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Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson win top Americana awards

Brandi Carlile accepts the artist of the year award at the Americana Honors & Awards show Sept. 22, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.
Mark Zaleski
The Associated Press
Brandi Carlile accepts the artist of the year award at the Americana Honors & Awards show Sept. 22, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.

Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile added another trophy to her shelf as she won artist of the year at the 2021 Americana Honors and Awards show, while country singer Sturgill Simpson took home the album of the year award.

The annual awards show returned in-person on Wednesday at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., after it was canceled last year because of the pandemic.

“To be artist of the year after a year like we have all had as a community, there's a weight to it and I know it's profound," said Carlile. “Because it was hard to be an artist this year.”

Simpson won for “Cuttin’ Grass Vol. 1 - The Butcher Shoppe Sessions,” in which he recorded bluegrass versions of his songs. Simpson did not attend, so Shooter Jennings accepted the award on his behalf.

Carlile made the most of her pandemic year, releasing a memoir and working on a follow-up to her breakout 2018 record “By The Way, I Forgive You.” This is her second artist of the year trophy, after winning in 2019.

The Washington native and musical multi-hyphenate has worked as a producer and writer for Tanya Tucker’s Grammy-winning comeback record and as a member of The Highwomen. Carlile sat at the piano to sing “Right On Time,” a song from her forthcoming album “In These Silent Days," and also performed with the Highwomen's Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby with special guest Yola.

The late folk singer John Prine, who Carlile called “the godfather of Americana,” won song of the year for “I Remember Everything." Prine died in 2020 due to COVID-19 complications. The song also won two Grammy Awards earlier this year.

“We are so grateful for this posthumous recognition, John's last recorded song,” said Fiona Prine, his widow, who noted how Prine was a champion of women in the genre, often taking them out on tour with him.

After the win, Carlile, Amanda Shires and Margo Price performed Prine's heartfelt ballad during the awards show that honored the genre's origins, its present and future stars.

Austin, Texas-duo Black Pumas won duo/group of the year and Charley Crockett won emerging artist of the year.

Many performances during the show honored artists who have passed away, including a tribute by Steve Earle to his son Justin Townes Earle, Buddy Miller singing one of Tom T. Hall’s songs and Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell singing an Everly Brothers’ classic “Let It Be Me.” Other performers included the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Jason Isbell and his wife Amanda Shires, Amythyst Kiah and Valerie June.

Several artists received lifetime achievement awards, including blues singer Keb' Mo,' the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the pioneering rock-country band The Mavericks, soul singer Carla Thomas and producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker.

Singer Allison Russell introduced Thomas, now 78, as “one of fiercest, most indomitable voices in recorded music" who was one of the original artists on the Memphis label Stax Records. Often called the Queen of Memphis Soul, Thomas performed one of her pop hits, “B-A-B-Y," bringing the crowd to their feet for a standing ovation. “I am so grateful,” she said. “Thank you, Americana.”

Vocalist Raul Malo joked that when Nashville producer Tony Brown went to Miami to check out the buzzed-about band that he lied when he told Brown that they played country music, but they got in anyway. They performed “La Sitiera” from their Spanish language album backed by horns and a string section.

“I want to thank these guys for us committing to going on this journey, this crazy journey,” Malo said of the band.

Kristin M. Hall is an entertainment writer for The Associated Press.