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Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Little Big Town, Loretta Lynn and Ronnie Milsap were part of a star-studded lineup that paid tribute to the Country Music Association during this year's Leadership Music Dinner in Nashville on May 17.
Host for the evening Martina introduced country legend Loretta, who gave a sturdy performance of "Coal Miner's Daughter," earning a standing ovation from the crowd of some of the music industry's top movers and shakers. Ronnie then took the stage, saying, "It's always been my dream to live in Nashville." Ronnie recalled a meeting with Ray Charles backstage at a concert, which inspired him to keep pursuing music. "I told Ray, 'Everyone says I should go be a lawyer instead,' and Ray said, 'Well, you can be a lawyer if you want to, but you've got a lot of music in you.' That sounded like an endorsement from Ray Charles to me," said Ronnie. Taped segments from Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Vince Gill and others, in which they stated their appreciation for the Country Music Association, the CMA Music Festival and the Country Music Association awards, were shown.
Little Big Town's rousing performance of "Little White Church" followed by a version of Kris Kristofferson's "Why Me" was a highlight of the evening. Former Country Music Association executive director Jo Walker-Meador recalled in a taped segment how one of the first CMA Awards shows nearly derailed when someone forgot to take the award trophies to the Ryman Auditorium for the show. "Police rushed the awards over to the Ryman. They must have been going 100 mile per hour," she said. "I remember I gave the award to one of the trophy girls right as they said, 'And the award goes to . . .'"
Keith paid tribute to Glen Campbell with a version of "Wichita Lineman" followed by his own 2002 hit "Somebody Like You." Brad gave a classic rendition of the Buck Owens hit "Tiger By the Tail" before finishing with the title track of his new album, "This Is Country Music." Commenting on winning a CMA Award, Brad said, "I first wanted a wooden [CMA Award], then I wanted a glass [CMA Award]. I've got a lot of the glass ones, but never a wooden one. Can I get one of those?"
Martina closed out the show with a version of Tammy Wynette's "'Til I Can Make It Own My Own." "I remember opening a show for Tammy," Martina recalled. "She invited me onto her bus and she had rollers in her hair and she was just so normal. She was so kind to me and I try to follow that example with new artists." Recalling her first CMA Awards show performance in 1994, Martina said, "We all hope for a song like this that we sing for the rest of our lives," before closing with her hit "Independence Day."