Someone get a drink in his hand!

Eric Church standing in front of a stage: Terry Wyatt/Getty Eric Church

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Terry Wyatt/Getty Eric Church

Eric Church was crowned as entertainer of the year by hosts Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire at Wednesday’s CMA Awards.

“If there was ever a year not to win this award,” Church started.

“This award this year, at least for me has been about the loss of this year, loss of life, loss of playing shows, loss of freedom, loss of kids being in school,” the 43-year-old said, referring to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. “And you know what the win is? The win is we all were here tonight, together as country music. In-person live, not on Zoom.”

Eric Church standing in front of a stage

© Terry Wyatt/Getty
Eric Church

“And I really believe this, it’s going to be music that brings us out of this. That is the one thing that is going to save the entire world,” he continued. “Politicians are about division. Music is about unity. And I promise you, it’s going to take everybody in this room to unite.”

Church ended his speech by thanking everyone in attendance adding that “I didn’t think I was gonna win this.”

Video: Everything You Need to Know About the Star-Studded 2020 CMA Awards (People)

Everything You Need to Know About the Star-Studded 2020 CMA Awards



Check out PEOPLE’s full CMA Awards coverage to get the latest news on country music’s biggest night.

Church, 43, was up against Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban.

This is Church’s first time receiving the award after being nominated for the top CMA prize four times before. This year, he was also nominated for male vocalist of the year. Combs took that award home.

Church has taken home four CMA trophies before, including two for album of the year: in 2012 for his Chief and in 2016 for Mr. Misunderstood.  He has been nominated for entertainer of the year three times before: in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

Church also took the stage to perform “Hell of a View” earlier in the night.

Last year, Garth Brooks took home the entertainer of the year award. This year, he pulled his name from consideration for the highly coveted award. (He has been recognized seven times and holds the record for the most wins.)

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“We got killed pretty bad last time we won here,” the country star told PEOPLE (the TV Show!) about some backlash in September. “There’s one I particular that I loved that said, I love you to death but don’t you just think it’s time…'”

“I don’t think it hurts at all. They’re not saying they don’t love ya, they’re saying ‘Hey, don’t you think it’s time?'” he added. “Say it’s time. Love everybody, hug everybody and be known as ‘the guy who got to win it this many times.'”

Brooks also admitted that he expected to give “a standing ovation” to Carrie Underwood.

“I mean, this is her night … And when they said my name, then I was like, I’m lost here because I don’t know what to say,” he said then.

The 54th Annual CMA Awards aired live from Nashville on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

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