The late producer-songwriter Busbee won his first CMA Award Wednesday night, as the primary producer of Maren Morris’ sophomore release, “Girl,” which picked up album of the year at the ceremony. Busbee, who died Sept. 29 at age 43, was saluted in the telecast first by Blake Shelton and then, later and more emotionally, by Morris, who continued to memorialize her mentor backstage.
“I kind of blacked out during my speech on stage,” Morris admitted in the press room. “But I definitely wanted to make sure that respect was paid to Busbee. You know, we had been nominated for this before, a couple yeaars ago with my album ‘Hero,’ and we didn’t win that year, but we just had the best time going as first-time nominees. And tonight is bittersweet. But more sweet than bitter.”
Earlier, accepting for album of the year, Morris teared up and said, “I would be really remiss if I didn’t mention a huge facet of why the album sounds the way it does… and we miss him so dearly.”
Busbee, aka Michael James Ryan Busbee, was represented at the CMAs by his wife, Jessie Busbee, who came backstage to pose for photographers holding her husband’s trophy.
Shelton was first to give the beloved figure in the pop and country communities a shout-out during the evening. “I don’t know how this is gonna go this year,” Shelton said while accepting single of the year, possibly referring to not knowing whether any in memoriam was scheduled or not, “but I want to dedicate this to Busbee and Earl Thomas Conley that we lost this year.” Shelton had done the song “Every Goodbye” with Busbee in 2016, but Conley was one of his personal heroes.
Busbee was also remembered the previous night at the BMI Country Awards by BMI president/CEO Mike O’Neill, who said, “Tonight we remember and lift up our friend. And I’m so happy that Busbee’s wife Jess is with us tonight.”
Of the 14 songs on the winning album, “Girl,” Busbee co-produced 11 with Morris (with the other three produced by Greg Kurstin, who was on hand at the Bridgestone Arena to pick up his trophy). He coproduced 10 out of 11 songs on her debut, “Hero,” and cowrote the singer’s breakthrough songs “My Church” and “80s Mercedes.”
Busbee was known at least as much for his work in the pop field as in country, with credits that included the Backstreet Boys, Pink, Adam Lambert, Daughtry, Shakira, Kelly Clarkson and Haley Reinhart as well as Lady Antebellum (“Our Kind of Love, “You Look Good”), Florida Georgia Line (“H.O.L.Y.”), Garth Brooks and Jason Aldean. Morris was not his only triumph in helping get women back on country radio: “Every Little Thing,” a song he coproduced and cowrote with Carly Pearce, became her first No. 1 single. One of his biggest hits was “The Fighter,” a duet between Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood.
Busbee resided primarily in L.A. but spent a great deal of time in Nashville. After his death, Variety published a mostly previously unseen interview with the producer (“Busbee, In His Own Words: The Late Producer on Why He Fell in Love With Nashville”), in which he talked about his love for Nashville and the people there. “Nashville is a very tight community, and I’ve been embraced as an outsider,” he said. “I’m very, very grateful to have been embraced by this world. You know, they didn’t have to do that.”
Busbee passed away after only recently being diagnosed with glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.