Maren Morris is walking to the 2019 Country Music Association Awards with a lot of feelings.
As the most-nominated act at an event for a music genre dominated by its male performers, Morris has become one of the key female faces of country music. She will pay tribute to her producer busbee, who died in September at age 43 and shares two nominations with Morris for his work on her acclaimed project, “GIRL.” And Wednesday night’s show will mark the pregnant singer’s “kid’s first awards show” — as she put it.
The CMAs will air live on ABC at 7 p.m. Central time from the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Dolly Parton touched my stomach earlier when we were rehearsing, so he’s been touched by an angel,” Morris said in an interview with The Associated Press this week.
Morris, who won a Grammy for her debut hit “My Church” in 2017, has a chance to win up to multiple trophies at the CMAs thanks to her work as an artist, songwriter and producer. Her six nominations include female vocalist of the year and album of the year for “GIRL,” which she co-wrote and co-produced, while the title track is up for single of the year and song of the year. “GIRL” topped Billboard’s country airplay chart this year, the first time a solo female had a No. 1 hit on that chart in well over a year.
Morris, 29, said winning album of the year would be a big deal, especially since busbee, who also produced her debut album “Hero,” worked on most of the songs on “GIRL.”
“It’s bittersweet going into Wednesday because it just feels like he should be here,” she said of the producer, who also worked with Pink, Florida Georgia Line and Shakira. “He just had such an impact on this town, on me as an artist, as a friend, as a neighbor. So it just feels like we’re going to be celebrating no matter what Wednesday. And we’re also going to be like sad that our friend isn’t here to celebrate with us because this record would not sound the way it does without him.”
Busbee has a chance to posthumously win album of the year for “GIRL.”
“(Busbee) and I were freaking out when the nominations came in,” Morris said, “and I know that he would have worn the most badass tux and watch and probably sneakers, but now he’ll be there in spirit.”
Busbee was also nominated for musical event of the year for Morris and Brothers Osborne’s collaboration, “All My Favorite People,” a song he produced, but lost to Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’ ubiquitous No. 1 hit, “Old Town Road,” the CMAs announced on ABC’s “Good Morning America” early Wednesday. Another early winner was Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” for music video of the year.
Morris will kick off the CMA Awards with her supergroup The Highwomen, which includes Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby. They will perform with several top female performers in the genre’s history — including Parton, Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire and Carrie Underwood — showing that even though female acts are rare on the country charts and country radio, they are still around and putting out epic music.
“I feel like this is a great blessing that we were given and we’re going to have the time of our lives,” Morris said. “Opening the show and it being all about honoring women in country music the entire night is just perfect. It’s very on brand.”
Morris isn’t the only women who could make history at the CMAs: Underwood, who is hosting the show with Parton and McEntire, could be the first female to win entertainer of the year since 2011, when Taylor Swift took home the honor. Underwood is the sole women competing for the top prize along with Garth Brooks, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church and last year’s winner, Keith Urban. No women were nominated in the top category in 2018 and 2017.
When asked about the CMAs deciding to honor women with an opening performance and having three female hosts, Urban said: “It’s crazy it has to come to that.”
“You would think it’s just a balanced, fair, here it is, here’s all the music that we make and a nice big mix of it. But high time this is happening. I mean, all you gotta do is play it, just play the records. That’s it. Not rocket science. There’s so much great music being made by girls in this town. Just play it,” he said.
Underwood’s other nominations include female vocalist of the year and album of the year for “Cry Pretty,” which marks the first time the singer co-produced and co-wrote each song on a project. Others competing for album of the year include Church’s “Desperate Man,” Thomas Rhett’s “Center Point Road” and Dan + Shay’s self-titled third album, which featured the hits “Speechless,” “All to Myself” and “Tequila,” which won the duo its first Grammy earlier this year.
Kris Kristofferson will be honored with a performance featuring Sheryl Crow, Dierks Bentley, John Osborne and Chris Janson. Other set to take the stage are Brooks & Dunn, Blake Shelton, Luke Combs, Kacey Musgraves with Willie Nelson, Stapleton with Pink, and Lady Antebellum with Halsey
AP Entertainment Producer Kristin M. Hall contributed to this report from Nashville.