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Blair Garner, host of the syndicated "After Midnight" radio show, was the emcee for the evening, introducing the men and women who would step forward to honor each recipient in song. He commented that each artist followed their own unique path, yet with common interests of helping others along the way.
Those who spoke about Vince, including pianist John Hobbs who first met him in California decades ago, noted that the "Threaten Me With Heaven" singer is the same person today that he was on that initial meeting. Kenny Sears, band leader for the group the Time Jumpers, said that when Vince joined the band, he made it clear that he was one of eleven, and didn't expect any special treatment.
The Time Jumpers' Dawn Sears performed a song written by Vince, "Faint of Heart," while Big Al Anderson announced he was there to "ruin" one of Vince's songs, "One More Last Chance." Rodney Crowell followed with a song he and Vince co-wrote, "It's Hard To Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long." "That's the only time I've been a comedy writer!" Rodney told the appreciative crowd.
Vince's wife, Amy Grant, and daughter Jenny presented him with the beautiful glass bowl engraved with the name of the award. "I can put a lot of peanut M&M's in here," Vince exclaimed as they handed it to him.
Before presenting him the award, Amy spoke to how creative Vince is, and how he's never sent a text nor or been on Facebook or Twitter. "When he talks to you, he wants to be right there, in the moment," she said.
Jenny recalled the time when she was in grade school and asked her dad to accompany her on guitar for a school performance. He agreed to do so, then got the call he had been anxiously waiting for: an invitation to play the Grand Ole Opry on the same night. "I'm sorry, I'm booked at Grassmere Elementary School that night," he told the amazed Opry manager at the time, Hal Durham.
"I had no idea what it meant for my dad to turn that down then, but now I totally understand," Jenny said. "Dad, I love you."
Vince proceeded to recount his connections with Charlie and Randy, saying he met Charlie first when he was playing with Ricky Skaggs in a bluegrass band in Kentucky. "I remember two things. Ricky was a true bluegrasser and thought Charlie and his band were too loud. And I remember how incredibly kind Charlie was to me when we met that first time. Later we toured together when I was in Pure Prairie League. Charlie was a little rougher back then, but so was I."
The singer concluded his thank you's by saying, "The best piece of advice I've ever been given was never be the best musician in the band -- you'll never learn anything. I never have and I never will be. I loved being invited to be on the hundreds and hundreds of records because to me, that meant they thought I was talented enough to do the job, and that means the world to me."
Next up was Charlie's time in the spotlight, with his buddes the Grascals first coming out to honor the bluegrass-country icon. They performed a rousing rendition of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," with singer Jamie Johnson telling Charlie, "You are a great entertainer." Ronnie Dunn followed with a wonderful version of "Mississippi." A band made up of members of different military personnel honored Charlie's gospel roots with the beautiful "How Great Thou Art."
Tennessee National Guard Major General Max Haston presented Charlie with his award, remembering occasions when he would travel with the musician on his trips to perform for soldiers. "Charlie goes where our troops are," Haston said. "Some of the bases are so remote and conditions so tough that other acts won't go there. Charlie does."
He went on to recall the time in Iraq when Charlie performed, then he and his band stayed for three hours signing autographs and speaking with anyone who wanted to say hello. While flying back to Baghdad in an Army helicopter, they were fired at while flying over an area called Sodder City.
"My thoughts were, 'What am I going to say to Nashville if one of their favorite singers is injured while under my care?'" Max recalled. Turning to Charlie, he said, "You are a man who is passionate about your love for your country, your family and your music."
After congratulating each of his fellow recipients, Charlie told the audience that he had wanted to be part of the Nashville music scene from the time he was a youngster. "God blessed me so very much tonight. This is icing on a long long cake. We live in the greatest place in the world, Music City."
In introducing Randy, Blair noted that the Alabama frontman had helped raise more than $400 million for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital through encouraging country radio to do annual benefit shows. The singer was moved to make that one of his major charities after meeting the hospital's founder, Danny Thomas, who told him, "We need your people."
David Nail honored Randy in song, performing "Feels So Right," followed by Little Big Town with "My Home's in Alabama."
Richard Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC/St. Jude, presented Randy with his award. He quoted from Kahlil Gibran's writing, "On Giving," saying, "You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give." He declared that quote an apt description of Randy, adding, "Not only have you raised funds for St. Jude, but you have raised awareness about childhood cancer, sickle cell and AIDS."
Quoting from another piece of writing, the Alabama hit "Angels Among Us," penned by Becky Hobbs, Shadyac said, "Randy, this song is about you. You are the angel among us."
Randy took the mic next to acknowledge his fellow honorees, saying, "It is so fitting that Vince and Charlie are a part of this. Charlie, I played your songs for tips. Vince, you are so good you piss me off."
Randy said when he was inspired by Danny Thomas to help St. Jude, he got on the phone and started dialing his friends at country radio. A huge number of the stations he called jumped on the St. Jude bandwagon and to this day continue to hold annual fundraisers for the Memphis hospital.
Wade Hayes, who has himself battled cancer in the last year, came out with Little Big Town, several kids from St. Jude and the military group, to perform "Angels Among Us." He told the audience, "When I first met Randy I didn't know what to expect, and he was so nice. A year ago I was diagnosed with cancer, and a little later went through seven hours of surgery. When I woke up, Randy and his wife Kelly were there beside me."
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean was presented with the Brian Williams Ambassador Award for his efforts to bring together the Nashville business community and the city's music industry. Since Dean has been in office, "Rolling Stone" magazine has named the city the best place for live music, and last year Kiplinger named Nashville the third-best "value city" in America.
Among the organizations and other recipients of the artists efforts are St. Jude Children's Hospital, the T.J. Martell Foundation, The Angelus, Galilean Children's Home, Junior Golf programs in Tennessee and tornado victims in Alabama.