Instead of the typical lively musical performance, CMT Awards cohost Kelsea Ballerini opened Sunday night's show in a sobering way: She honored the six people, including three children, who died during last week's school shooting in Nashville.
"On March 27, 2023, three 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, William Kinney, and Hallie Scruggs, along with Dr. Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak, and Mike Hill, walked into the Covenant School and didn't walk out," Ballerini said. "The community of sorrow over this and the 130 mass shootings in the US this year alone stretches from coast to coast."
The singer then noted that she had previously been witness to a school shooting nearly 15 years ago.
"I wanted to personally stand up here and share this moment because on Aug. 21, 2008, I watched Ryan McDonald, my 15-year-old classmate at Central High School, lose his life to a gun in our cafeteria," Ballerini said.
At the end of Ballerini's speech, she dedicated the awards show, which took place in Austin, Texas, to everyone affected by gun violence.
"Tonight's broadcast is dedicated to the ever-growing list of families, friends, survivors, witnesses, and responders, whose lives continue to forever be changed by gun violence," she said. "I pray deeply that the closeness and the community we feel through the next few hours of music can soon turn into action, like real action that moves us forward together to create change for the safety of our kids and our loved ones."
This wasn't the first time Ballerini has opened up about witnessing gun violence. She notably included a poem titled "His Name Was Ryan" in her 2021 book Feel Your Way Through: A Book of Poetry.
"With this particular situation, I've never talked about it before, but as the book was forming, I was realizing that if I'm going to talk about the things that have made me me, I certainly can't avoid this," she said during an interview with CBS Mornings in November of that year.
She made another political statement Sunday night during the awards show by performing her song "If You Go Down (I'm Goin' Down Too)" with drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race. This comes as Tennessee is banning drag performances in public and the Texas Legislature is voting soon on a similar measure.
Ballerini isn't the only country star to speak out recently about the Nashville school shooting. Mickey Guyton, Carly Pearce, Reba McEntire, Maren Morris, and Sheryl Crow were among the musicians to share their shock and sadness on social media.
"I try to stay off here for my mental health but for the love of God!" Guyton tweeted last week. "As a mother, I’m pissed the fuck off. Shame on every single politician ok with doing nothing as CHILDREN are getting assassinated on an everyday basis in a place that is supposed to be their safe haven."
"Pray for Nashville," Pearce tweeted. "A shooting at a school has occurred. Three children dead. Praying for these babies & their families. Absolutely devastating."
"My heart goes out to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of yesterday's tragedy at The Covenant School in my home city of Nashville, TN," McEntire tweeted.
Morris simply said, "oh my god," alongside a news story about the shooting on Instagram, while Crow tweeted, "No words… The Covenant School. Our children deserve better. Praying for all affected. Tragic America."
After last week's school shooting, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee tweeted that he was praying for the victims. Nearly one year earlier, he said he did not support restricting firearms or stronger gun control laws.