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NASHVILLE, TN (August 22, 2018) – Earlier this evening, the Academy of Country Music® presented the 12th Annual ACM Honors™, an evening dedicated to recognizing the special honorees and off-camera category winners from the 53rd Academy of Country Music Awards™.

The event, presented in partnership with City National Bank, featured a star-studded lineup of live performances and award presentations celebrating Special Awards recipients Dierks Bentley (ACM Merle Haggard Spirit Award), Matraca Berg (ACM Poet’s Award), Sam Hunt (ACM Gene Weed Milestone Award), Alan Jackson (ACM Cliffie Stone Icon Award), Darius Rucker (ACM Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award), Mickey & Chris Christensen and Eddie Miller (ACM Mae Boren Axton Service Award, all awarded posthumously), Rob Potts (ACM Jim Reeves International Award, awarded posthumously) and Norro Wilson (ACM Poet’s Award, awarded posthumously). The evening also honored winners of the Industry and Studio Recording Awards, along with Songwriter of the Year Award winner, Rhett Akins.

Highlights from the event include:

  • Hosts Lauren Alaina and Jon Pardi opened the evening with a performance of Alan Jackson’s “Chasin’ That Neon Rainbow.”
  • Joe Diffie performed “The Grand Tour” in tribute to the late Norro Wilson. Wilson’s children Christy Wilson Myers and David Wilson accepted the award on their father’s behalf.
  • Kassi Ashton performed “Body Like a Backroad” in tribute to Sam Hunt before Bobby Bones presented Hunt with his award.
  • CAM performed Buck Owens’ “Cryin’ Time” in tribute to Mickey & Chris Christensen and Eddie Miller. Mickey and Chris’ son Chris Christensen along with Eddie Miller’s daughters, Bobbie Hedrick, Garneta Johnston and Pam Miller, accepted the award on behalf of their parents.
  • Morgan Evans performed his song, “Things That We Drink To” in tribute to Rob Potts. Potts’ son Jeremy Dylan accepted the award, presented by Storme Warren, on his behalf.
  • Old Crow Medicine Show performed “Wagon Wheel” in tribute to Darius Rucker, before Kip Moore presented Rucker with his award.
  • Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip and Dustin Lynch performed a medley of "Huntin’ Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday,” “Small Town Boy,” and “I Lived It” in tribute to Rhett Akins before the presentation of his award.
  • Jon Pardi performed “I Hold On” in tribute to Dierks Bentley, who received his award from Ricky Skaggs.
  • Lauren Alaina, Deana Carter and Ashley McBryde performed a medley of "You & Tequila,” “Wrong Side of Memphis” and “Strawberry Wine” before presenting Matraca Berg with her award.
  • Chris Stapleton ended the night with a performance of “Here in the Real World” in tribute to Alan Jackson before co-hosts Pardi and Alaina presented Jackson’s oldest daughter, Mattie Jackson Selecman with his award. Selecman accepted the award on behalf of Jackson who is still recovering from a respiratory infection.  She shared how honored her father is to receive this award that was also bestowed upon so many of his musical heroes. 
  • Jordan Davis presented the ACM Industry Awards.
  • Lindsay Ell presented the ACM Studio Recording Awards.

Below is a full list of special award recipients:


ACM Cliffie Stone ICON Award – Alan Jackson will receive the Cliffie Stone Icon Award. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry leader who throughout their career has advanced the popularity of the genre through their contributions in multiple facets of the industry such as songwriting, recording, production, touring, film, television, literary works, philanthropic contributions and other goodwill efforts.

