“Randy, I just want to say, you are such an influence, man,” Brown said from stage as he accepted his trophy. “I love you to death.”
Prior to receiving his award, Brown used his performance spot to sing Travis’ 2002 single “Three Wooden Crosses.” The No. 1 hit won Travis and its songwriters, Kim Williams and Doug Johnson, several awards upon its release.
“I had to redeem myself singing that song,” Brown shared, recalling how the last time Travis was there to see the younger artist sing the song, Brown could barely finish his performance. The moment happened in 2016: Travis surprised Brown during a radio appearance when Brown was still a new artist.
Five years later, Brown is a CMT Artist of the Year winner for a second time. His part of Wednesday night’s (Oct. 13) ceremony began with an introduction from rapper Nelly, a collaborator and friend of Brown’s.
“Right now, the world sees a superstar, but as a kid, this guy had to overcome so many obstacles …,” Nelly said of Brown. “He channeled the challenges of his childhood into his music, spreading an undeniable message of love, hope, equality and good old-fashioned fun, and now he is one of the leaders of the new generation of country music.”
When Brown won his first CMT Artists of the Year trophy, in 2019, he dedicated it to his drummer, Kenny Dixon, who had died in a car accident just days earlier. On Wednesday night, he dedicated his 2021 win to Dixon, too.
“I love you guys so much,” he told his fellow honorees. “Y’all are amazing; y’all represent country music so well.”
In addition to Brown, the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year event included honors for Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton, along with the 2021 CMT Artist of a Lifetime, Randy Travis, and the 2020 CMT Breakout Artist of the Year, Mickey Guyton. The event took place at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center.