NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) – Chris Stapleton was the big winner with six trophies and Luke Combs took home the biggest award with Artist of the Year at the 55th Annual Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday night.

Stapleton won Song of the Year and Single of the Year for “Starting Over” and won Album of the Year for its record of the same name. And he walked away with two more trophies as a producer on the single and the album.

He went on to win the Male Vocalist of the Year award for the fifth time and it looked like he would sweep the night before Combs wrapped up the show by taking home the Artist of the Year award.

“I don’t deserve to win,” said an emotional Combs, “but I’m really glad I did.”

Stapleton arrived at the top of the table in the evening with Eric Church, who was excluded.

Along with Stapleton and Church, Combs beat Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, who opened ABC telecast with a mix of her hits including “Kerosene”, “Mama’s Broken Heart” and “Gunpowder & Lead”.

It was a night of great emotions for many of the winners.

The Osborne brothers have won Vocal Duo of the Year for the fourth time. Lead singer TJ Osborne, who turned out to be gay this year, appeared to be holding back tears as he agreed.

“It’s been a roller coaster year, especially for me emotionally, and for all of you to support me, it’s been amazing,” he said from the stage.

Allen was openly in tears as he became the second black artist to win the New Artist of the Year award.

“I want to thank my dad who is no longer with us for introducing me to country music,” Allen said.

He remembers spending the rest of his money so he could see pioneering black country artist Charley Pride at the CMAs in 2016, then performing with Pride on last year’s show. Pride died of COVID-19 a month later.

Darius Rucker in 2009 was the first black artist to win the award.

The ceremony represents a return to normal for the show. He is back in front of an audience at his usual home after last year’s ceremony held at a Music City Center with no crowds due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We follow all health protocols to keep everyone safe,” Bryan said when it opened. “And we’re all vaccinated,” he said, “or not,” asking the clumsily laughing audience, “anyone? ”

In the awards announced ahead of Wednesday’s show, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Half of My Hometown” starring Kenny Chesney won the Music Event of the Year and Music Video of the Year.

In a year when the main categories were dominated by male nominees, Gabby Barrett was the most nominated woman of the night with four nods, but the former “American Idol” was left out.

The CMAs are always very successful and this year was no exception, with more songs than awards.

Church was surrounded by flames on the stage as he sang “Heart on Fire” at the start of the show. Carly Pearce and Ashley McBryde then took the stage for a duet of “Never Wanted to Be That Girl”.

Underwood and Jason Aldean performed as a duet on their current hit “If I Didn’t Love You” and their real-life friends Kane Brown and Chris Young will perform their hit duo “Famous Friends”, which was nominated in three categories. but did not win an award. .

In winning Album of the Year, Stapleton beat out nominees including Morgan Wallen, who was caught earlier this year shouting a racial insult. The CMA board of directors disqualified Wallen from individual awards, but he could still win for his work.

Wallen, who was not in attendance, was by far the most applauded of all of the Arena Crowd’s album nominees.

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Dalton reported from Los Angeles.