Alan Jackson has kept it country for his entire career. He earned his first Top 10 hit with the poignant single “Here in the Real World,” which helped him win the 1990 ACM Top Male Vocalist trophy. That initial victory led to Single of the Year awards for “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” (1991), “Chattahoochee” (1993), “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001) and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” (2003). “Where Were You…” was also an ACM Song of the Year, earning Jackson trophies as both the composer and recording artist. Don’t Rock the Jukebox, A Lot About Livin’ (And a Little ‘Bout Love) and Drive also earned ACM Album of the Year honors. A native of Newnan, Georgia, Jackson joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1991 and has gone on to sell nearly 60 million records. He accepted the ACM Male Vocalist award for 1994, 1995 and 2001. His 35 enduring No. 1 hits include such titles as “Where I Come From,” “Remember When” and “Gone Country.” Additional ACM honors include Vocal Event trophies for “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” with Jimmy Buffett and “As She’s Walking Away” with Zac Brown Band…and Video of the Year honors for “Drive (For Daddy Gene)” and as part of “Forever Country” in 2016. He was a recipient of the Academy’s 40th Anniversary Milestone Award in 2005 and of the Jim Reeves International Award in 2011. Over the years, his music and performing have earned him over 60 ACM Award nominations. One of country music’s finest songwriters, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2017 and will become a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame this summer.


Past recipients of the ACM Cliffie Icon Award include Alabama, Bob Beckham, Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Charlie Daniels, Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers, Crystal Gayle, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, George Jones, The Judds,  Brenda Lee, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge Boys, Dolly Parton, Charley Pride, Jerry Reed, Tex Ritter, Marty Robbins, Kenny Rogers, Billy Sherrill, Ricky Skaggs, The Statler Brothers, George Strait, Mel Tillis, Randy Travis, Tanya Tucker, Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner, Keith Whitley, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Bob Wills and Dwight Yoakam, among others.


ACM GARY HABER LIFTING LIVES AWARD –  Darius Rucker has been chosen to receive the Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry professional who is devoted to improving lives through the power of music, has a generosity of spirit, and is committed to serving others, voted on by the ACM Lifting Lives Board of Directors.

From his days as a multi-platinum pop star to a decade as a hit-making, Grammy-winning country artist, Darius Rucker has given his time and talent to support many charitable causes, most especially those that benefit children and education. To date, he has raised more than $1 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through the “Darius & Friends” all-star concerts and tournaments – blending his two loves of music and golf. In his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina, Rucker serves on the board of the Charleston Children’s Hospital and, for 15 years running, has staged the “Homegrown Concert” to raise money to buy school supplies and other necessities for local public-school children. Long a big supporter of ACM Lifting Lives, Rucker has given his time to ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp, the Lifting Lives Golf Classic and a recent Lifting Lives Omaze campaign -- where he personally hosted the winners backstage at the 53rd ACM Awards. In addition, the affable star has used his talent to raise money and awareness for Pattinson’s Academy, PGA Tour Charities, Nashville’s Oasis Center, Musicians on Call, Military Warrior Support Foundation and the Hootie and the Blowfish Foundation, just to name a few.

Past recipients of the ACM Gary Haber Lifting Lives Award include Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood.


ACM GENE WEED MILESTONE AWARD Sam Hunt has been chosen as the recipient of the Gene Weed Milestone Award. This award is presented to a country music artist, duo/group or industry leader for a specific, unprecedented or outstanding achievement in the field of country music during the preceding calendar year.

Sam Hunt’s single “Body Like a Back Road” was a streaming juggernaut in 2017, breaking and re-setting the genre’s one-week streaming record 14 times during the year. The song set the one-year country streaming mark only six weeks after release (March 16) and was the fastest country song to earn 100m streams in history (12 weeks). Its streaming success is in addition to being the year’s most downloaded country song (iTunes) and the most-heard song on country radio (Country Aircheck/Mediabase and Billboard), while spending a record 34 weeks atop the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.

Past recipients of the Gene Weed Milestone Award include Jason Aldean, Kelsea Ballerini, Garth Brooks, Luke Bryan, George Burns, Kenny Chesney, Jeff Foxworthy, Merle Haggard, Gayle Holcomb, Loretta Lynn, Little Big Town, Willie Nelson, Jennifer Nettles, Blake Shelton, George Strait, Taylor Swift, and Carrie Underwood.


