SESAC kicks off the countdown to the CMA Awards, with honors for Billy Currington, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Rogers

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Sunday night in Nashville, Billy Currington took the stage at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to perform his multiple-week #1, “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To.” Immediately afterwards, performing rights organization SESAC proclaimed it the group’s Song of the Year.

SESAC’s annual Nashville Music Awards also paid tribute to Lady Antebellum this year, giving the trio the Humanitarian honor for the work they’ve done through their LadyAid foundation. In light of all the tragedy we’ve experienced this year, Hillary Scott says it’s simply a call to action.

“We’re very humbled, but if anything, we’ve got a fire in our belly to do more,” the expectant mother of twins says. “Because, you know, not only do I have two little girls that I want the world to be better for, I have a 4-year-old at home, who I try to wake up every day and think about the ways in which we can do better: love each other better, and protect each other, and fight for one other. And if anything, I think this just lights a fire under us to keep going. You know, we’ve all got to do better.”

An all-star tribute to Kenny Rogers was the evening’s highlight. Dustin Lynch capably tackled “The Gambler,” while Craig Campbell showed off his skills both as a pianist and a vocalist on “Lady.” 72-year-old rock legend Kim Carnes proved she’s still got it, making a rare public appearance to perform the duet she wrote for Kenny, “Don’t Fall in Love with a Dreamer.”  

Lee Brice did “Twenty Years Ago,” a song that helped chart the course for his career.

“Mama always wanted daddy to dye his beard white,” the South Carolina native recalls. “She always thought it was sexy, and that’s what we listened to, was Kenny Rogers. But then, when I was about 11, I remember, I got my own little radio for the first time, and this song came on, and this is when I really started writing songs heavily and being serious about it. You know, he had a hit with it, but it was bigger than a hit to me. It changed my life.”

SESAC’s annual awards evening is just one of three Nashville traditions leading up to the CMA Awards. ASCAP passes out its trophies Monday night at the historic Ryman Auditorium, followed by BMI’s honors on Tuesday at its Music City headquarters. The 51st Annual CMA Awards air Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.

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