Breland’s meteoric rise in Nashville’s music community and beyond — launched with help from his TikTok-famous single, “My Truck,” after going viral in 2020 — scored him an accolade that’s the first of its kind.
The New Jersey-born singer-songwriter and producer kickstarted his career with the intention of building “bridges” in the music industry. Breland quickly became known for his star-studded collaborations (including with Lady A, Thomas Rhett, Mickey Guyton, Brittney Spencer and Sam Hunt, to name a few) and fusing elements of several genres into his music. He’s often appealed to listeners of hip hop, R&B, soul, gospel and more, with nods to those genres mixed in with his sonically-country hits.
Fittingly, Breland, 28, was recognized as the first-ever recipient of the Academy of Country Music’s Lift Every Voice Special Award, presented at the 16th annual ACM Honors at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. In a two-hour broadcast that aired on Monday evening (September 18) Breland delivered a powerful acceptance speech — earning a standing ovation from the applauding crowd — while accepting the inaugural award, presented by his “Throw It Back” duo partner, Keith Urban.
'All I’m Trying To Do Is Build More Bridges'
Breland sat in the lobby of the Ryman Auditorium on the day the 16th annual ACM Honors filmed in August, prior to his rehearsal for his high-energy performance during the show. That’s where he spoke with iHeartCountry about his inaugural award, his music and his vision for his future.
Breland said the Lift Every Voice honor is “for any artist or music industry representative that is doing important work to lift the voices of diverse individuals, and providing space to amplify them. That’s really all that I’ve wanted to do when I came into country music, was to see more people like me in the crowds and to see more people like me on the charts. Obviously, that’s a massive mission. But I think it’s to everyone's benefit.
“Really, all I’m trying to do is build more bridges from country music to the rest of the world, which I think is what we’re all trying to do,” he continued. “But I feel like there’s a really unique opportunity to acknowledge the undeniably Black history of this genre and some of the historic accomplishments that have been either erased or ignored or forgotten, while also creating new spaces for diverse voices to have success in this industry and feel supported and respected in their space. So, for me, I’ve been trying to do that since I first came out, and I come in peace. To see an organization like the ACMs…be able to acknowledge what I’m doing in this way is an incredible honor for me because it really is my entire North Star of why I’m doing what I’m doing. …It’s really gratifying for me.”
Breland has had a whirlwind year since releasing his full-length debut album, Cross Country, in September 2022. He’s kept a schedule packed with live performances around the world — including with international icon Shania Twain, which offered another inaugural moment when Breland was the first artist to take the stage at Nashville’s recently-constructed GEODIS Park in June — and newly-expanded his debut project with Cross Country: The Extra Mile. The deluxe version features several new tracks, including his “tongue-in-cheek,” ‘90s country-inspired anthem, “Cowboy Don’t.” Breland deemed it a “beautiful moment (and) full-circle moment” to watch crowds scream-sing his music back to him during live shows after working hard to write and record the songs.
Breland told iHeartCountry he doesn’t do any of that for the awards or the popularity, though moments like the one he experienced on the night of the ACM Honors are “really special” when they happen. It was extra special because, with this award, “I already know that I won” before the show began, he said with a laugh. Still, “my mind was blown,” when he was revealed as an award recipient. He remembered getting emotional as he called his parents with the news, and found assurance that he had his family’s support from afar on the night of the show, which took place the week after losing his grandmother. She served as an inspiration to Breland for the people whose lives she touched, and her inspiration has “really put a fire under me to wanna go even harder because I have the opportunity to engage with and affect hundreds or thousands or even millions of people with the work that I do.”
Keith Urban: Breland's Energy Is 'Insane, Infectious, Contagious, Inspiring'
Breland kicked off the 16th annual ACM Honors with “Throw It Back,” joining forces with Urban on the Ryman Auditorium stage. Urban delivered a heartfelt introduction as he presented Breland with the first-ever Lift Every Voice award. The Australian-born hitmaker said he was “immediately intrigued” from the moment he heard Breland’s music, and remembered collaborating shortly after that. Urban said as he presented Breland with the fist-ever ACM Lift Every Voice award:
“His energy’s insane, it’s infectious, it’s contagious, (and) he’s so inspiring to be around. But the coolest thing is, all of that stuff comes in the best package because he’s a really, really good guy. He’s got a great heart. He’s totally an inspiration in this industry. I love what you’re doing, Breland, and I’m so thrilled to present to you the very first-ever ACM Lift Every Voice award.”
“I have so much respect for Keith as an artist and as a collaborator. I’ve learned a lot. But I also really consider him to be a friend,” Breland told iHeartCountry. “To be able to share a stage with him is always special, but I think it’s extra special because of the relationship that we’ve been able to form outside of the music and the time we’ve been able to spend, the questions I’ve been able to ask and have answered by someone who has really lived all of this and been able to do this for a really long time.”
Urban and Breland were the first artists to take the Ryman stage on the night of the star-studded show, which aired on Monday night on FOX and is available next day (September 19) on Hulu. Other honorees of the evening included Clint Black, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Charlie Cook, Charlie Daniels, Mike Dungan, Ashley Gorley, HARDY, Bill Mayne, Tim McGraw, K.T. Oslin, Chris Stapleton, and Troy Vollhoffer. Performers included Chris Janson, Carly Pearce, Keith Urban, Trisha Yearwood, Bailey Zimmerman, Jordan Davis, Emily Shackelton, Lady A, The War and Treaty, Brandy Clark, Anne Wilson, Priscilla Block, Billy Ray Cyrus and Firerose with Travis Denning, Lee Brice and Sara Evans.
“Winning this award is truly the highest honor that I’ve received in my career. I wanna first and foremost thank God for putting me on this improbable path. I wanna thank my parents and my family for believing in me and supporting me. I wanna thank my team and my collaborators for helping me do all of this work... Of course, to the ACMs to their commitment to diversity and equity... I would be remiss in accepting an award like this, first of its kind, without acknowledging the Black railroad workers who taught Jimmy Rogers to play the banjo; Rufus ‘Tee Tot’ Payne, who taught Hank Williams the blues; DeFord Bailey, who was the first Black artist to make it into the Grand Ole Opry; the great Charley Pride; Linda Martell; Darius Rucker; Mickey Guyton; Nelly; Kane Brown; War and Treaty; the list goes on and on. The voices in the margins of country music have never wanted anything radical. All we have ever wanted is a chance... Most importantly, I just wanted to say thank you so much to the ACMs for giving me this chance. (It’s) just an incredible honor, and I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure I live up to it.”