ACM Mae Boren Axton SERVICE Award – Mickey Christensen, Chris Christensen and Eddie Miller (all awarded posthumously) have been chosen as the recipients of the Mae Boren Axton Service Award. This award is presented to an outstanding country music artist, duo/group or industry leader in recognition of years of dedication and service to the Academy of Country Music.

Nightclub owners Mickey and Chris Christensen and performing songwriter Eddie Miller, along with Country & Western performer Tommy Wiggins, co-founded the organization that became known as the Academy of Country Music. In 1964 they created the Country and Western Music Academy to promote West Coast country artists. Chris Christensen and his wife Mickey moved from Iowa to Long Beach, California, in 1941. In time, Chris acquired a stake in a jukebox company while Mickey owned and operated venues like Pike’s Canteen, C&M Corral and the Red Barrel Niteclub. Two of the first musicians they hired were Buck and Bonnie Owens. West Coast entertainers started dropping by the Red Barrel, including Eddie Miller and Tommy Wiggins. A conversation led to an idea to emulate the Oscars and create an awards show. The earliest banquets took place at the Red Barrel before the first official ceremony was held at The Hollywood Palladium on February 28, 1966. An Oklahoma native and former railroad worker, Miller wrote country hits like “Release Me,” (Ray Price, Kitty Wells), “I Love You Honey” (Patsy Cline), “There She Goes” (Carl Smith) and “Thanks a Lot” (Ernest Tubb). He was a co-founder of the Nashville Songwriters Association, which developed into NSAI. [Surviving ACM founder Tommy Wiggins received this award at the 2013 ACM Honors.]

Past recipients of the ACM Mae Boren Axton Award include Barry Adelman, John Dorris, Tim DuBois, Rod Essig, Gayle Holcomb, Bob Kingsley, Jack Lameier, Reba McEntire, Marge Meoli, Paul Moore, Ray Pilzak, Gaynelle Pitts, Keith Urban, Gene Weed, Tommy Wiggins and David Young.


ACM JIM REEVES INTERNATIONAL AWARD – Rob Potts (awarded posthumously) has been chosen to receive the Jim Reeves International Award, which is presented to an artist or industry leader for outstanding contributions to the acceptance of country music throughout the world. 

Rob Potts cultivated a country music connection between Australia and the United States, paving the way for American superstars to perform Down Under for thousands of new fans. Potts and his business partner Michael Chugg established the brand of CMC Rocks leading to festivals like CMC Rocks the Snowy, CMC Rocks the Hunter and CMC Rocks QLD. The latter became the first-ever sold-out country music festival in Australia, with 18,000 tickets sold for its 2018 lineup featuring Luke Bryan. Potts had worked as a booking agent for artists like Keith Urban, Tommy Emmanuel and Lee Kernaghan. He brought country talent like Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Dixie Chicks, Florida Georgia Line, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, Dolly Parton, Taylor Swift and Zac Brown Band to the Australian market. In addition, Potts managed Warner Music Nashville artist Morgan Evans. In 2016, Potts launched FanGate Music, a joint label with Sony Music Entertainment Australia, in order to seek out and develop international country artists while still paying attention to emerging local talent. A partnership with Nashville-based Dreamlined Entertainment was announced in October 2017, less than two weeks before Potts died following a motorcycle accident in Australia. He was 65.

Past recipients of the Jim Reeves International Award include Joe Allison, Bill Boyd, Garth Brooks, Steve Buchanan, Joe Cates, Eric Church, Dick Clark, Roy Clark, Al Gallico, Merv Griffin, Jim Halsey, Alan Jackson, Ken Kragen, Lady Antebellum, Sam Louvello, Thurston Moore, Charlie Nagatani, Buck Owens, Dolly Parton, Rascal Flatts, Roy Rogers, Bob Saporiti, Louise Scruggs, Dinah Shore, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Jeff Walker, Jo Walker-Meador and Bill Ward.


