Thomas Rhett Leads Audience in Prayer at CMT Artists of the Year Awards After Kane Brown’s Drummer is Killed in Car Crash

Chris Young presents an award to honoree Kane Brown onstage during the 2019 CMT Artists of the Year at Schermerhorn Symphony Center on Oct. 16, 2019 in Nashville, Tenn. (Terry Wyatt / Getty Images)

Fans who tuned in to CMT’s Artists of the Year awards show Wednesday night expecting to get a glitzy night of songs and celebrities got something more: a glimpse of the heart that’s at the center of Nashville’s country community.

It arrived with a punch when Kane Brown took the stage just five days after the death of Kenny Dixon, his band’s drummer, who was killed in a one-car accident.

Brown was among the evening’s five artist of the year recipients — and he was scheduled to perform — but no one would have blamed him if he had passed up the event. In fact, when Chris Young began his introduction, it sounded like he was there to offer Brown’s regrets.

“As you guys know, it’s been a bit of a rough time for him,” Young told the packed house at Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. “Understandably, a lot of us can’t even imagine what he’s going through.”

But then Young pivoted and introduced Brown, who emerged from a darkened entryway to deafening applause. The 25-year-old artist mounted the stage, took the award from Young, and then stood silently at the microphone, fidgeting with the trophy, trying to collect himself.

“Thank y’all so much,” he finally began, his voice breaking. He stopped to pinch tears from his eyes, then began again: “I want to dedicate this to my drummer, Kenny.”

Haltingly, Brown told how Dixon was with him from his career beginnings in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when “people didn’t think we would make it.”

“He was so supportive of me,” Brown said, weeping, “and I love you, man. I miss you. The band misses you.”

He finished by thanking all who’ve “helped me get where I’m at,” expressing his love for the country community, and making the brief, poignant plea: “Y’all stay safe.” Then, to more rousing applause, he quickly exited the concert hall.

Young retook the stage, but not to sing any tribute to Brown. Instead, to honor Dixon, the singer stirred the audience with his new single, “Drowning,” which he explained he co-wrote in memory of one of his best friends, who also had died in a car accident.

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