Grammy Award-winning R&B prodigy H.E.R. made her country music debut at the CMT Music Awards on Wednesday night (June 9) alongside fellow guitar virtuoso and beloved country music singer, Chris Stapleton. The two artists wielded their rivaling fret dexterity and enviable vocal strength to transform H.E.R.’s 2020 track “Hold On” into a slow-burning trans-genre ballad.
Stapleton first proved his talent translated into the pop world when he teamed up with Justin Timberlake, performing “Drink You Away” at the 2015 CMA Awards. The pivotal performance that also included his career-defining track, “Tennessee Whiskey,” propelled Stapleton into pop culture with widespread recognition. On the CMT Music Awards stage, the country star confirmed his crossover skill, moving into the R&B space with his characteristic blend of gritted grace.
Yet, the country artist was humbled by H.E.R’s breakthrough talent and was thoughtful about the space he consumed within the song. On social media, he noted, “H.E.R. is without a doubt one of the greatest singer/ songwriter/ guitar players on the planet earth. Fact.”
His soulful vocals, established on hits like “Traveller” (2015) and “Broken Halos” (2017), combined with his exploratory guitar work, exhibited in his latest album, Starting Over, coalesced into his thoughtful contribution on “Hold On.” While maintaining the song structure, Stapleton’s sultry tone anchored the lyrics, allowing H.E.R’s vocal levity to intertwine with their dueling electric licks.
The 23-year-old, who recently won an Oscar for Best Original Song “Fight for You” in the film, Judas and the Black Messiah, defines her R&B sound within a rock band context. Her recent partnership with Fender for the H.E.R. Signature Stratocaster places the multi-talented artist within reach of icon status. Teaming up with Stapleton on the CMT stage, the artist introduced herself to broader country music audiences as a dextrous musician and transcendent storyteller.
Of the collaboration, H.E.R. echoed Stapleton’s sentiment on social media, describing him as “One of the most kind and most INCREDIBLE voices on this planet.”
Watch the full performance below.
Photo by Erika Goldring/Getty images for CMT