“Improving lives by connecting fans, artists and the industry.” That’s the overriding mission of the Academy of Country Music---whether through the annual ACM Awards show or the organization’s charitable arm, ACM Lifting Lives. In the 50-plus years since its inception, the Academy has grown from a regional Southern California trade organization to a national powerhouse dedicated to a higher purpose.
The Academy was officially founded in 1964 in Los Angeles when performer Tommy Wiggins, songwriter Eddie Miller and club owners Mickey and Chris Christensen teamed up with other performers, radio and record label executives to establish the Country and Western Music Academy. Their vision was to promote country music in the western 13 states and to support artists based on the West Coast such as Billy Mize, Johnny Bond, Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, Wynn Stewart, Jimmy Wakely and Tex Williams. In 1965, an official board of directors was formed. The Academy hosted its first official country music awards show in 1966 (after three informal awards banquets held at the Christensens’ Red Barrel Niteclub) 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). 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), and, later, the ACM Celebrity Golf Classic.
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. The Academy named Bill Boyd executive director, and he also served as the talent coordinator for the show. Under their guidance, the ACM Awards moved first to the NBC network and finally to CBS, where it remains today.
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. The Academy grew leaps and bounds under Romeo's direction, with the creation of new in-house departments (including Operations & Events, Creative & Content Production and Publicity & Marketing) as well as the signing of a new 10-year deal with CBS that will keep the ACM Awards on the network through 2021. The show is still produced by dick clark productions under the direction of longtime Executive Producers Barry Adelman and Richard A. “Rac” Clark. After 12 years at the helm, Bob Romeo stepped down as CEO in 2016. Pete Fisher, former Vice President and General Manager of the Grand Ole Opry® in Nashville, took the helm as the ACM’s new CEO in January 2017
After being staged in Los Angeles since the 1960s, the ACM Awards left Los Angeles for the first time in history and settled into Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino Events Center in 2003, then moving to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in 2006. 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. In 2008, fans were invited to vote online for the Academy's coveted Entertainer of the Year award (after the professional membership had selected the nominees in that category).
While the Academy strives to foster high-quality entertainment through the annual awards show and the ACM Honors ceremony in Nashville, many events such as the annual ACM Party for a Cause® Festival and Celebrity Golf Classic serve a dual purpose as fundraisers for the Academy’s charitable arm. ACM Lifting Lives strives to improve lives through the power of music by supporting deserving charities through its annual grant cycle, as well as supporting those in the music industry hit with unexpected and catastrophic expenses through the Diane Holcomb Emergency Relief Fund. To date, more than $8 million has gone to a variety of causes nationwide—including Wounded Warrior Project, Stand Up 2 Cancer, Folds of Honor and Nashville’s Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for the annual ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp.
In 2015, the Academy marked a major milestone---the 50th anniversary of the ACM Awards. To celebrate, the ACM partnered with Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys, bringing the ACM Awards to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on April 19th for what became the largest live awards show ever staged, setting a new GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS™ title for the Highest Attendance at an Awards Show Broadcast with a total of 70,252 fans in attendance. The show---as well as the two-day ACM Party for a Cause Festival at Globe Life Park---sold out in just 18 minutes, paving the way for Country Music’s Party of the Year® to invade Texas.
In 2016, the Academy brought the Party back to its home at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, kicking off its next half-century in true ACM style to celebrate the 51st ACM Awards. Taking over the new Las Vegas Festival Grounds, the ACM also extended its ACM Party for a Cause Festival to a full three days and welcomed country fans from across the globe, continuing the Academy’s mission to connect fans, artists and the industry in creative and meaningful ways.