The biggest moments in CMT Music Awards history
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

The biggest moments in CMT Music Awards history

Since its first iteration in the early 1960s, the CMT Music Awards have undergone a number of transformations. Only existing in its current form since 2005, the annual awards show highlights the most exciting music videos and performances of the year.

Ahead of this year's CMT Music Awards, set for October 14 after being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a look back at the biggest moments in the history of the event. 

 
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1967: The predecessor to the CMT Music Awards airs for the first time

1967: The predecessor to the CMT Music Awards airs for the first time
Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Originally known as the Music City News Awards, the ceremony that would evolve into the CMT Music Awards aired for the first time live from Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop in Nashville. Among the winners in 1967 were country icons Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn. 

 
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1988: The Awards switch to fan voting

1988: The Awards switch to fan voting
Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Prior to 1988, a panel of judges determined the winners of the The Nashville Network’s Viewers' Choice Awards, a predecessor to the CMT Music Awards. That year the system switched to allow fans to vote for their favorite artists via mail or phone, and in 1990 the Viewers Choice Awards merged with the Music City News Awards to create what would eventually become the CMT Music Awards. 

 
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2005: The big name change

2005: The big name change
R. Diamond/WireImage for CMT

In 2005, the CMT Music Awards as they exist today came into being. Prior to that the show had been called a number of names over the decades, including its inaugural moniker, Music City News Awards, and the more recent CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards. 

 
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2006: Hottest Video of the Year is no longer a category

2006: Hottest Video of the Year is no longer a category
John Shearer/WireImage

Introduced in 2002, the Hottest Video of the Year category was a slight departure from country’s typically family-friendly bent. The category, which highlighted the year’s sexiest performances from male and female artists, boasts winners like Tim McGraw’s “She’s My Kind of Rain” and “Whiskey Girl” by Toby Keith. The award was discontinued after 2006, the year Billy Currington won for “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right.” 

 
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2004: The Johnny Cash Visionary Award

2004: The Johnny Cash Visionary Award
ShowBizIreland/Getty Images

Shortly after the death of iconic country artist Johnny Cash, the CMT Music Awards created the Johnny Cash Visionary Award, a trophy presented to artists who have made significant contributions to the genre. Though the award existed for only four years, it was a high honor for its winners. That’s especially true for Kris Kristofferson, the final recipient of the award, who called Cash his “hero, inspiration and champion” in his acceptance speech. 

 
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2006: Keith Urban’s Hurricane Katrina tribute

2006: Keith Urban’s Hurricane Katrina tribute
Scott Gries/Getty Images

During the 2006 CMT Awards, Keith Urban delivered a truly touching tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Joined by choral singers who were displaced by the hurricane, Urban’s performance of “Better Life” brought a tear to even the most cynical of eyes. 

 
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2009: The CMT Awards move back to June

2009: The CMT Awards move back to June
Rick Diamond/Getty Images

To connect with the thousands of fans streaming into Nashville during CMA Week, the CMT Music Awards moved from April to June in 2009. 

 
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2012: Willie Nelson “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” collaboration

2012: Willie Nelson “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” collaboration
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

There may be no more iconic CMT Music Awards performance than Willie Nelson’s 2012 collaboration with Toby Keith, the Zac Brown Band, Darius Rucker and Jamey Johnson to perform a smoky, rollicking version of Nelson’s “Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die.” 

 
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2013: Taylor Swift stuns

2013: Taylor Swift stuns
Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Before fully transitioning into a pop superstar, Taylor Swift gave a seriously epic performance at the 2013 CMT Music Awards, fully establishing herself as the genre’s next big crossover star. Clad in a red, corset-style dress and rocking an equally vibrant guitar, Swift brought the house down with a performance of her song “Red.” 

 
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2015: The Guuber short film

2015: The Guuber short film
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for CMT

Featuring Justin Bieber, Arnold “The Terminator” Schwarzenegger and Rick Springfield, the deeply bizarre “Guuber” short film remains one of the quirkiest (and goofiest) moments in CMT Music Awards history. 

 
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2016: Fans push back against cross-genre collaborations

2016: Fans push back against cross-genre collaborations
Jason Davis/WireImage

As country music was heading increasingly in the direction of pop, many traditionalist fans were dismayed when the 2016 CMT Music Awards featured performances from pop acts Fifth Harmony and Leona Lewis, reggaeton artist Pitbull and ‘80s rock band Cheap Trick. 

 
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2017: Carrie Underwood secures her title as winningest CMT Music Awards artist

2017: Carrie Underwood secures her title as winningest CMT Music Awards artist
Sonia Recchia/Getty Images

In 2017, Carrie Underwood became the winningest artist in CMT Music Awards history when she took home Female Video of the Year (“Church Bells”) and Collaborative Video of the Year for “The Fighter,” her chart-topping duet with Keith Urban. Those two trophies brought Underwood’s total number of wins to 18 — more than any other artist in history. 

 
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2019: Zac Brown tells haters to "F*** Off"

2019: Zac Brown tells haters to "F*** Off"
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for CMT

While accepting the award for Group Video of the Year at the 2019 CMT Music Awards, Zac Brown Band frontman Zac Brown had some harsh words for his "haters." "For you young artists: have courage to stand up against the machine, be yourself, work hard, and one day you can stand up here and tell the haters to f*** off," Brown said at the end of his fiery acceptance speech. 

 
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2019: Tanya Tucker brings down the house with "Delta Dawn"

2019: Tanya Tucker brings down the house with "Delta Dawn"
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for CMT

An artist who's been woefully underrated throughout her career, Tanya Tucker showcased why many think she's one of the genre's most legendary singers with a rendition of her iconic 1972 song "Delta Dawn." Joined by Lauren Alaina, Martina McBride, Carly Pearce, Raelynn, Trisha Yearwood, and Deana Carter, it was a truly special moment. 

Amy McCarthy is a Texas-based journalist. Follow her on twitter at @aemccarthy

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