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The 2021 CMT Music Awards were a mix of heartfelt speeches, both live and location-based performances around Nashville and its suburbs, and in general, a new sense of normalcy emerging in country music’s post-COVID era. In the two-hour television broadcast, there were numerous well-regarded moments. This small sampling highlights five takeaway events that offer a sense of the best of what country music’s most celebrated artists had to offer.

Chris Stapleton and H.E.R. Collaborate On A Performance Of Her Single “Hold On”

.@ChrisStapleton and @HERMusicx‘s performance of “Hold On” was absolutely stunning! 🙌 #CMTAwards pic.twitter.com/2GFoDatIL5

— CMT (@CMT) June 10, 2021

The husky tenor of “Starting Over” and “Tennessee Whiskey” performer Chris Stapleton was paired with the breakout superstar guitar and vocal stylings of recent R & B Grammy and Oscar-winner H.E.R. for a cross-genre pairing that proved country’s essence expands past sonic boundaries. “One of the kindest [people] and most INCREDIBLE voices on this planet,” noted H.E.R. about the performance. The two artists’ styles merging in bluesy vibes was a hotly anticipated moment during the week leading into the ceremonies. Ultimately, their time together onstage yielded an impressive musical moment that expanded beyond expectations.

Carrie Underwood and NEEDTOBREATHE Pair For Soaring Recorded Collaboration of “I Wanna Remember”

NEED2BREATHE’s pulsating rock joining with Carrie Underwood’s airy, insistent voice has made their latest single, “I Wanna Remember,” a quick-rising 2021 favorite. The rock quintet performing in the round with the most-awarded artist in CMT Music Awards history yielded a strong, heavy take on the track. From her show-stopping ACM Awards performance alongside Cece Winans, and an Easter Sunday concert at the Ryman Auditorium, it continues a trend of stellar live outings for the “Before He Cheats” singer.

Mickey Guyton and Gladys Knight Sing The Soul Legend’s Classic Hit “Frindship Train”

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Alongside performing her collaboration on the remix of “Cross Country” with emerging singer/songwriter BRELAND, Mickey Guyton joined forces with iconic soul vocalist Gladys Knight for a rousing rendition of Knight’s 1969 hit “Friendship Train.” Guyton’s recent breakout has been tied to a series of uplifting performances of her now-signature, 2020-released single “Black Like Me.” Similarly, “Friendship Train” — a funky, brass-drenched track — provided rousing, feel-good energy to the festivities.

Ingrid Andress Performs “Lady Like” From A Downtown Nashville Rooftop

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Grammy Best New Artist nominated country performer Ingrid Andress not only joined Canadian country artist JP Saxe on the rooftop of the former downtown convention center to perform his newly-released single “Like That.” She also sat at a piano in the shadow of the Ryman Auditorium and sang her beloved single “Lady Like.” Upon its release, Andress noted, “a lot of people come up to me after I sing that song, being like, ’I totally relate to that.’ And it’s people of all different kinds. Even guys come up to me like, ’I’m a lady like that!’ I’m like, ’You aaaare!’”

Linda Martell Honored With CMT’s Equal Play Award

We honored Linda Martell this year at the 2021 #CMTawards with the CMT Equal Play Award for being a trailblazer for artists of color in country music. Congrats from CMT and @seeherofficial! #SeeHer Hear Her pic.twitter.com/nMcvpNfaPh

— CMT (@CMT) June 10, 2021

A brief yet stirring video presentation featuring groundbreaking country performer and CMT Hot 20 correspondent Rissi Palmer, Mickey Guyton, Darius Rucker, and others accompanied the announcement of now-legendary country artist Linda Martell being awarded the 2021 Equal Play Award from CMT. Regarding the achievement, Palmer noted, “Equal Play is imperative to the genre. It’s how we go forward and paint a broader, more complex picture of what country music is and who country music represents. Thank you, Linda, for being brave, fearless, talented and beautiful, and for putting yourself out there, even when it was difficult. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”