"The best way to honor our fans is to play loud and proud. Our music lifts people up."

By Robyn Collins

The 51st Country Music Awards (CMAs) aired live last night (Nov. 8), and many of the artists who spoke or performed had passionate messages of unity and strength for their audience.

Related: CMA Awards 2017: Complete Winners List

Co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood kicked off the show by telling jokes about President Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, other country singers and the Country Music Association. But they also addressed more serious matters that have affected the nation, including the Las Vegas country festival massacre and called for fans to unify and heal.

“This has been a  year marked by tragedy impacting countless lives, including so many in our country music family,” Underwood said. “So tonight, we’re gonna do what families do — come together, pray together, cry together and sing together, too.”

To honor the 58 people that were killed and the nearly 500 injured at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on October 1, Underwood sang “Softly and Tenderly,” while photos of the murdered victims were displayed onscreen.

The hosts also addressed the victims of the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting and those affected by hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. “The best way to honor our fans is to play our music loud and proud,” said Paisley. “Our music lifts people up.”

“We are a family,” Garth Brooks said after winning entertainer of the year for the second year in a row, “The most important thing other than God himself are you — the people that allow us to be in the greatest music ever — country music.”

The theme of unity continued as Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman quoted Maya Angelou. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” she said.

In addition to reaching out to the community for strength, the awards show paid tribute to members of their music family who recently died. The late Troy Gentry was honored with a performance by Dierks Bentlley, Rascal Flatts and bandmate Eddie Montgomery, while Little Big Town and Jimmy Webb performed a tribute to Glen Campbell.

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