Awards & Exits: Country Music Events of 2018

Country music has never been shy about celebrating (and immortalizing) its own. So many of the 2018 headlines focused on awards. But far too many concerned losses, the deaths of musical stalwarts who were crucial in defining and popularizing the genre. Then, late in the year, there was the mind-numbing massacre in the country bar in California while memories of the Las Vegas slaughter of 2017 were still fresh.

The most enduring news, however — such as the meteoric rise of Luke Combs, Kane Brown and Dan + Shay and the exclusion of women singers from country radio — are stories still developing.


Rick Hall, legendary producer, publisher, songwriter and studio owner, dies Jan. 2 at 85.

The Nielsen Year-End Music Report reveals that Chris Stapleton, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney were the top country album sellers of 2017 in that order.

Lari White, songwriter, recording artist and actress, dies Jan. 23 at 52.
Chris Stapleton wins best country album for From A Room: Volume 1, best country solo performance and best country song for “Broken Halos” at the 60th annual Grammy awards.


Recording artist Daryle Singletary dies Feb. 12 at 46.


Canadian country star and TV host Ronnie Prophet dies March 2 at 80.
Hazel Smith, an award-winning journalist and former CMT columnist and TV host, dies March 18 at 83.

Grammy-winning songwriter Kenny O’Dell dies March 28 at 73.


Miranda Lambert becomes the most-awarded artist in Academy of Country Music history on April 15 when she wins female vocalist and song of the year for “Tin Man,” bringing her total to 30 victories. Jason Aldean earns the night’s top honor of entertainer of the year.

Producer, songwriter, guitarist and a founding member of the Earl Scruggs Revue dies April 17 at 64.


Blake Shelton leads winners at the 2018 CMT Music Awards, winning video and male video of the year for “I’ll Name the Dogs” on June 6. Additional winners include Little Big Town, Dan + Shay, Carly Pearce, as well as collaborations with Kane Brown and Lauren Alaina, Carrie Underwood and Ludacris; and Backstreet Boys and Florida Georgia Line.

D.J. Fontana, the original and longtime drummer for Elvis Presley, dies June 13 at 87.

Concert promoter and talent manager Joe Sullivan dies June 22 at 76.


The TV series Nashville concludes its sixth and final season.

Songwriter Ronnie Samoset dies July 29 at 71.


Lauren Alaina and Jon Pardi host the 12th annual ACM Honors at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on Aug. 22. Alan Jackson, Sam Hunt, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Matraca Berg, the late Rob Potts and Norro Wilson were among the honorees at the special studio and industry awards.

Ed King, songwriter and guitarist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, dies Aug. 22 at 68.

Chris Stapleton is nominated in five categories ahead of the 52nd annual CMA Awards. The Aug. 28 announcement has Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Janson, Miranda Lambert, Midland, Thomas Rhett and Keith Urban following with three nominations each.

Roy Wunsch, former president of Sony Records/Nashville, dies Aug. 31 at 75.


Burt Reynolds, actor who mainstreamed country music in a series of wildly popular action films, dies Sept. 6 at 82.

Ricky Skaggs, Paul Williams and Tom T. and Dixie Hall inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.


For the first time ever, the CMT Artists of the Year gala and concert celebrated an all-female cast of honorees — Kelsea Ballerini, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman; and Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott. Loretta Lynn was named Artist of a Lifetime.

Dottie West, Ricky Skaggs and fiddler Johnny Gimble are inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame on Oct. 21.

K. T. Oslin, Ronnie Dunn, Joe Melson, Byron Hill and Wayne Kirkpatrick are inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame on Oct. 28.

Garth Brooks packs the 84,000-seat stadium at Notre Dame on Oct. 20 for the taping of a live show that will air on CBS in December.

Freddie Hart, writer and singer of the CMA award-winning “Easy Loving” and member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, dies Oct. 27 at 91.


Dave Rowland, founder and lead singer of Dave & Sugar, dies Nov. 1 at 76.

A gunman kills 12 at the Borderline Bar & Grill, a popular country music venue, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. on Nov. 7.

Keith Urban wins entertainer of the year and Chris Stapleton leads overall winners with three wins at the 52nd annual CMA Awards on Nov. 14. Album of the year is Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour.

Roy Clark, multi-instrumentalist, former co-host of Hee Haw and member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame, dies Nov. 15 at 85.

Former president George H. W. Bush, a country music enthusiast who numbered the Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle and Loretta Lynn among his close friends, dies Nov. 30 at 94.


For the first time in the history of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, there are no women represented within the Top 20 in the week ending Dec. 2.

Brandi Carlile, Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris lead country and Americana nominees for the 61st annual Grammy Awards Dec. 7. Carlile has six nominations including all-genre nods for album of the year for By the Way, I Forgive You, as well as record and song of the year for “The Joke.” Musgraves receives four nominations including album of the year for Golden Hour. Morris makes five categories, including record of the year and best pop duo/group performance for the behemoth Zedd and Grey collaboration, “The Middle.”

Jerry Chesnut, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, dies Dec. 15 at 87.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to