ACM MERLE HAGGARD SPIRIT AWARD – Dierks Bentley has been chosen to receive the Merle Haggard Spirit Award. This award is presented to a singer-songwriter who is continuing the legacy of country legend and 20-time ACM Award Winner Merle Haggard by following his/her own path, crafting great songs and epitomizing Merle’s spirit through genuine performances and great storytelling.

Across eight albums and more than 20 Top 10 singles, Dierks Bentley has proven to be a songwriter, vocalist, musician and recording artist intent on carving his own path. Balancing a hit-making sensibility with an unyielding sense of self, he's offered wide-ranging artistry since his 2003 debut. From smoldering ("Come A Little Closer," "Black") and thoughtful ("Home," "Different For Girls," "Woman, Amen") to wandering ("Free And Easy," "Every Mile A Memory") and pure fun ("Sideways," "5-1-5-0"), Bentley has never been afraid to let the music lead. This trait was most evident on his 2010 bluegrass album Up On The Ridge, a risky career move that paid dividends in re-centering his creativity and, ultimately, leading to even greater success. The Academy's 2003 Top New Artist earned Video of the Year in 2014 ("Drunk On A Plane") and hosted the ACM Awards show in 2016 and 2017. An Arizona native, Bentley broke with Nashville convention, heading west to write and record his upcoming album The Mountain in Colorado.

Past recipients of the ACM Merle Haggard Spirit Award include Eric Church and Miranda Lambert.


ACM Poet’s Award – Matraca Berg and Norro Wilson (awarded posthumously) have been chosen to receive the Poet’s Award. This award is presented to a country music songwriter for outstanding and longstanding musical and/or lyrical contributions throughout their career, with special consideration given to a song or songs’ impact on the culture of country music.

Matraca Berg has written major country hits across four consecutive decades while maintaining the reputation as one of Nashville’s most eloquent songwriters. A Nashville native, Berg and co-writer Bobby Braddock scored a No. 1 hit in 1983 with “Faking Love” by T.G. Sheppard and Karen Brooks. Berg was just 18 at the time. Four years later, Reba McEntire recorded “The Last One to Know” as the title track to her 1987 album; again, Berg notched a No. 1 single. Throughout the 1990s, Berg secured plentiful cuts from country music’s top female artists. Trisha Yearwood solidified her stardom with “Wrong Side of Memphis,” “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl),” and “Everybody Knows,” while Patty Loveless boosted her career with “I’m That Kind of Girl” and “You Can Feel Bad.” Berg secured an ACM Song of the Year nomination for Deana Carter’s exquisite “Strawberry Wine.” Kenny Chesney and Grace Potter released their rendition of “You and Tequila” in 2011, leading to another ACM Song of the Year nod. She has written singles for Suzy Bogguss, Dixie Chicks, Sara Evans, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Linda Ronstadt, Gretchen Wilson and more. Berg was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008.

Norro Wilson worked in nearly every facet of the Nashville music industry, earning perhaps his greatest acclaim by composing classics for George Jones, Charlie Rich and Tammy Wynette. Wilson grew up in Kentucky and moved to Nashville as a teenager after joining a gospel group. He spent much of the next decade pursuing a performing career until a song he co-wrote, “Baby, Baby (I Know You’re a Lady),” hit No. 1 for David Houston in 1970. Wilson’s songwriting catalog grew to include Jones signatures like “A Picture of Me (Without You),” “The Grand Tour” and “The Door.” Wilson co-wrote three of Rich’s No. 1 hits: “The Most Beautiful Girl,” “A Very Special Love Song,” and “I Love My Friend.” Wynette found success with Wilson compositions such as “I’ll See Him Through,” “He Loves Me All the Way,” “My Man” and “Another Lonely Song.” In addition, Charley Pride secured No. 1 hits in the early 1980s with “Never Been So Loved (In All My Life)” and “Night Games.” In other roles, Wilson signed Keith Whitley to RCA and co-produced several Kenny Chesney albums. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1996. Wilson passed away in 2017.

