In 1964, performers Eddie Miller and Tommy Wiggins teamed up with club owners Mickey and Chris Christensen to establish the Country and Western Music Academy. Their vision was to promote country music in the western 13 states with the support of artists based on the West Coast such as Johnny Bond, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, Wynn Stewart, Jimmy Wakely and Tex Williams. In 1965, a board of directors was formed to govern the Academy and Dick Shofield became the organization's first chairman.
The Academy hosted its first country music awards show in 1966 honoring the industry's accomplishments during the previous year. It was the first country music awards program held by a major organization, propelling country music into the public spotlight for the first time. Winners that year included Kay Adams, Merle Haggard, Bonnie Owens and Buck Owens. The Academy's signature "hat" trophy was created in 1968, the same year Fran Boyd was hired as the Academy's first paid employee. During the early 1970s, the organization changed its name to the Academy of Country and Western Music and finally to the Academy of Country Music (ACM) to avoid confusion about whether the organization was a music school. The Academy also expanded its efforts to broaden the horizons of the country music industry, sponsoring the "Country Music Caravan" in Los Angeles and beginning its history of charitable endeavors with a "Concern for Prisoners of War" benefit concert (also held in Los Angeles).
The awards show hit the airwaves in 1972, broadcast for the first time in national syndication on the ABC network. Gene Weed took over producing and directing the show in 1974 and in 1979 the Academy joined forces with Dick Clark Productions to produce the show. Dick Clark and Al Schwartz served as producers while Weed continued to direct. Under their guidance, the show also moved to the NBC network and finally to CBS, where it remains today.
In 1983, the Academy sponsored its first Celebrity Golf Classic, held in Los Angeles. The tournament became a popular annual event, moving to Las Vegas in 2004 and raising more than $1 million for charity through the years. Renamed the Bill Boyd Celebrity Golf Classic in 1995 after the passing of longtime ACM Executive Director Bill Boyd, the tournament is now called the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic. Hosted by country music superstars such as Vince Gill and Rascal Flatts, the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic has grown into one of the premiere golf tournaments of its kind in the United States.
The Academy put a foot in Nashville with the start of another of its longstanding traditions in 1988: a partnership with Country Radio Broadcasters yielding the ACM-sponsored Super Faces show at the annual Country Radio Seminar (CRS) in Music City. The Super Faces showcase has opened CRS with country's biggest acts---including Hank Williams, Jr., Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, Dolly Parton and Alan Jackson. In 2005, the event was redefined as the Music City Jam when the famous MuzikMafia (Big & Rich, Cowboy Troy and Gretchen Wilson) took the stage. Toby Keith, Brad Paisley, Tim McGraw and Keith Urban are also among the list of country music heavyweights who have headlined the Music City Jam.
In 1995, Fran Boyd (the Academy's first paid employee) became executive director after her husband, Bill Boyd, passed away. Boyd had steered the Academy since 1980 and held many key positions before taking on the role of executive director that was later bequeathed to his wife. After 34 years of service to the Academy, Fran Boyd retired in 2002 and handed the reins over to Bob Romeo, who currently holds the executive director position. The Academy's staff expanded under Romeo's direction in 2007 with the creation of new departments including Creative Development, Membership & Events and Publicity & Marketing.
The new millennium ushered in a whole new era for the Academy. In 2003, the awards show left Los Angeles for the first time in history and settled into Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Events Center. The show is now held at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Academy also adopted a sleeker, modern version of the "hat" trophy that year, and in 2004 the organization implemented online awards voting for its professional members, becoming the first televised awards show to do so. Creating an associate membership program in 2004 also expanded the Academy's efforts to broaden the appeal of country music and make it more accessible. Fans had the ability to vote online for the ACM Video of the Year and in 2008 they were also invited to vote for the Academy's coveted Entertainer of the Year award (after the professional membership had selected the nominees in that category). Associate membership has since grown to more than 100,000 and more than half a million people participated in the first-ever Entertainer of the Year fan vote.
Not only did the Academy move its awards show to Las Vegas in 2003, but it also took over the town for the entire Week Vegas Goes Country®. For days prior to the annual Academy of Country Music Awards, the Academy sponsors several events – both ticketed and open-to-the-public – geared toward showcasing the best acts country music has to offer. In addition to the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic, the Academy also sponsors the ACM Charity Motorcycle Ride and Jam (est. 2004), Fremont Street Experience (est. 2006), New Artists' Show (est. 2004) and All-Star Jam. Various other events have also been included intermittently in the Week Vegas Goes Country, such as a Songwriters-in-the-Round showcase (est. 2006) and an industry "Beach Party" and live charity auction (est. 2004) when the awards show was held at Mandalay Bay.
While the Academy strives to foster high-quality entertainment through its events, many Academy events also serve a dual purpose as fundraisers for the Academy of Country Music Charitable Fund was formed in 2004 to manage monies raised by the Academy for various charitable causes connected with the music industry, as designated each year by a separate governing board. In 2008, the Academy allocated more than $1 million to charity. In 2009, the ACMCF was rebranded as Lifting Lives, and the charitable arm of the Academy continues to grow in both size and scope in supporting organizations that are lifting lives through the power of music.
2008 was a banner year for the Academy – having partnered with Dick Clark Productions as producers of the awards show, the Academy took a more aggressive approach to promoting the 43rd Academy of Country Music Awards and the Week Vegas Goes Country. The 43rd Academy of Country Music Awards was broadcast live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in high-definition for the first time and ratings skyrocketed with an increase of 26%. Arena seats were entirely sold out, as were the New Artists' Show and the All-Star Jam. The Fremont Street Experience concerts, headlined by Randy Owen and Sugarland, reeled in more than 58,000 fans and was the largest event in Fremont Street history. The Academy also introduced its new annual ACM Honors event in Nashville later that year, hosted by Martina McBride and honoring the recipients of the Academy's special awards including the Jim Reeves International Award, the Musicians/Bandleaders/Instrumentalist awards, Pioneer Award and Poet's Award.
With its fruitful production partnership and several new initiatives in place, the Academy continues to move forward in 2009 and has already achieved additional milestones. Following the 44th Academy of Country Music Awards will be a second show honoring the Academy's Artist of the Decade, George Strait. The Artist of the Decade television special will air later in the year and will be the Academy's second television special (the first being its 40th Anniversary Celebration in 2005). As country music continues to reach an increasingly wider audience, the Academy of Country Music also continues its mission to promote and support the industry and engage country music fans not just in the western states, but from coast to coast.