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With No Public Celebration, The Highwomen Win Three Americana Awards

Alysse Gafkjen

Without fanfare or performance, folk/country supergroup The Highwomen was revealed Tuesday as the runaway, multi-category winner of 2020 Americana Awards. The quartet of Brandi Carlile, Natalie Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires won Album of the Year for their 2019 self-titled debut, Song of the Year for “Crowded Table” and Duo/Group of the Year.

In a sad posthumous recognition, John Prine was named Artist of the Year. The era-shaping singer songwriter and 2003 Americana Lifetime Achievement Award-winner was enjoying a vibrant late career run only to be felled by Covid-19 in April. He’d been named Artist of the Year three previous times since 2005.

Coming on strong as Emerging Act of the Year is Black Pumas, the Austin-based psychedelic soul/funk band led by singer/songwriter Eric Burton and guitarist/producer Adrian Quesada. A commanding live act, they’ve blown up fast since forming in 2017, and they released their self-titled debut album in June of 2019. They’re up for the analogous Best New Artist trophy at next month’s Grammy Awards.

Rounding out the awards, fiddler Brittany Haas was named Instrumentalist of the Year for her mastery of technique and touch in both traditional and progressive styles of string band music. She’s part of the instrumental roots quartet Hawktail, a long-time touring musician with the Dave Rawlings Machine and was a regular member of the house band on the Live From Here NPR radio show.

Statements from winners, who were notified via a 10 am press release, will be forthcoming.

The Americana Honors and Awards were originally scheduled for Sept. 16 at the Ryman Auditorium where they’ve been held for many years. When Covid-19 forced cancellation of the entire AmericanaFest event and the music convention was transformed into the online Thriving Roots, the association said the Honors & Awards would take some other form later in the year. The Blues Foundation and the International Bluegrass Music Association produced video packages with announcements and performances that were streamed in lieu of their live awards show. Executive director Jed Hilly told WMOT on Monday that the AMA had investigated numerous scenarios for a Ryman based webcast but “it was going to be too expensive to do it right.”

Another casualty of the Covid year were the annual Lifetime Achievement Awards.

In a statement, Hilly said, “Although we terribly miss celebrating together at the Ryman as we usually have in years past, we’re thrilled to still be able to recognize these distinguished members of our community.” The AMA’s usual hand-made trophies will be mailed to winners. The announcement said as well that “NPR Music’s World Café, SiriusXM Outlaw Country, Gimme Country and several radio stations that report to the Americana Radio Charts across the country will be celebrating this year’s nominees and winners with special programming to coincide with this announcement.”

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org