Randy Travis was named CMT's 2021 Artist of a Lifetime on Wednesday night (Oct. 13), during the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year event. The country icon received the honor from Garth Brooks, a friend and longtime admirer of Travis', and just one of many throughout the night who wasn't shy about crediting Travis with inspiration for his music.

"I stand here tonight as one of the benefactors of this man's contributions to country music," said Brooks, who arrived at the event after an appearance at the Country Radio Hall of Fame induction ceremony earlier in the evening. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Randy Travis singlehandedly saved country music."

Travis debuted 35 years ago, with 1986's Storms of Life, which he recently reissued to celebrate the big anniversary. Brooks' career began three years later, but even in that short amount of time, Travis, his music and his role in country music's neo-traditional movement made quite the impact on Brooks and his fellow Class of '89 members.

"I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for Randy Travis. I don't think any of us would be," Brooks added. "This is totally my opinion, and it doesn't have to be yours, but I think every artist in country music over the next 100 years should bow to this man and thank him for his contributions."

A 2013 stroke has kept Travis from making new music in recent years, but he and his wife Mary have continued to stay involved in the country music community. While accepting his CMT Artists of the Year trophy, after performing Travis' "Three Wooden Crosses," Kane Brown remembered how Travis showed up to a radio station to surprise him years ago, when he was still a new artist.

"After listening to these artists tonight, and these uplifting songs and the great sounds that are coming from 'em, thank you so much for following in the footsteps ...," Mary said from stage on Wednesday night. She grew emotional as she noted out Travis' stroke took away his voice, "but it didn't take the man, and it didn't take the heart."

"And you know what else? It didn't take the music. We'll have that forever and ever, amen," she added. "... You deserve every minute of it, baby. You put in a lot of hard work."

On the red carpet prior to the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony, Mary remembered how the news of his CMT Artist of a Lifetime honor prompted Travis to reflect. "About 15 minutes [after we got the news], I looked over, and his eyes were all teary and wet," recalled Mary.

"I mean, there's no doubt he deserves it," Mary said, "but there was a lot of hard work that went into that."

Next to her, Travis summed the moment up with one word: "Wow."

In addition to Travis, the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year event included honors for Kelsea Ballerini, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Chris Stapleton, along with the 2021 CMT Breakout Artist of the Year, Mickey Guyton. The event took place at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

2021 CMT Artists of the Year Red Carpet - Country's Best Looks

It's been a really long time since country music fans witnessed a "normal" red carpet, but the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony provided just that. The show happened on Wednesday night (Oct. 13) at Nashville's Schermerhorn Symphony Center. Below, find pictures of Jon Pardi, Chris Stapleton, Walker Hayes, Gabby Barrett and their spouses. Plus Kane Brown and more with special guests!

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