Carrie Underwood, Eric Church Pay Tribute to BMI Icon Toby Keith 

Red solo cups and buckets of beer were passed out at the 2022 BMI Country Awards in Nashville Tuesday (Nov. 8) in honor of Toby Keith. The evening served as a celebration of Keith, who was presented the BMI Icon Award at the 2022 BMI Country Awards.

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Keith joins a prestigious class of BMI Icon Award recipients, which includes Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, and Hank Williams, Jr. Throughout the evening, Keith’s influence on the songwriting and Nashville community was showcased with standout performances and memorable speeches.

“As a fellow Okie, it was artists like you that taught kids like me that greatness was possible if you work hard, give it all you got,” Carrie Underwood said mid-performance of Keith’s debut single and first No. 1 hit, “Should’ve Been a Cowboy.” “And one thing’s for sure – you have never forgotten where you come from and that means a lot.”

Eric Church also performed his stripped-down interpretation of Keith’s “I Love This Bar” alone on guitar. Ahead of the song, Church told the story of first meeting Keith at the former Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar in Nashville’s Printer’s Alley. 

“Apparently, there’s an altercation at the bar and as I walk in, I proceed to see Toby Keith dragging this guy by his collar down the bar,” Church recalled. “He gets to the end of the bar, where I just walked in, and the guy drops. … That was my first Toby Keith memory and I cherish that. For me, he has always been a guy with his own way.”

Keith has written a No. 1 song every year for 20 years straight. The BMI-affiliated writer was later celebrated by his frequent co-writers Dean Dillon and Scotty Emerick, who paid tribute to the Icon with “A Little Too Late,” a song the trio wrote together. 

(L-R): BMI Vice President, Creative, Nashville Clay Bradley, Toby Keith, and BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill at the 2022 BMI Country Awards. Credit Erika Goldring/Getty Images for BMI.

As he accepted his award, Keith thanked his longtime performing rights organization for the support throughout his career. It was a similar sentiment Michael Hardy also shared when named 2022 Songwriter of the Year.

“Songwriting is the most important part of this whole industry,” Keith said. “I’ve always said that songwriting is the lifeline in this industry. … People always try to tell you what they got going on and I always say, ‘Hey, you want to be the best songwriter on the planet? Come here. These are the greatest songwriters.’”

Luke Combs’ “Forever After All” was awarded the 2022 BMI Country Song of the Year while Sony Music Publishing received the Publisher of the Year honor. The publishing company published 25 of the 50 most-performed songs of the year, including Kelsea Ballerini’s “Half of My Hometown,” Elle King and Miranda Lambert’s “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home),” Kane Brown’s “One Mississippi” and Lambert’s “If I Was a Cowboy.” 

(L-R) BMI President and Chief Executive Officer Mike O’Neill, BMI Vice President of Creative Clay Bradley, BMI songwriter of the year Michael Hardy, BMIs Assistant Vice President, Creative Leslie Roberts and Mike Steinberg (Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for BMI)

Songwriter of the Year Hardy closed the evening with an emotional speech where he shared the impact BMI has had on his career as well as thanked the Nashville songwriting community for its acceptance.

“I want to thank BMI so much for being here for me every single step of the way, for introducing me to some of my favorite collaborators that I still write with to this day, for creating opportunities for me that helped advance my songwriting career,” he said. 

“I want to thank every songwriter in this room that took a chance on me when I had nothing,” he added. “You guys saw something in me and you gave me a shot as a songwriter … and you have no idea how much that poured fuel on my fire as a songwriter and how much that inspired me to know that what I was doing was something worth believing in.” 

A complete 2022 BMI Country Awards winners list is available HERE.

(Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty Images for BMI)

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