Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton Lead Academy of Country Music Awards Nominations With Six Each

Miranda Lambert followed with five nods, and Ashley McBryde, Thomas Rhett and Jay Joyce each have four. MIA: the disqualified Morgan Wallen.

Maren Morris arrives at the 54th
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Maren Morris and Chris Stapleton lead the nominations for the 2021 Academy of Country Music Awards with six each, closely trailed by Miranda Lambert with five nods, and Ashley McBryde, Thomas Rhett and producer Jay Joyce with four apiece.

Among those picking up three nominations: Luke Combs, Eric Church, Ingrid Andress, Carly Pearce, Hardy, producer Dann Huff and last year’s telecast host, Keith Urban. Double nominees include Luke Bryan, Gabby Barrett, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, producer Dave Cobb and the late producer Busbee.

In the entertainer of the year category, Stapleton, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Luke Combs and Thomas Rhett will face off. Only Bryan and Rhett have previously won that top prize. Last year, in a major surprise, Rhett tied with Carrie Underwood for the top honor. Four of the nominees for entertainer this year are holdovers from 2020, except for Stapleton taking Underwood’s spot… leaving the category all-male again, as it has been in more years than not with both the ACMs and CMA Awards.

The more pleasant surprise in the ACM nominations may be the big look for McBryde, who is as beloved by the Nashville community as she is by critics, and often hopefully proclaimed “one of country’s next superstars,” but has not racked up anywhere near the same number of hits as anyone else picking up multiple nominations. She’s up for the prestigious album of the year prize for the first time for her sophomore release, “Never Will,” along with song of the year (“One Night Standards,” her first gold single) and female artist of the year.

Nominees in top categories were revealed Friday morning on “CBS This Morning” by Kelsea Ballerini (who’ll compete for female vocalist of the year) and Brothers Osborne (up for album of the year for “Skeletons” and also duo of the year).

The show will air on April 18 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, with the main action taking place at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry House and additional performances from the Ryman Auditorium and Bluebird Cafe. No host for the CBS broadcast has yet been announced.

Notably MIA: Country’s superstar-in-exile, Morgan Wallen, whom the Academy of Country Music earlier announced would be removed from eligibility for this year’s awards after his use of the N-word became a major news headline. Wallen’s “Dangerous: The Double Album,” which is spending its sixth week at No. 1 on all-genre charts, is too new to have been nominated, but its lead-off single “More Than My Hometown” would have been a likely contender for single or song of the year, and Wallen in contention for male vocalist, if his situation hadn’t blown up.

With the subject of race in country music having been a topical one even before the Wallen scandal blew up, the Academy leaped in point out that this year marks the first time four Black artists have been nominated in a single year: Jimmie Allen, Kane Brown, Mickey Guyton and John Legend. Allen and Guyton are repeating as second-time nominees for new male artist and new female artist, respectively.

There were some bragging rights for the ACM’s representation for female artists, especially in the single of the year category, where for the first time in history all songs have a woman as featured artist. Four of the songs are from female solo artists — Morris’ “Bones,” Lambert’s “Bluebird,” Gabby Barrett’s “I Hope” and Ingrid Andress’ “More Hearts Than Mine” — with the fifth slot going to Carly Pearce’s and Lee Brice’s duet of “I Hope You’re Happy.”

The news for women was not so good, though, in the entertainer of the year category, which goes to an all-male slate more than years than not at both the ACM and CMA Awards. Last year, Underwood broke into the ranks of entertainer nominees and tied with Rhett for a win. She fell back out of the category this year, an off cycle for her for non-Christmas albums and (obviously) touring, though Underwood did pick up a single nod for “Hallelujah,” a song from her holiday album, which she shares with Legend.

Morris’ six nominations come in five categories, including female artist of the year. Her crossover smash “The Bones” is up for both single of the year and song of the year — and Maren gets two nods in the latter category, as both its singer and co-writer, since the ACMs allow performers, producers and songwriters to rack up multiple nominations on a track if they fulfill multiple roles. Her other two nominations come for video of the year for “Better Than We Found It” and group of the year as a member of the Highwomen.

