Mary Chapin Carpenter “Astonished” to Receive Poet’s Award at 2023 ACM Honors

After winning multiple Grammy Awards, selling millions of records, and collaborating with artists like Dolly Parton and Sheryl Crow, any artist could easily become jaded by the haze of fame. But for Mary Chapin Carpenter, receiving accolades for her work as a singer/songwriter still gives her pause.

Videos by American Songwriter

When the 65-year-old talent got word that the Academy of Country Music had chosen her as a 2023 recipient of their Poet’s Award, she couldn’t quite wrap her head around it.

“I was astonished…I could not believe it,” Carpenter tells American Songwriter. “I was totally taken aback, and I don’t mind sharing with you that I was a bit of a puddle.”

According to the ACMs, the honor is “presented to a country music songwriter for outstanding and longstanding musical and/or lyrical contributions throughout their career, with special consideration given to a song or songs’ impact on the culture of country music.” Carpenter, who first heard about her selection while out on tour, says the fact that she was being celebrated for her work as a lyricist hit her the hardest.

“It was very meaningful to me for so many reasons, but primarily [for] being recognized for your work with words,” she continues. “As a songwriter, I just can’t describe what that means to me because songwriting is probably the thing that brings me the most joy in my life.”

Carpenter’s focus is constantly fixed on her craft, documenting stories and sharing them with those willing to listen. It’s a quality that hasn’t changed much since she was a child when she first started learning how to play guitar and the art of songwriting. The impact of her celebrated and extensive career on the industry was far from the forefront of her mind when the ACMs came calling.

“I don’t think I had that sense of it,” she explains. “We exist in our worlds. We have our jobs, and in my case, I’m so grateful to be able to say that I get to tour the world, share my music from the stage, and hopefully connect with people. That’s the greatest reward of it for me is the sense of connection.”

Alongside Carpenter, the Academy of Country Music also selected Clint Black and the late K.T. Oslin to receive Poet’s Awards this year. 

“They’re two very extraordinary artists and iconic in their own ways,” she says of her fellow honorees. Carpenter is known for her stirring, expertly written songs but also for her kind and welcoming spirit. She’s forged bonds with many fellow artists across genres over the decades, including close friend and collaborator Shawn Colvin. 

[RELATED: HARDY, Ashley Gorley Celebrated with Songwriter Awards at ACM Honors]

Carpenter released her debut album, Hometown Girl, in 1987 but saw her career skyrocket during the early 1990s. She found success on country radio with “Down at the Twist and Shout,” “I Feel Lucky,” and her take on Lucinda Williams‘ “Passionate Kisses.”

In the 2000s, Carpenter didn’t try to fit into the commercial sound of modern country, instead staying true to her creative spirit. Her ninth record, The Calling, earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album. From the Dave Cobb-produced The Things That We Are Made Of to her most recent record, The Dirt and the Stars, Carpenter has continued to earn widespread critical acclaim. 

Her steady stream of new music and past radio hits have helped expose Carpenter’s talents to new generations of artists. Many burgeoning singer/songwriters within Nashville’s country music and folk scenes, including Caroline Spence, often cite her as a longtime creative influence. 

“In the end, the greatest reward is if you can somehow sense that you’re connecting with people,” says Chapin. “While I don’t live in Nashville, I’m a great admirer of Caroline, and even though we don’t live in the same town, there is a community of like-minded souls—people who write songs—and it is a very supportive community. And so it feels wonderful to be a part of that when you can feel it in a moment.”

The ability to be a part of that community, swapping stories and sharing a passion for songwriting, keeps Carpenter moving forward. 

“What energizes me and makes me want to continue to write songs is what comes into my brain and what I see with my own eyes and what I experience,” Chapin says. “And inspiration comes from so many different places and sometimes you, and it finds its way into your life, and you got to write it down. I don’t know why I do what I do, but it’s certainly not for awards.”

The 2023 ACM Honors will air on September 18 at 8 p.m. ET on FOX. Fans can stream the two-hour special in its entirety on Hulu 24 hours later, on September 19.

Photo by Aaron Farrington, Courtesy of Sacks & Co.

Leave a Reply

5 of Jimmy Buffett’s “Big 8” Songs Beloved by Parrot Heads