Superstar-level singer/guitar-shredders are still a rare hybrid in any genre, let alone in contemporary R&B and country. The two most foremost proponents of the breed in those respective genres, H.E.R. and Chris Stapleton, hooked up for a performance of her “Hold On” at Wednesday’s CMT Music Awards, that few onlookers were shy about heralding as the highlight of the two-and-a-half-hour telecast.
Stapleton is known for his impactful, genre-crossing duets at country awards shows; he made his name with one when he shared a mic with Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards once upon a time. At the CMTs, he was introducing the part of the country audience that may not already know her to H.E.R. by sharing mics and fretboards — although that portion may already be small at this point, given H.E.R.’s recent Oscar win and sudden ubiquitousness in the run-up to her first full-length album release later this month.
Onlookers were hoping that the inevitable guitar soloing section would not fall to just one duet partner or the other, and the pair didn’t disappoint, sharing bluesy licks on the sultry, mid-tempo tune. Their voices proved as good a match as their fret work. And Stapleton made no bones about what a fan he’d become in their rehearsals, if he hadn’t been already: “H.E.R. is without a doubt one of the greatest singer/ songwriter/ guitar players on the planet earth. Fact,” Stapleton posted on Instagram.
It wasn’t a television debut for “Hold On”; H.E.R. debuted the track on “Saturday Night Live” back in October. It’ll be on her forthcoming album, “Back of My Mind.”
Other genre-crossing duet partners on the CMT Music Awards included Mickey Guyton dueting with Gladys Knight, J.P. Saxe being joined by Ingrid Andress (substituting for planned partner Maren Morris, who bowed out earlier this week), and Carrie Underwood with the band Needtobreathe.