Stapleton, besides being up for entertainer of the year, is nominated for male artist, and he also gets double-nods in two categories: album of the album, for “Starting Over” (as artist and co-producer), and song of the year, for the title track (as artist and writer).

Nominees more associated with other genres, all picking up first-time ACM nominations, include Legend (for guesting on Underwood’s holiday tune), Gwen Stefani (for joining Blake Shelton on a duet), contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin (a featured vocalist on an inspirational Rhett song), Pink (for hopping on a collaboration with Urban) and Heartbreaker Benmont Tench (getting a nod for piano/keys player of the year).

Among the other slight surprises is the Highwomen’s nomination for group of the year, if only because the supergroup collaboration between Morris, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby — whose album was acclaimed but didn’t pick up traction at country radio — were expected to be nominated for last fall’s CMA Awards but got shut out there.

Although Rhett won entertainer of the year last year (in a tie with Underwood), there’s a lot of wind at the backs of both Church and Combs. In a year where the usual touring standards no longer applied, Combs had the best year as a recording artist, and could prevail if voters decide to go for a fresher face, particularly with Combs being seen as sort of the Gallant to Wallen’s Goofus. But Church has the advantage of having just won the same-named prize at November’s CMAs; he has a high profile going into voting with several recent singles leading into the planned release of three separate albums in April. He may also lead in the “overdue” factor, although there will be sentiment for Stapleton along those lines, too.

The full list of 2021 nominations:

Entertainer of the Year

  • Luke Bryan
  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

Female Artist of the Year

  • Kelsea Ballerini
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Ashley McBryde
  • Maren Morris
  • Carly Pearce

Male Artist of the Year

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Eric Church
  • Luke Combs
  • Thomas Rhett
  • Chris Stapleton

Duo of the Year

  • Brooks & Dunn
  • Brothers Osborne
  • Dan + Shay
  • Florida Georgia Line
  • Maddie & Tae

Group of the Year

  • Lady A
  • Little Big Town
  • Old Dominion
  • The Cadillac Three
  • The Highwomen

New Female Artist of the Year

  • Ingrid Andress
  • Tenille Arts
  • Gabby Barrett
  • Mickey Guyton
  • Caylee Hammack

New Male Artist of the Year

  • Jimmie Allen
  • Travis Denning
  • Cody Johnson
  • Parker McCollum

Album of the Year [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]

  • Born Here Live Here Die Here – Luke Bryan

Producers: Jeff Stevens, Jody Stevens

Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville

  • Mixtape Vol. 1 – Kane Brown

Producers: Andrew Goldstein, Charlie Handsome, Dann Huff, Lindsay Rimes

Record Label: RCA Nashville

  • Never Will – Ashley McBryde

Producer: Jay Joyce

Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • Skeletons – Brothers Osborne

Producer: Jay Joyce

Record Label: EMI Records Nashville

  • Starting Over – Chris Stapleton

Producers: Chris Stapleton, Dave Cobb

Record Label: Mercury Nashville


Single of the Year [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

Producer: Jay Joyce

Record Label: Vanner Records/RCA Records Nashville

  • I Hope – Gabby Barrett

Producers: Ross Copperman, Zach Kale

Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice

Producers: busbee

Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records

  • More Hearts Than Mine – Ingrid Andress

Producers: Ingrid Andress, Sam Ellis

Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • The Bones – Maren Morris

Producer: Greg Kurstin

Record Label: Columbia Nashville


Song of the Year [Awarded to Songwriter(s)/Publisher(s)/Artist(s)]

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

Songwriter(s): Luke Dick, Miranda Lambert, Natalie Hemby

Publishers: Emileson Songs; Little Louder Songs; Pink Dog Publishing; Songs of Universal, INC; Sony ATV Tree Publishing; Wrucke for You Publishing

  • One Night Standards – Ashley McBryde

Songwriter(s): Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hayford, Shane McAnally

Publishers: Canned Biscuit Songs; Smackworks Music; Smack Blue, LLC; Smackstreet Music; Tempo Investments; Warner Geo Met Ric Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp

