At CMA Awards, Swift wins for songwriting; musicians honor Vegas victims

Thomas Rhett performs "Unforgettable" at the 51st annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Taylor Swift is releasing her second pop album this week, but she's still being awarded for her contributions to country music.

The singer won a Country Music Association Award on Wednesday for writing Little Big Town's No. 1 hit, "Better Man." In winning song of the year, she beat out hit tunes by Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Miranda Lambert and Jon Pardi.

Swift — who will release "reputation" on Friday — didn't attend the show at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, but Little Big Town thanked her onstage.

"Thanks to Taylor Swift. She couldn't be here tonight but Taylor, wherever you are, thank you for this beautiful song," Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild said onstage.

Eric Church, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker and Lady Antebellum opened the 2017 CMA Awards with a touching performance honoring the 58 people killed at a country music festival last month. The show kicked off with Church singing an emotional version of "Amazing Grace," later joined by the other performers for "Hold My Hand."

At the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, a gunman fired on the crowd from a hotel room while Jason Aldean was onstage. Nearly 500 people were injured.

Reba McEntire, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, Tim McGraw and others joined in to sing along, earning a large applause from the crowd.

"This has been a year marked my tragedy ... Tonight we're going to do what families do, come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too," co-host Carrie Underwood said.

"This show is dedicated to all those we lost," fellow host Brad Paisley said.

Paisley and Underwood are celebrating their 10-year anniversary — as hosts of the CMAs. They joked at the top of the show about CMA sending restrictions to press about what to ask singers on the red carpet, saying they shouldn't ask about politics or guns. They also riffed on politics, taking shots at both President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

"Maybe next time he'll think before he tweets," they sang to the beat of Underwood's massive hit, "Before He Cheats."

Following the opening performance, the show had another emotional moment when Rascal Flatts and Dierks Bentley honored Troy Gentry, one-half of the popular country duo Montgomery Gentry, who died in a helicopter crash in September. Eddie Montgomery later joined in for the performance of "My Town," as some audience members sang along with tears in their eyes.

Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road," which set a record for the most weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot country songs chart with 34, lost single of the year to Urban's "Blue Ain't Your Color."

Nominees for the show's top prize, entertainer of the year, include Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Urban, Church and last year's winner, Garth Brooks.

Bryan sang his hit "Light It Up" in front of bright, blue lights, while Brooks— rocking a new beard — won over the audience with his song, "Ask Me How I Know."

Stapleton, Bryan, Rhett, Little Big Town and pop singer Pink are also set to perform during the three-hour show. Others include.

The night will feature a number of collaborative performances, including Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Maren Morris and Niall Horan of One Direction and Paisley and Kane Brown.

Underwood said she's most excited to see Alan Jackson, the artist she first saw live.

"I love it when legendary artists like him perform on the CMAs. I think in our world today and even in country music, it's kind of like ... 'Who's new? Who's hot? Who can we get for the show?' And it's nice when you can have somebody that can go up there and show us how it's all done," she said.

But Paisley said Underwood will have the night's brightest performance.

"I'm telling you if that's not the No. 1 most-talked about thing the next day then I will be as wrong as I've ever been," he said.

Other performers at the show, airing live on ABC, include Brothers Osborne, Old Dominion and Jon Pardi, who won new artist of the year.

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