NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Chris Tomlin took home artist of the year, male vocalist and song of the year honors at Wednesday's 37th annual Dove Awards.
"I tried out in college for the singing group and the director said `You'll do anything in life but sing, Chris. ... So this is pretty cool," Tomlin said. "I never felt like a great singer, but if God could use this voice to lead people to worship God, then I'm grateful for that."
Tomlin led all nominees with 10 and ended up winning five. His song "How Great Is Our God" won in both the song of the year and worship song categories. His fifth Dove was for collaboration on the special event album, "Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."
In accepting the artist of the year award, Tomlin read from Psalms 96, "O sing unto the Lord a new song. Sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name. Show forth his salvation from day to day."
David Crowder was a three-time winner, as was his David Crowder Band. Crowder won for his production and songwriting credits, while his band won for the "Chronicles of Narnia" project, rock/contemporary album for "A Collision" and rock contemporary recorded song for the album's lead single, "Here is Our King."
Natalie Grant was named top female vocalist, her first Dove after several nominations.
"I was Susan Lucci there for a while, wasn't I?" she cracked, referring to the TV soap opera actress's longtime losing streak at the Daytime Emmy awards.
Grant said when she was told she also had been nominated for artist of the year, she tried not to get too excited because "I thought they were going to call me back and say it was Amy Grant."
Steven Curtis Chapman won his 50th award, the most of any artist in gospel music history, for special event album of the year for the "Chronicles of Narnia" project.
In his honor, Crowder, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns' Mark Hall and Third Day's Mac Powell performed an acoustic set of Chapman's music.
Chapman was visibly moved, hugging his wife and tearing up.
"I spent most of my last 21 years trying to find new and deeper ways to try to articulate the message of the Gospel," Chapman said afterward. "It's all about Jesus — this music and what he's allowed me to be part of."
Grant, Relient K, David Crowder Band, Joy Williams, BarlowGirl, Switchfoot, Jeremy Camp, Casting Crowns, the Crabb Family and Israel Houghton also received multiple nominations from the Gospel Music Association.
"We're so thankful for what God has done this last year," said Jason Crabb of the Crabb Family, which won for Southern Gospel album, "Live at Brooklyn Tabernacle."
"We're seeing a lot of great things take place, hundreds of lives a night coming to the alter and changing their thought process," Crabb said.
Secular artists also were represented. Country singer and reigning "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood won her first Dove for a country recorded song for her No. 1 hit "Jesus Take the Wheel." Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell won his first Dove for inspirational recorded song for his recording of the Michael English song "In Christ Alone." And bluegrass group Alison Krauss & Union Station took home bluegrass recorded song honors for "Living Prayer."
Littrell, who grew up singing in church and recently launched a career in Christian music, praised the music for its message and said he thinks Christian and mainstream radio have been moving closer together.
"I hope Christian music will be the next big thing," he said.
Hosted by Kirk Franklin and Rebecca St. James, the show at the Grant Ole Opry House featured performances by BarlowGirl, Grant, Tomlin, Third Day and others.
Awards were handed out in 42 categories with winners chosen by members of the Gospel Music Association.