Previous recipients of the ACM Poet’s Award include Bill Anderson, Bobby Braddock, Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Guy Clark, Jack Clement, Hank Cochran, Dean Dillon, Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall, Harlan Howard, Toby Keith, Kris Kristofferson, Bob McDill, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Eddie Rabbitt, Fred Rose, Shel Silverstein, Don Schlitz, Cindy Walker, Jimmy Webb and Hank Williams.


ACM SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR AWARD – Previously announced winner Rhett Akins has been chosen as the recipient of the Songwriter of the Year Award. This award is presented to an individual known predominately as a songwriter, selected by a Professional Panel of judges composed of songwriters, publishers, producers, and performing rights organization representatives.

Rhett Akins landed on the ACM Awards ballot 20 years ago in the New Male Vocalist category, thanks to hit singles like “That Ain’t My Truck” and “Don’t Get Me Started.” Now, two decades later, he is one of Nashville’s most prominent songwriters. A list of Akins’ recent hits reads like a “who’s who” of country music, including Dustin Lynch’s “Small Town Boy,” Jon Pardi’s “Dirt on My Boots,” Blake Shelton’s “I Lived It” and Akins’ son Thomas Rhett’s “Star of the Show” and “Life Changes.” Luke Bryan’s “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” Jason Aldean’s “When She Says Baby” and Shelton’s “Honeybee” and “Boys Round Here” have all been country radio staples. Akins has placed at least one song on Billboard’s Country Airplay Chart every week for the past 8 years, and he has been recognized as BMI Country Songwriter of the Year twice. Growing up in Valdosta, Georgia, Akins admired rugged country artists like Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams, Jr. He moved to Nashville in 1992, earned a publishing deal and started singing demos. A record deal in 1994 led to two albums on Decca and one on MCA Nashville. Akins has released three independent solo albums, and, with fellow Georgia natives Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, he is a member of The Peach Pickers – a tried-and-true songwriting collaboration that has yielded countless cuts. This is his third nomination for ACM Songwriter of the Year.

Past recipients of the ACM Songwriter of the Year Award include Ross Copperman, Dallas Davidson, Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, Lori McKenna and Roger Miller.



  • NIGHTCLUB OF THE YEAR: Cotton Eyed ­Joe ­– Knoxville, TN
  • CASINO OF THE YEAR - SMALL CAPACITY: The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino – Las Vegas, NV
  • CASINO OF THE YEAR - MEDIUM CAPACITY: MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV
  • VENUE OF THE YEAR - SMALL CAPACITY: The Georgia Theatre – Athens, GA
  • VENUE OF THE YEAR - MEDIUM CAPACITY: The Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
  • VENUE OF THE YEAR - LARGE CAPACITY: Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA
  • FESTIVAL OF THE YEAR: Country Thunder – Florence, AZ
  • DON ROMEO TALENT BUYER OF THE YEAR: R. J. Romeo – Romeo Entertainment Group
  • PROMOTER OF THE YEAR – Brian O'Connell – Live Nation



  • BASS PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Jimmie Lee Sloas
  • DRUMMER OF THE YEAR – Fred Eltringham        
  • SPECIALTY INSTRUMENT(S) PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Danny Rader              
  • STEEL GUITAR PLAYER OF THE YEAR – Paul Franklin        
  • AUDIO ENGINEER OF THE YEAR – Justin Niebank              


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Media Contacts:                              
Academy of Country Music                                        
Brooke Primero / Melissa Moldovan                                      

Ryman Auditorium

Lisaann Dupont / Ebie McFarland