NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - Kenny Chesney captured country music’s top prize — entertainer of the year — for the fourth time in five years on Wednesday in an awards show that also saw big wins for Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and traditionalist George Strait.
“It’s very wonderful to stand up here and hold this trophy for the fourth time. I love what I’m doing,” said the black-clad Chesney, who tied Garth Brooks for most wins of the Country Music Association’s top award.
The show’s two co-hosts also walked away with honors. “American Idol” champ Underwood won her third consecutive female vocalist of the year award, and Paisley won male vocalist for the second year in a row.
Underwood performed a ballad honoring fallen American soldiers. Wearing a jet-black floor-length gown, she was introduced by the widow of Master Sgt. James Ponder, who was killed in a 2005 helicopter crash in Afghanistan.
“Music has the power to help us heal, and I thank God for that power,” Leslie Ponder told the audience.
Chesney, 40, was chosen over fellow nominees Paisley, Strait, Sugarland and Keith Urban. Chesney previously won the prize in 2004, 2006 and 2007 in an 11-year career that has produced such hits as “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” “There Goes My Life,” and “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
Chesney has sold more than a million concert tickets each of the past six years and led with seven CMA nominations.
He married actress Renee Zellweger in 2005 but the marriage lasted only a few months.
Strait was honored in two categories, album of the year for “Troubadour” and single of the year for “I Saw God Today.” Strait has won the most CMA awards of any performer with 22.
More than ever before, performers from other musical genres were slotted in with country music’s stars during the three-hour show, which was broadcast by ABC.
Chesney offered perhaps the most jolting genre-mixing when he performed alongside a reggae band, the Wailers of Bob Marley fame. He sang backup on the late Marley’s 1977 hit “Three Little Birds” that features the lyric “every little thing gonna be all right.”
Kid Rock performed his cross-over hit “All Summer Long,” joined onstage by rapper Lil Wayne, and the Eagles tapped their folk-country roots with “Busy Being Fabulous.”
“To have the Eagles here, to have the Wailers on stage with me, I thought it was a great show, a very musical show. I enjoyed it,” Chesney said.
Darius Rucker — frontman for pop rockers Hootie & the Blowfish — sang his country single “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” which drew a mixture of polite applause and ovations from the crowd at the Sommet Center in Nashville.
The genre-bending was highlighted by the award to English rocker Robert Plant, 60, the former frontman for Led Zeppelin, who recorded the album “Raising Sand” with Alison Krauss. The duo won the award for musical event of the year, which was handed out before the telecast, for the hit “Gone Gone Gone.”
Hollywood also was well-represented with actor Andy Griffith, 82, the night’s unlikeliest winner. Griffith, best known for a long-running television role as a homespun sheriff, was featured in Brad Paisley’s video “Waitin’ On a Woman,” which won the music video prize.
Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman all presented awards, though Underwood cracked they should not give up their day jobs. All the actors happen to be in just-released or soon-to-be released movies.
Writing by Andrew Stern; editing by Mohammad Zargham