  • Some People Do – Old Dominion

Songwriter(s): Jesse Frasure, Matt Ramsey, Thomas Rhett, Shane McAnally

Publishers: Carrot Seed Songs; EMI Blackwood Music INC; Smackville Music; Songs of ROC Nation; Teremitry Rhythm House Music; Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp; Smack Hits; Tempo Investments; Warner Gro Met Ric Music

  • Starting Over – Chris Stapleton

Songwriter(s): Chris Stapleton, Mike Henderson

Publishers: I Wrote These Songs; Straight Six Music; WC Music Corp

  • The Bones – Maren Morris

Songwriter(s): Jimmy Robbins, Maren Morris, Laura Veltz

Publishers: Big Machine Music, LLC; Extraordinary Alien Publishing; International Dog Music; Oh Denise Publishing; Round Hill Songs; Warner-Tamerlane

Publishing Corp.


Video of the Year [Awarded to Producer(s)/Director(s)/Artist(s)]

  • Better Than We Found It – Maren Morris

Director: Gabrielle Woodland

Producers: Sarah Kunin, Jennifer Pepke

  • Bluebird – Miranda Lambert

Director: Trey Fanjoy

Producer: Heather Levenstone

  • Gone – Dierks Bentley

Directors: Wes Edwards, Ed Pryor, Travis Nicholson, Running Bear and Sam Siske, with animation by Skylar Wilson

Producer: David Garcia

  • Hallelujah – Carrie Underwood and John Legend

Director: Randee St. Nicholas

Producer: Greg Wells

  • Worldwide Beautiful – Kane Brown

Director: Alex Alvga

Producer: Christen Pinkston


Songwriter of the Year* (Off Camera Award)

  • Ashley Gorley
  • Michael Hardy
  • Hillary Lindsey
  • Shane McAnally
  • Josh Osborne

Music Event of the Year (Tie Within Category Increased Nominees) [Awarded to Artist(s)/Producer(s)/Record Company–Label(s)]

  • Be A Light – Thomas Rhett featuring Reba McEntire, Hillary Scott, Chris Tomlin, Keith Urban

Producer: Dann Huff

Record Label: The Valory Music Co.

  • Does To Me – Luke Combs featuring Eric Church

Producer: Scott Moffatt

Record Label: River House Artists/Columbia Nashville

  • I Hope You’re Happy Now – Carly Pearce & Lee Brice

Producer: busbee

Record Label: Big Machine Records / Curb Records

  • Nobody But You – Blake Shelton featuring Gwen Stefani

Producer: Scott Hendricks

Record Label: Warner Music Nashville

  • One Beer – HARDY featuring Lauren Alaina & Devin Dawson

Producers: Derek Wells, Joey Moi

Record Label: Big Loud Records

  • One Too Many – Keith Urban, P!nk

Producers: Cutfather, Dan McCarroll, Keith Urban, PhD

Record Label: Capitol Records Nashville



Bass Player of the Year

  • Jarrod Travis Cure
  • Mark Hill
  • Tony Lucido
  • Steve Mackey
  • Glenn Worf

Drummer of the Year

  • Fred Eltringham
  • Evan Hutchings
  • Derek Mixon
  • Jerry Roe
  • Aaron Sterling

Guitar Player of the Year

  • T. Corenflos
  • Kris Donegan
  • Jedd Hughes
  • Ilya Toshinskiy
  • Derek Wells

Piano/Keys Player of the Year

  • Dave Cohen
  • David Dorn
  • Charlie Judge
  • Mike Rojas
  • Benmont Tench

Specialty Instrument Player of the Year  (Tie Within Category Increased Nominees)

  • Alicia Enstrom
  • Jim Hoke
  • Danny Rader
  • Mickey Raphael
  • Ilya Toshinskiy
  • Kristin Wilkinson

Steel Guitar Player of the Year

  • Spencer Cullum
  • Dan Dugmore
  • Mike Johnson
  • Russ Pahl
  • Justin Schipper


Audio Engineer of the Year

  • Jeff Balding
  • Jason Hall
  • Gena Johnson
  • Vance Powell
  • Reid Shippen


Producer of the Year

  • Buddy Cannon
  • Dave Cobb
  • Dann Huff
  • Jay Joyce
  • Joey Moi