John Prine, who died in April of this year from COVID-19, was awarded with artist of the year. The posthumous honor was not necessarily strictly a sentimental one. Prine had already picked up the artist of the year trophy a record three times, in 2005, 2017 and 2018, and voters opted in 2020 to give Americana’s unofficial flagship artist one more for the road.
The Highwomen — made up of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires — won for duo/group of the year, album (their debut, “The Highwomen,” produced by Dave Cobb), and song (“Crowded Table,” penned by Hemby, Carlile and Lori McKenna).
Black Pumas, a big presence in the Grammy nominations this year with three nods, picked up the Americanas’ award for emerging artist of the year.
The sole remaining award went to fiddler Brittany Haas, named instrumentalist of the year for her work with her quartet Hawktail as well as contributions to other artists’ records as a studio musician.
The awards were being announced three months later than their usual date, which would have been September 16 at a ceremony and concert at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Producers had kept hope alive into the summer that a televised or webcast version of the show would be able to go forward with a limited or no audience at the Ryman before finally pulling the plug on a 2020 show.
The Americana Music Association is typically also generous in giving out lifetime achievement honors at the annual event, but none were named for 2020 as producers look to resume that tradition with next year’s show.
Prine’s previous success at the Americana Honors included two awards last year, for what turned out to be his final album, “The Tree of Forgiveness,” and one of its songs, “Summer’s End.” He received the org’s lifetime achievement award for songwriting in 2003, the second year the awards were ever held, before going on to win six of the regular annual trophies.
Prine may yet get another nomination in 2021, as the last song he recorded, “I Remember Everything,” will be up in the following eligibility period. The posthumously released track is currently nominated for the 2021 Grammys in two American roots categories.
Carlile’s three wins from the Americana Honors & Awards this year as part of the Highwomen follow her award on her own in 2019 as artist of the year, the first she’d received from the org.
“I could not be more proud of this slate of winners,” said Jed Hilly, the Americana Music Association’s executive director of the Americana Music Association. “Although we terribly miss celebrating together at the Ryman as we usually have in years past, we’re thrilled to still be able to recognize these distinguished members of our community.”