NEW YORK - Luke Bryan has been named the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year, the first time the award has gone to the star known for his alcohol-infused ballads.
While the Georgia-born singer took home the most prestigious prize at the awards in Nashville on Wednesday, the biggest medal haul went to Miranda Lambert, whose Platinum won Album of the Year and who scored the top single with Automatic.
For Entertainer of the Year, Bryan beat a crowd that included Lambert, her husband and fellow country giant Blake Shelton, and 62-year-old legend George Strait, who took home the top prize last year.
Bryan, star-struck as he received the award from country-crossover sensation Garth Brooks, saluted his "angels in heaven" in reference to his brother and sister, both of whom died young.
Drink A Beer, a song off Bryan's latest album, touches on the loss as he recounts watching the sunset and savouring a brew by himself, as he once would have done with his siblings.
Earlier at the awards, he performed Roller Coaster, a ballad about struggling to find the courage to chat up a woman in the resorts of Panama City, Florida.
The Country Music Association Awards featured gentle criticism of a two-time Entertainer of the Year - Taylor Swift.
Swift's latest album, 1989, sold nearly 1.3 million albums in its first week in the United States in the most successful release from any genre in 12 years. But the 24-year-old Swift moves away from her country roots towards pop on the album.
Singer Carrie Underwood, presenting the awards with Brad Paisley, joked that country music was suffering "Postpartum Taylor Swift Disorder" and that President Barack Obama's failure to care about the issue had cost his Democratic Party control of the Senate in Tuesday's elections.
The quip brought laughter from the crowd of country music lovers, who are usually politically conservative.