The verdict at this year’s CMA Awards is clear: The most important song and single of the year was first released 35 years ago. Luke Combs‘ version of “Fast Car,” which reached Number Two on the Hot 100 this summer and became one of the unlikely blockbuster hits in any genre, took home the first two CMAs of the evening, for Song and Single of the year.
Chapman’s Song of the Year triumph marks a long overdue milestone: In the 56 previous years, there has never been a Black songwriter — male or female — to win the Song of the Year award before Chapman took home this year’s trophy. It marks a historic achievement for Chapman, and yet another stark reminder of how far the awards show, and the industry that supports it, needs to go with regards to inclusion.
The reclusive songwriter wasn’t in attendance at the CMA Awards (held in Nashville at the Bridgestone Arena), but sent a prepared statement read by presenter Sara Evans. “I’m sorry I couldn’t join you all tonight,” Chapman wrote. “It’s truly an honor for my song to be newly recognized after 35 years of its debut. Thank you to the CMAs and a special thanks to Luke and all of the fans of ‘Fast Car.’”
“Fast Car” also was named Single of the Year, which is awarded to the recording artist. “First and foremost, I want to thank Tracy Chapman for writing one of the best songs of all time,” Combs said onstage. “I just recorded it because I loved the song. It’s the first favorite song that I ever had, at 4 years old.”
Earlier this summer, Combs’ recording of “Fast Car,” off his Gettin’ Old album, went Number One on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart and made Chapman the first-ever Black woman to have the sole songwriting credit on a Number One country hit. As Rolling Stone wrote then, with that distinction, Chapman joined a very small group of Black women with writing credits on a Number One country song. Donna Summer co-wrote “Starting Over Again,” a Number One for Dolly Parton in 1980, even though Alice Randall has generally been credited as the first with her co-write on Trisha Yearwood’s 1994 single “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl).” A full 26 years later, in 2020, songwriter Ester Dean (Rihanna, Katy Perry) had a Number One for her credit on Lady A’s “Champagne Night,” while a year after that, Tayla Parx (Ariana Grande, Kesha) earned a Number One for co-writing Dan+Shay’s “Glad You Exist.”