*Country star Mickey Guyton got the biggest afro wig she could find to perform the song “I Love My Hair” at Wednesday’s CMA Awards, dubbed “country music’s biggest night.”
The Best New Artist nominee also had the teen who inspired the song, Faith Fennidy, introduce her performance, driving home the song’s message of maintaining self-love in an environment that hasn’t always been so supportive, much less encouraging.
Guyton joined singers Brittney Spencer and Madeline Edwards for the emotional performance of “Love My Hair,” from her debut album, “Remember Her Name,” a title she says honors the memory of Breonna Taylor.
The song was inspired by the story of Fennidy, a Black student in Louisiana who was sent home from school after being told that her braided hair violated the school’s policy. The story resonated with Guyton, who sings of the racism she encountered as a child in Texas on the track “Black Like Me.”
On Wednesday’s telecast, Guyton, Spencer and Edwards were introduced by Fennidy, who said, “This next artist created this song to make sure girls like me feel seen and loved. And that’s how you turn something very painful into very positive.”
Jennifer Hudson turned out Bridgestone Arena with her rousing performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Night Life” and a slow, southern-fried “You Are My Sunshine” – both backed by the night’s top winner, Chris Stapleton. Country’s best and brightest in the audience stood, danced, sang along and looked on in open-mouthed awe as J-Hud did what we already know J-Hud does.
Jimmie Allen was a vision in hot pink accepting his award for New Artist of the Year, becoming the first Black artist to win the category since the Country Music Association introduced it as the “Horizon Award” in 1981.
The “Dancing With the Stars” contestant was in tears tracing his long, winding journey to Wednesday’s award, beginning with his late father introducing him to country music as a small child. He continued: “Five years ago I spent my last $100 and came to the CMAs 50th to watch Charley Pride perform on stage, and I got to perform with him last year.”
Watch his entire speech below: