Carrie Underwood paid tribute to 2022 BMI Icon Award recipient, Toby Keith during the 2022 BMI Country Awards on Tuesday (Nov. 8) with a special performance of his first chart-topping hit.
The “Hate My Heart” singer honored her fellow Oklahoma native during the coveted awards ceremony, which marked the event’s 70th year. The event took place inside Broadcast Music Inc on Music Row in Nashville.
Underwood took to the stage, which was situated in the middle of the star-studded audience, to perform “Should’ve Been A Cowboy.”
“It was artists like you that taught kids like me that greatness is possible,” Underwood said before going into her performance.
Joined by a two-piece band, the powerhouse vocalist belted out the lyrics to Keith’s 1993 breakout hit.
“I should’ve been a cowboy / I should’ve learned to rope and ride / Wearin’ my six-shooter, ridin’ my pony on a cattle drive / Stealin’ the young girls’ hearts / Just like Gene and Roy / Singin’ those campfire songs / Woah, I should’ve been a cowboy,” Underwood sang as Keith watched on from the crowd.
Keith’s frequent collaborators Dean Dillon and Scotty Emerick also honored the country hitmaker with a performance of “A Little Too Late,” a fan-favorite tune released by Keith in 2006 on his tenth studio album, White Trash with Money.
In addition to Underwood, Dillon, and Emerick, Eric Church also delivered an acoustic performance of “I Love This Bar,” a tune that was written by Keith and Emerick that appears on Keith’s 2003 project, Shock’n Y’all.
Toby Keith was honored as this year’s BMI Icon, joining an elite list of songwriters including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Jr., to receive the coveted title.
“When I got to Nashville, they said, ‘You got to get affiliated,’” Keith shared from the stage. “I said, ‘What does that mean?’ They said, ‘Well, you wrote these songs — you gotta get affiliated.’ So, since 1990 or ’91, I have been affiliated with the greatest organization in the music business, and that’s BMI. They’ve been so great to me as a songwriter, because I knew that even if I didn’t make it as an artist, that maybe somebody would cut my songs. I always felt that the songwriting was the most important part of this whole industry.”
“When you get older and you look back at your cassette tapes or your CD, it’s like everybody that rocked country, R&B, whatever it was, the artists that I had were songwriters,” he continued. “They weren’t artists that covered music. They were songwriter/artists. Something in my gut, down in my core, said that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t know if I’d make it as an artist, but I knew if I wrote as good as the next guy, that somebody might sing one of my songs.”
With 32 No.1 singles and 40 million albums sold, Toby Keith is regarded as one of country music’s biggest hitmakers. He wrote a chart-topping hit every year for 20 consecutive years, including “How Do You Like Me Now?!,” “Courtesy of the Red, White, & Blue (The Angry American),” “I Love This Bar,” “Beer For My Horses,” and “As Good As I Once Was.”
He is a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (having already been inducted into the all-genre Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2015), and was honored with the Academy of Country Music’s prestigious Merle Haggard Spirit Award.
Throughout his career, the Oklahoma native received the BMI Country Songwriter of the Year award three times, and his hit single “As Good As I Once Was” was awarded BMI’s Country Song of the Year in 2006.
His music has garnered more than 10 billion streams and 100 million terrestrial radio spins to date.
Keith’s appearance at the BMI Country Awards marked his first major public appearance since he revealed his cancer diagnosis to fans earlier this year.
“Last fall I was diagnosed with stomach cancer,” Keith told fans in a statement via social media. “I’ve spent the last six months receiving chemo, radiation and surgery. So far, so good. I need time to breathe, recover and relax. I am looking forward to spending this time with my family. But I will see the fans sooner than later. I can’t wait.”
Over the weekend, the “Oklahoma Breakdown” singer returned to the stage for the first-time in a year for a surprise hour-long performance at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse in Lexington, Kentucky.
In addition to the BMI Icon Award presentation, the evening also included the announcement of the coveted Songwriter of the Year award, which was presented to first-time honoree Michael Hardy. Hardy was a writer on five of this year’s award-winning songs: Dierks Bentley’s “Beers On Me,” Blake Shelton’s “Come Back As A Country Boy,” Morgan Wallen’s “Sand In My Boots,” Cole Swindell’s “Single Saturday Night,” and his own “Give Heaven Some Hell.”
“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,” Hardy shared during his acceptance speech. “I can honestly say without a doubt that I don’t know where I would be in this town if that 19-year-old kid wouldn’t have walked into this building and blindly signed. Thank you so, so much.”
Luke Combs’ “Forever After All” was named the 2022 BMI Country Song of the Year. Published by 50 Egg Music, Big Music Machine, Oak Tree Swing Publishing, Rowdy Rob Music, Straight Dimes Music, and Sony/ATV Tree and written by frequent collaborators Combs, Drew Parker, and Rob Williford, the popular track was BMI’s most performed country song of the year.
The Publisher of the Year accolade went to Sony Music Publishing, which published 25 of the 50 most-performed songs of the year, including megahits such as Kelsey 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,” Miranda Lambert’s “If I Was A Cowboy,” and Morgan Wallen’s “Sand In My Boots.”
During the ceremony, BMI also saluted the songwriters and publishers of the 50 most-performed country songs of the previous year.