelton and Brooks watched. “Long live country music, God bless country music and thank you for this.”
Later in the evening, songwriter exemplar Ashley Gorley earned his seventh songwriter of the year honor, and was feted by Cole Swindell, performing his ACM single and song of the year award-winning hit, “She Had Me at Heads Carolina.” Meanwhile, Russell Dickerson performed “God Gave Me a Girl.”
Morgan Wallen was honored with the songwriter-artist of the year award, for songs including “You Proof” and “Thought You Should Know.” Though Wallen was not in attendance, one of his “Thought You Should Know” co-writers, ACM Awards triple crown winner Miranda Lambert, sent in a video discussing the day Lambert and Nicolle Galyon wrote “Thought You Should Know” with Wallen. “Morgan wanted to write a song about his mama, and he had the two perfect girls in the room that day. There was magic in the air,” Lambert said.
Two of country songwriters’ biggest supporters — the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) chairman/CEO David Israelite and country star Tim McGraw — were also celebrated. McGraw was honored with the NSAI President’s Keystone Award.
McGraw has earned 29 No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hits. NSAI president Steve Bogard called him “a touchstone of modern country music,” while Lori McKenna performed a tender rendition of the hit that became one of McGraw’s signature hits, “Humble and Kind,” which also earned McKenna a Grammy for best country song, and earned CMA song of the year honors. Brett Young celebrated Israelite with a rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah.”
“Thank you for trusting me with your songs and thank you for this wonderful award. It means so much to me,” McGraw said.
Israelite was honored with the NSAI Advocacy Award, honoring his work in fighting for the songwriters’ and publishers’ rights to fair compensation for their art, including his important work toward passing the Music Modernization Act in 2018. He noted the shared goals and progress of NMPA and NSAI, and the work still to do in the era of A.I. He noted a key line in Jordan Davis’s song “Buy Dirt”: “Do what you love and call it work.”
“A brilliant line,” Israelite said. “I have yet to meet a songwriter who doesn’t live their life doing that–doing what they love and calling it work, and I am so fortunate to say the same.”
The night’s biggest song honor, song of the year, went to Lainey Wilson’s “Heart Like a Truck,” written by Wilson, Dallas Wilson and Trannie Anderson. “Heart Like a Truck” is also currently nominated for both single and song of the year at the forthcoming CMA Awards.
Anderson recalled writing her first songs at age seven, and playing in bands since before she was old enough to drive. “The stars that had to align for something like this to happen is a miracle,” she said, adding, “I will forever be grateful.”
Dallas Wilson is the son of musician and songwriter Lonnie Wilson, known for writing songs including Luke Bryan’s “All My Friends Say” and Rascal Flatts’ “Love You Out Loud.” Dallas honored his father, saying, “I’ve always wanted to be just like you.” He said that it was an incredible to be recognized with the song of the year award, but even more so to be celebrated “with friends you have been writing with for years.” Dallas also noted that Lainey could not be in attendance to accept the song of the year honor, because she was playing a sold-out show at Red Rocks.
It was perhaps McGraw who summed up the evening’s aim best, when he charged songwriters to “keep changing the world with your words and melodies.”
Woven throughout the evening, 22 songwriters were saluted with the coveted “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” accolade, voted on by NSAI songwriter members to honor the work of their songwriting peers, and acknowledge songs featuring Nashville writers across the spectrum of country, Christian, mainstream Top 40, rock and other genres. Megan Moroney offered up a rendition of her own current CMA song of the year-nominated “Tennessee Orange.” Meanwhile, Renee Blair joined HARDY to perform his Lainey Wilson collaboration “Wait in the Truck,” which is up for multiple awards, including single and song of the year, at the CMAs. Others who took the stage to perform some of the night’s honored songs were Nicolle Galyon, ERNEST, Tony Lane and Emily Shackelton.
Here is the full list of “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” honorees:
Written by: Jack Antonoff, Taylor Swift (recorded by: Taylor Swift)
Written by: Ben Burgess, Mark Holman, Ernest Keith Smith
(recorded by: ERNEST feat. Morgan Wallen)
“Give Heaven Some Hell”
Written by: Ashley Gorley, Michael Hardy, Ben Johnson, Hunter Phelps (recorded by: HARDY)
“Heart Like a Truck”
Written by: Lainey Wilson, Trannie Anderson, Dallas Wilson (recorded by: Lainey Wilson)
Written by: Tony Lane, Travis Meadows (recorded by: Cody Johnson)
Written by: David Fanning, Megan Moroney, Paul Jenkins, Ben Williams
(recorded by: Megan Moroney)
“Thought You Should Know”
Written by: Nicolle Galyon, Miranda Lambert, Morgan Wallen (recorded by: Morgan Wallen)
“wait in the truck”
Written by: Renee Blair, Michael Hardy, Hunter Phelps, Jordan Schmidt
(recorded by: HARDY feat. Lainey Wilson)
“What He Didn’t Do”
Written by: Ashley Gorley, Carly Pearce, Emily Shackelton (recorded by: Carly Pearce)
Written by: Ashley Gorley, Charlie Handsome, Ernest Keith Smith, Morgan Wallen
(recorded by: Morgan Wallen)