NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Canadian singer-songwriter Allison Russell won Album of the Year for her debut solo album ‘Outside Child’, while bluegrass guitarist Billy Strings won Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors and Awards.
Russell, whose strikingly beautiful scrapbook evokes the abuse she suffered as a child and her survival, said she heard common themes of community, family, unity and belonging in many speeches of Wednesday night at the awards show in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I feel so honored to be part of this community, to be in creative communion with my producer Dan Knobler,” she said.
In a tearful speech, she thanked her friends, family and fellow nominees and said that after spending her early years in foster care, she found her family in music. “Music saved me, music saves me everyday,” Russell said.
Hosted by duo The Milk Carton Kids, the annual awards ceremony held at the Ryman Auditorium celebrated the often overlooked genre that blends country, gospel, rock, folk, roots and blues. In addition to the winners, this year’s show presented lifetime achievement awards to Don Williams, country music’s gentle giant, singer-actor Chris Isaak and pioneering duo Indigo Girls.
Billy Strings couldn’t accept in person, so the Entertainer of the Year award was accepted by dobro and steel guitarist Jerry Douglas. Sierra Ferrell won Emerging Artist of the Year.
Six-time Grammy winner Brandi Carlile won Song of the Year for “Right On Time,” which she wrote with bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth and producer Dave Cobb.
“I really like the chill and the challenge I get every time I sing this song,” Carlile said.
Multi-instrumentalist Larissa Maestro won the Instrumentalist of the Year award and spoke about other artists of color who had been nominated in this category in previous years and opened the door to her.
“I haven’t seen people who looked like me for many years,” she said. “It’s really very exciting.”
Husband and wife duo War and Treaty of Tanya and Michael Trotter won over audiences with their soulful duet ‘That’s How Love is Made’, and later won Duo/Group of the Year.
“It’s been a long journey, it’s been tough, but it’s been worth it,” Tanya Trotter said. “If you want to know what Americana music is, it’s the sound of family,” added Michael Trotter.
Russell, who is from Montreal, teamed up with Carlile for an English and French rendition of her song “You’re Not Alone.”
Another lifetime winner was Al Bell, a music executive, record promoter and label owner who helped turn Memphis Stax Records label into a powerhouse, pushing the careers of artists like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and the Staple Sisters. He wrote the hit “I’ll Take You There” for the Staple Sisters and then went to work at Motown Records with Berry Gordy.
“I feel the spirit,” Bell told the crowd. “I don’t have the words to express how I feel right now and how American music makes me feel.”
He noted that popular music has always been influenced by black music, but he said streaming and new technologies threaten to wipe out this music.
“We must come together to save our authentic music and the art that comes from our culture,” he said.
Singer and actor Chris Isaak received a lifetime achievement award and was presented by country singer and actor Lyle Lovett, who called him “a remarkable artist and a remarkable human being”.
“If you don’t have a good band, it’s not fun,” said Isaak, who praised his band during his acceptance speech.
Lovett, who was on tour this year with Isaak, then launched into a humorous love song for his touring mate as Isaak watched from the side stage.
Folk duo Indigo Girls received the Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award for their longstanding advocacy for LGBTQ rights, women’s health, environmentalism and voting for their decades-long career.
Amy Ray and Emily Saliers said they were influenced by other women and music activists, including Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, and said their work as outspoken advocates is just as important today.
“It will take years to undo the racism and homophobia that is woven into the fabric of this country,” Ray said.
Fairfield Four, a harmony singing group born in the 1920s at Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville, received the Legacy of Americana award for preserving traditional black a cappella gospel music. The Grammy-winning gospel group is best known for their performance in the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” and they performed “Rock My Soul” at the awards show. Before their performance, the show held a moment of silence for Dr. Paul T. Kwami, who was the longtime musical director of the world-renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers. Kwami died Saturday in Nashville at the age of 70.
Gospel group The McCrary Sisters, who are regular backup singers for the Americana Honors and Awards show, also paid tribute to their sister, Deborah, who died in June, with a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace” that rocked the Ryman Auditorium audience. their feet. To close the show, the McCrary Sisters led the audience in a rowdy version of “I’ll Take You There”, as winners Russell and Ferrell danced and sang as backup.