“I’ve definitely lived the American dream,” Alan Jackson said while accepting the honor. “And I’m still living that honky-tonk dream, y’all.”
The performance began with a heartfelt speech from Underwood. She revealed to viewers that Jackson was her first concert as a kid. She then performed a stripped-down rendition of his 2003 hit “Remember When.”
However, the best moment of the show came from Jackson himself. Jackson, donning a sequined black shirt, took us back in time with “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” for the grand finale.
To end the segment, Jackson wore his heart on his sleeve as he delivered an emotional speech. He reminisced on how watching a movie about Hank Williams led him to move to Nashville with just “three chords and a prayer.”
“As my mama would say, I’m so blessed,” he began as he accepted the award. “I’ve had a great team around me my whole career that have helped me, great songwriters. I’ve been so fortunate to have all that to help me get this far.”
Alan Jackson honors wife while accepting award: ‘She’s held me up all these years, she’s my best friend’
However, the most moving part of his speech came when he thanked his biggest supporter: his wife, Denise.
“I can’t thank everybody who’s been in my life all these years. But I do have to say thanks to my wife Denise, over there somewhere. We started out as teenagers… I’m probably not always the easiest person to love, but she’s been there and helped me through hard times. And we’ve shared great times. The good, the bad, the happy, and the sad, we’ve survived a lot. I just want to thank her because she’s held me up all these years and she’s my best friend. And she gave me a wonderful family over there.”
Alan Jackson also followed other recipients of the iconic award, including the late Loretta Lynn, Charley Pride, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers, and Willie Nelson. The award was named after Nelson after he won its inaugural award ten years ago in 2012.
In a statement about why the Grammy-winner was chosen to receive this year’s award, CMA Chief Executive Officer Sarah Trahern said, “A three-time CMA Entertainer of the Year, he is responsible for so many iconic moments in CMA Awards history. Just as Alan has been influenced by many Country legends throughout his career, he too has inspired a generation of artists to stay true to the authenticity of Country Music.”