The country music world is buzzing with anticipation for the 56th Academy of Country Music Awards, hosted by veteran artist Keith Urban and groundbreaking newcomer Mickey Guyton.
The show, airing Sunday April 18, will be broadcast from three historic Nashville music venues — the Grand Ole Opry House, the Ryman Auditorium and the Bluebird Cafe, and will feature a more diverse set of nominees than any ACM awards show in history.
“Eveything has just got its own challenges that are new,” Urban told CBS News’ Vladimir Duthiers of hosting during the pandemic. “We’re getting a lot of practice in playing to no people.”
Unlike last year’s show, however, this year’s will be staged in front of a small group of vaccinated health care workers.
Urban won his first ACM award for Top New Male Vocalist two decades ago, and is up for three more this year — having won 14 total in between.
He said he enlisted Guyton’s help after performing together at last year’s event.
“I got along so great with her,” he said. “So I called her up and asked her if she’d come and host with me. So I’m glad we’re getting to do it together.”
Guyton herself is nominated for New Female Artist of the Year.
The singer-songwriter previously made history as the first Black female solo artist to be nominated for a Grammy in a country category, and is set to make it again as the first Black female host of the ACMs — and the second Black host in its 56-year history.
When she got Urban’s call asking if she wanted to host alongside him, Guyton replied excitedly, “Yes! Do I have a pulse? Of course!”
She recalled the moment to “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.
“You know, I wanted to do the praise dance and the hallelujahs and all of that. I still can’t believe it,” Guyton said.
Guyton is no stranger to adversity — in pursuing her dream to be a country artist, she had to deal with the harsh reality of being a Black woman in a largely White and male-dominated industry.
“I dealt with a lot of difficult things being on the road and trying to figure out myself in country music, you know? I did get called the N-word at a show. And that was devastating to me,” she said.
Guyton’s hit song “Black Like Me” made waves in the country music community at a time of racial reckoning in the United States — and according to her, not everybody reacted well.
“After we released it, I did get some pretty mean messages on my social media from it,” she said. “I try to act like I’m strong, but I’m not always strong.”
However, she said “so much support” also came to her after the song’s release as well.
“There are so many loving messages from people that showed me that I was doing the right thing,” she said. “As weak as I felt, I still feel strong because I know that I’m standing up for people that don’t necessarily have that ability.”
Guyton will not be the only one making history at the event — she is one of four Black artists nominated, more than in any other previous ACM Awards show.
“Country music is a community, and communities today are really diverse,” Urban said. “And country music’s reflectinf that and heading in the right direction. So I’m grateful that it’s moving with the times as it should.”
Alongside Guyton, Jimmie Allen, John Legend and Kane Brown are all up for honors Sunday.
Brown, who spoke with “CBS This Morning” Wednesday, was told on air that he had become the first Black solo artist to win an ACM award for Music Video of the Year, for his song “Worldwide Beautiful.”
“It was like, man, it would be a good day when everybody can just see the beautiful in the world and how everybody is beautiful people all together. We’re all a little different,” Brown said. “I couldn’t ask for it to come out any better than it did.”
Although the song was written a year before the unrest of summer 2020 that began with George Floyd’s death, Brown said he chose to release then because he “felt like it was time.”
Brown also took inspiration from his own life experiences.
“I lived it growing up, so this was just me saying that, you know, everybody should just love everybody. And all this hatred and everything should just kind of stop,” he said.
Brown is also the first Black country artist to be nominated for Album of the Year at the ACMs for his collection “Mixtape Volume One.”
The 56th Academy of Country Music Awards will be broadcast at 8 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 18 on CBS and Paramount+.