Brad Paisley, who turns 42 years old today, wasn’t even 30 when he won his first major CMA Award in 2000, the best new artist trophy known then as the Horizon Award. Ten years later, he’d rise to the upper echelon of the CMAs, nabbing the Entertainer of the Year title in 2010.
On that night at the 44th annual CMAs — which he co-hosted with Carrie Underwood — Paisley delivered one of the most emotional speeches in the show’s history, welling up before Tim McGraw even presented him with the award. The West Virginia native was coming off the commercial and critical success of his Number One album American Saturday Night, which included four radio staples, the chart-toppers “Then” and “Water” among them. But despite his role as the sound of modern country, Paisley began his speech by referencing the genre’s past, recalling a favorite saying of his hero and comedic foil Little Jimmy Dickens. The nod to the Opry legend was testament to the virtuoso guitarist’s reverence for country music history — and his next album would be appropriately titled This Is Country Music.
Ultimately, he dedicated the award to his late maternal grandfather, Warren Jarvis, whom he credited with first introducing him to country music and the guitar.
“Tonight, for me, is about my grandfather, a man who loved Buck Owens, Johnny Cash. He said, ‘I want you to learn to play guitar. This is going to get you through lonely times. And you’ll never be alone with this,'” Paisley said from the stage, his voice quavering. “I don’t think he ever thought that it would draw 20,000 people.”
Since his milestone victory, Paisley has gone on to release some of the genre’s most entertaining — and also button-pushing — songs. In addition to hits like “Southern Comfort Zone” and “Beat This Summer,” his 2013 album Wheelhouse included the polarizing “Accidental Racist” and the religious commentary “Those Crazy Christians.” The LP also featured the collaboration “Karate” with Charlie Daniels — with whom Paisley shares his birthday. (For the record, Daniels turns 78 today.)
As he did on the night of his Entertainer of the Year win, Paisley will once again co-host this year’s CMA Awards with Underwood, their seventh consecutive time. Airing Wednesday, November 5th, on ABC, the 48th annual event will feature performances by Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Underwood and, yep, Paisley.