CBS, ACM Bring New Twist to Musical Salute to Military Members

ACM Presents An All-Star Salute to

It started as a joint effort by CBS and the Academy of Country Music to mount a musical salute to the troops to coincide with Armed Forces Day on May 17.

It wouldn’t have been hard to find country stars willing to participate in such a special. But as Jack Sussman, CBS’ exec VP of specials, music and live events, and ACM producers dug into the planning of the event, they came up with a more meaningful approach.

Instead of having C&W artists sing to an audience of servicemembers, they went on a mission to recruit talent from within the military ranks to perform alongside such notables as Merle Haggard, George Strait, Carrie Underwood, Lady Antebellum, Rascal Flatts, Keith Urban, Toby Keith, the Band Perry and Florida Georgia Line.

The result is Tuesday’s two-hour special “ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops.” Sussman promises that even the most hardened Marine or battle-scarred Army Ranger won’t be able to watch the whole show without shedding a tear. The performances were taped in Las Vegas on April 7, the night after CBS’ live telecast of the Academy of Country Music Awards.

“This is a great night of hits performed by some of the biggest stars in country music who are partnered with people who risk their lives for this country every day,” Sussman said. “On this night, we let them live out their musical dream. To watch these people perform after you hear the backstories of what brought them into the military — you can’t help but get choked up. The artists were so happy to share that moment with them. There’s no acting going on.”

Assembling the special took “old-fashioned leg work” on the part of producers to find servicemembers with musical chops. Officials with the Defense Department and USO helped in the search. Some of the participants in the special were found simply by surfing YouTube, as plenty of active military personnel have posted vidclips of songs and performances.

“We were amazed at how many examples we saw of people using music to entertain each other and to alleviate stress. People in the most dangerous situations would take time to play music and share an experience with each other,” Sussman said. “We knew that was something we could capture on stage that would be very powerful.”

Producers also spent a lot of time going over prospective songs and finding the right fit between artist and servicemember. That involved examining everything from vocal ranges to specific song lyrics. One of the most touching moments comes in a duet between singer Lee Brice and Army Sgt. Christiana Ball on “I Drive Your Truck,” Brice’s song about a man dealing with the death of his brother in combat overseas.

Carrie Underwood was inspired to write a new song for the occasion, “Keep Us Safe.” Proceeds from digital sales of the tune will benefit the ACM’s Lifting Lives philanthropic arm. The special also incorporates plugs for several non-profit orgs that support military personnel and their families, including the Wounded Warrior Project, Team Rubicon and Navy SEAL Foundation.

Beyond all of the good vibes that come from showcasing military heroes, the special also delivers in the musical department, Sussman promised.

“When you strip away the lights and the staging and everything else, it’s all about two people sharing a musical moment,” Sussman said. “In this case one of them happens to be a country music star and the other is someone who has devoted their life to serving their country. To see these people have their musical moment in the sun — you can’t help but just smile.”

(Pictured: Singer Kellie Pickler and Air Force Staff Sgt. Baily Zimmerman)

Here’s a glimpse of “ACM Presents: An All-Star Salute to the Troops”

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  1. Camilla says:

    Thank you ACM and all the artists and soldiers who shared this wonderful evening with us. I was in awe of the talent, presentation and the entire concept. That’s what America is all about and all of these men and women just made me so proud to be an American. God bless and much appreciation to the producers of the show for their creative expression in true entertainment. Great job by everyone involved!

  2. Mel Carner says:

    Will they rerun this at another time on CBS or some other station! They shouldn’t have run it against The Voice and DWTS! Not fair!

  3. Kate M. says:

    It’s such a shame that this was advertised as an “all star salute to our troops by the country music community BUT in order to do that you’d have to have country musicans participate NOT the pop crap thats being passed off as country by people who have NO clue what country music is.Watched the 1st 45 min. then changed the channel since it w a s so god awfull. As Alan Jackson sang: THERE’S BEEN A MURDER ON MUSIC ROW……

  4. Donna says:

    Will there be a reairing of the show?

  5. Kati says:

    Loved the show – and the duets by all – thanks ACM –

  6. barbara says:


  7. barbara says:

    I missed the tribute to the veterans. Any place to watch the show?

  8. Sharon says:

    I watched the entire show in awe! It was one of the best tributes to our troops I have ever seen. Thank you everyone for all the great things you try to do for these brave Men and Women in our Armed Services. They are the best and deserve all the thanks this country can give. God Bless America!!!

  9. Marlene Vallone says:

    We they replay it? I didn’t get to see it.

  10. Cherelynn says:

    I am excited to watch this tonight! Great story!

  11. Heidi Janssen says:

    So looking forward to watching our Hero fighters for freedom to join stars. Talents mixing, heart and souls connecting. Reminds all of us why we are Free!! Thank you to the stars that took the time to make this happen.

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