The artists might attend the Country Music Association Awards to score trophies, but fans watch for one thing: the performances. Every year country music’s brightest stars are at their musical best with incredible performances that range from tear-jerking to over-the-top glamorous. Flip through the slideshow to take a look back at some of the Awards’ most iconic performances, including LeAnn Rimes’ stunning CMA Awards debut, Alan Jackson’s tear-jerking Sept. 11 tribute, and so much more. Reba McEntire’s revealing red dress may have stolen the show at the 1993 CMA Awards, but her dramatic duet with collaborator Linda Davis on “Does He Love You” meant that the audience was the real winner.
Just after stirring controversy with a racy red velvet dress in 1993, Reba McEntire returned to the CMA Awards in 1994 with a poignant performance of her song “She Thinks His Name Was John,” which tells the story of a woman dying of AIDS. McEntire’s theatrical performance of the song still remains as one of the most political moments in CMA Awards history. Rarely do critiques of mainstream country music make it on the stage at the CMA Awards, but Alan Jackson and George Strait’s performance of “Murder on Music Row” was a direct indictment of those who were “killing” traditional country music in 1999.
At the 2018 CMA Awards, R&B icon Mavis Staples was joined by Male Vocalist of the Year winner Chris Stapleton for a performance that blended genres and decades. Joined by Marty Stuart, Maren Morris, and Stapleton’s wife and frequent collaborator, Morgane, this soulful performance of Staples Singers classic “I’ll Take You There” and Stapleton’s “Friendship” was seriously stunning. Genres collided and powerhouse vocals combined when R&B icon Little Richard joined Tanya Tucker for a rendition of Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else.” Tucker’s rough-around-the-edges voice paired perfectly with Richard’s soulful growl, making for one of the most fun CMA performances of all time.