If I am going to be wrong, this is how to do it.
Lexington native and Paintsville/Staffordsville-raised Chris Stapleton won every award he was nominated for Wednesday night, taking home best new artist, male vocalist of the year and album of the year for his debut, Traveller. In doing so, Stapleton beat out competition much better known to country music fans such as Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton. But it was clear members of the Country Music Association know Stapleton, a well-traveled and liked songwriter.
“Watching Chris Stapleton have this night is so uplifting,” Bryan said, accepting the night’s final award for entertainer of the year, moments after Stapleton bested him for the male vocalist prize.
Stapleton himself was a man of few words, accepting his trophies, saving the most for last.
“Two years ago, I lost my dad,” Stapleton said, accepting the male vocalist prize, breaking Shelton’s five-year winning streak. “I made this record thinking about music he liked. He would have liked to have seen this.”
Stapleton acknowledged artists in the room at the CMA ceremony he had written with and said, “This is an unbelievable thing to me, and I’m not going to take it lightly.”
In giving thanks, he acknowledged his wife Morgane, a regular stage presence with him; “cousins in Kentucky” and he joked that he should probably thank “six people who came to see me in a bar somewhere. Maybe we’ll play some big ones now.”
Stapleton did play with the biggest star in the room Wednesday night, teaming with Justin Timberlake for a barn-burning rendition of his cover of Tennessee Whiskey (a Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove song first recorded by David Allan Coe and then taken to the Top 10 by George Jones in 1983) and Timberlake’s Drink You Away.
Stapleton accomplished the feat without charting a Top 40 single on the country charts. According to Billboard, Traveller is the first platter to win album of the year without a Top 40 single in 12 years. The last time was an artist with a little more name recognition: Johnny Cash for his 2003 album American IV: The Man Comes Around.
But the next time Chris Stapleton goes on a country music awards show, name recognition should not be a problem.
Note: This post was updated Thursday morning to clarify Stapleton’s Kentucky roots and add some information.