Miranda Lambert praised her "rock," husband Blake Shelton when she was honored at CMT's "Artist of the Year" show which aired live from Nashville, Tennessee Tuesday evening.
The program highlighted a diverse group of country musicians reflecting the wide range of styles the genre has embraced, from country rocker Jason Aldean, guitar slinger Keith Urban and fiery singer Miranda Lambert, and then capped it all with a special tribute to country legend Merle Haggard.
Lambert, who made history this year as the most decorated female country artist at the CMA Awards last month, was the only female artist to be honored at the event.
"Thank you, CMT, for this amazing night in honoring everything we work for so hard all year and all the amazing artists. My husband, I always forget to thank him, but he's my rock -- Blake Shelton," Lambert said after a soulful performance of "Holding On To You." "He's somewhere on TV right now, I think. But I appreciate it so much. And thank you so much to the fans for buying our music -- all of our music -- and giving us a great life and letting us live our dream.''
Aldean, who is one of country's biggest touring artists, teamed up with Chris Cornell, of the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave, to open the show with a blast of arena rock guitars.
"When we heard he was going to be here, I started trying to figure out a way to get him on stage with us," Aldean said of Cornell.
Urban meanwhile took to the stage with an all-female backing band to perform James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," while rapper Wiz Khalifa lauded his party brothers, Florida Georgia Line, as "two guys that are hitting it hard."
"We look up to him a lot," said Florida Georgia Line's Tyler Hubbard about the rapper. "He's got a lot of great music and we've hung out with him a couple of times."
Haggard, who watched it all from the audience, was given the first Artist of a Lifetime award for his own innovations in modern country music when he helped create the twangy electrified California country sound half a century ago.
Eric Church, along with country singer Ashley Monroe and musician T Bone Burnett, performed Haggard's "Workin' Man Blues," and actor Billy Bob Thornton compared Haggard to writers like John Steinbeck and Tennessee Williams.
"He's truly a storyteller," Thornton said. "And that's something that has been lost."
The songwriter who penned tunes about drifters, convicts and blue collar workers, including "Okie From Muskogee" and "Mama Tried," was succinct upon accepting the award.
"Anything I'd say would fall short of the mark, so thank you very much and God bless you," Haggard said.
Reigning CMA entertainer of the year Luke Bryan was also scheduled to receive one of the night's honors, but a death in his family forced him to cancel his appearance. The country group Lady Antebellum and songwriter Chris Stapleton dedicated a performance of Bryan's acoustic ballad, "Drink a Beer," to Bryan in his absence.
"Tonight, if you're watching back home, Luke, this one's for you and your family," said Lady A singer Charles Kelley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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