George Strait Beats Taylor Swift To Top Award
George Strait has picked up the top honour at this year's Country Music Association awards.
The veteran star, who is midway through his Cowboy Rides Away farewell tour, won his third entertainer of the year award in his long, distinguished career - his first since 1990.
The crowd at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, gave Strait - who recently earned his record 60th No 1 and signed a five-album deal - a standing ovation and remained on their feet throughout his speech.
"This blows me away. I cannot believe it," said the 61-year-old Texan singer-songwriter, sporting his trademark 10-gallon hat.
"I'm so thrilled just to be nominated again ... This means the world to me."
An old-school traditionalist in a genre very much in flux, Strait stunned country music fans last year when he announced his final concert tour, although he intends to continue recording and to make occasional live appearances.
Last year's winner of the coveted award, Blake Shelton, went home with his fourth career CMA best male vocalist award, as well as the album of the year trophy, while his wife Miranda Lambert won best female vocalist, also her fourth at the CMAs.
Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, better known as Florida Georgia Line, won single of the year for their smash crossover hit Cruise and were hailed best duo of the year.
Fellow newcomer Kacey Musgraves, with six nominations, went home with best new artist, while Little Big Town won took the best vocal group gong.
Winning song of the year, a prize for songwriters, was I Drive Your Truck by Jessi Alexander, Connie Harrington and Jimmy Yeary.
An ode to a US soldier killed in Afghanistan, it was recorded by Lee Brice.
Despite her shift towards mainstream pop, the CMA bestowed a special Pinnacle achievement award on Taylor Swift - and surprised the 23-year-old chart-topper by assembling on stage all the country stars she once opened for, Strait among them.
"I didn't know there was going to be all this," she said. "You've made me feel so special right now."
Swift also was going for her third entertainer of the year award, which would have been a CMA record for a woman.
The awards show also paid tribute to Kenny Rogers who received a lifetime achievement award.