Originally published in USA Today
It was a triumphant night for MercyMe at the Gospel Music Association Dove Awards. The contemporary Christian music band was named Artist of the Year at the 48th annual ceremony, which took place Tuesday in Nashville.
The band’s winning evening also included an Artist Songwriter of the Year award for frontman Bart Millard, and the award for Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year for their latest, Lifer.
“We’ve been a band for 23 years … yay for old people!” Millard joked from the stage. The crowd laughed and broke into applause.
“I can’t say enough that Christian music saved my life. It means the world to us.”
It was also a night to remember for soulful singer-songwriter Zach Williams, who opened the show with his powerful Chain Breaker and picked up the award for New Artist of the Year. He gave close to a dozen hugs to friends in the audience as he walked up to the stage, beaming all the way.
And after winning awards for decades, Reba McEntire seemed exceptionally moved by the one she picked up on Tuesday. The country star’s Sing It Now: Songs of Faith and Hope was named Bluegrass/Country/Roots Album of the Year.
After praising fellow nominees the Isaacs and giving credit to her co-producers, McEntire took a long pause and looked down at her award.
“It’s not mine. It’s God’s. We’ll give Him all the glory. I’ll put it up on the mantle, and think of Him every time I look at it.”
Another veteran star — Nashville Gospel mainstay CeCe Winans — was given her due, winning two awards including Gospel Artist of the Year.
From the stage, she expressed gratitude to be “representing Jesus in a world that needs Jesus.”
“Jesus is still the answer for every problem,” she said.
A year marked with tension and tragedy was acknowledged throughout the show, be it Millard’s “Texas Strong” T-shirt, Ryan Stevenson’s Eye of the Storm or words shared by presenter Mike Huckabee.
“We’ve seen seismic divisions in our country,” he said. “…we’ve been confronted by the raw revelations that racial reconciliation is far from achieved. I think we all agree that there is a lot of work yet to be done, but inwardly, we still can find hope and healing.”
Perhaps with that in mind, this year’s Doves had as much harmony as ever — often between artists with different backgrounds. Performers like Matt Redman and Tasha Cobbs blended their voices for their co-written song Gracefully Broken, and rapper Steven Malcom breakdanced alongside pop singer Hollyn on Party In The Hills.
Outside of the Grammys, you’d be hard pressed to find another music awards show recognising a wider range of sounds. It was a night where hard rock gave way to traditional southern gospel in a matter of minutes. All of it found a receptive audience at Lipscomb University’s Allen Arena, where nominees sat around the stage floor, and fans filled out the stands.
They stood, arms outstretched for Hillsong Worship’s What a Powerful Name — an anthem that was named Song of The Year on Tuesday — clapped along to Hezekiah Walker’s staggeringly soulful Better, and listened intently as special honouree Pat Boone opened his acceptance speech with an a cappella Jesus is Lord.
At night’s end, co-hosts Kari Jobe and Tasha Cobbs introduced the final performer: Reba McEntire.
“We gotta give this world back to God,” she sang, and the room roared. Finally, she carried the audience home with Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, backed by the “Dove Awards Fan Choir” and special guests Erica Campbell, Tauren Wells and Joseph Habedank.
Trinity Broadcasting Network will exclusively air the awards show at 8pm October 22.
2017 Dove Awards top winners
Artist of the Year: MercyMe
Song of the Year: What A Beautiful Name (writers) Ben Fielding, Brooke Ligertwood, (publisher) Hillsong Music Publishing
Songwriter of the Year (Artist): Bart Millard
Songwriter of the Year (Non-Artist): Bernie Herms
Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year: Casting Crowns, Provident Label Group
Southern Gospel Artist of the Year: Gaither Vocal Band, Gaither Music Group
Gospel Artist of the Year: CeCe Winans, Pure Springs Gospel
New Artist of the Year: Zach Williams, Provident Label Group
Producer of the Year: Bernie Herms