"It's about dadgum time that we recognize women and not just country music but all music," Lynn, 86, said in a statement to The Associated Press. "A big yee haw to CMT for doing so."
The coal miner's daughter has been blazing trails for women in country music since the 1960s, and she'll be honored on Oct. 17 in Nashville, Tennessee, by her friend and actress Sissy Spacek, who won an Oscar for portraying her in the hit biopic.
While women have been struggling to be played on radio and on streaming playlists or earn nominations for country awards, CMT decided to celebrate the ladies this year, with honors going also to Kimberly Schlapman and Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini.
Ballerini's debut album resulted in three consecutive No. 1 country radio singles, the first time any female artist had done so in the genre, and she was part of CMT's Next Women of Country, a yearly installment of new and upcoming female artists that CMT supports. Ballerini said she worried that the lack of women in country music was just going to remain a conversation in the industry, without any real action to correct it.
"Finally we're seeing people actually do stuff about it," Ballerini said. "CMT choosing to use their platform, which is a massive platform in country music, to honor only women is not just conversation, but actual change. That's a massive step forward."
The night will feature the honorees in cross-genre collaborations with special guests. Ballerini will be singing with Alison Krauss, Morris will be doing a tribute to Aretha Franklin with Brandi Carlile, and the women from Little Big Town will be singing with soul legend Gladys Knight. Scott will be singing with pop singer Tori Kelly and gospel singer Kirk Franklin.
Leslie Fram, CMT's senior vice president of music strategy, said the timing just felt right for CMT to make the change this year. For the past couple of years, award shows from the Oscars to the Grammys have been trying to address a lack of diversity in nominees and winners.
"And if you look at all these artists individually, they have all had amazing accomplishments individually, whether it's professionally or personally and things that they do in their community, so it really made sense this year," Fram said.
Lambert will be performing with her all-girl group, the Pistol Annies, featuring Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, who are releasing a new album in November.
"We have to support each other," Lambert said. "It's not an industry supporting us. It's us believing in each other and respecting each other's art and I think that it also pushes us to be better when someone is really great. You need a little competition. As long as the women keep delivering, I think it's just building it up, building it up."
Underwood will be performing with her upcoming tour openers, Maddie and Tae and Runaway June.
"I'm a big believer in actions speak louder than words," said Maddie Marlow. "And with CMT with Artists of the Year, and Carrie with making this kind of tour, I love when people are acting on it and not just, 'Oh we need to fight for women in country.' They are actually making moves."
The show will air on CMT on Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Follow Kristin M. Hall at Twitter.com/kmhall
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