By Vernell Hackett
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - George Strait won the coveted entertainer of the year prize at the Country Music Association awards on Wednesday, while Blake Shelton took home the album of the year and male vocalist of the year awards.
Strait, 61, won the top prize for the third time and for the first time since 1990. Strait, who has said he will retire from touring next year, has won 17 CMA awards.
"What? Oh my gosh, never in a million years," a surprised Strait said accepting the award. "This blows me away, I cannot believe it. ... This means the world to me I appreciate it."
Strait, who shot to prominence in 1981 with a back-to-roots sound, released his 27th album, "Love Is Everything," this year.
Shelton, Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan were also nominated for entertainer of the year.
Shelton, who has become a crossover star since joining the judging panel on the TV singing contest "The Voice" in 2011, was honored as male vocalist of the year and album of the year for "Based on a True Story..."
"I mentioned earlier today that if there was one award that would mean the most to me tonight it would be album of the year," Shelton said in accepting the award.
Shelton, who won entertainer of the year last year, has taken home a total of eight CMA awards. His wife, Miranda Lambert, won the female vocalist of the year award.
Florida Georgia Line, a duo comprised of Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, won its first two CMA awards as up-tempo love song "Cruise" grabbed single of the year and the group won the best vocal duo award.
Florida Georgia Line, which has ridden the success of their 2012 album, "Here's to the Good Times," also helped kick off the awards show from Nashville's Bridgestone Arena.
GEORGE JONES REMEMBERED
The group emerged from the audience to help Bryan open the telecast, singing "Cruise" and Bryan's hit "That's My Kind of Night."
The awards ceremony also featured tributes to Kenny Rogers, who was given a lifetime achievement award, and George Jones, who died in April.
Strait and singer Alan Jackson took the stage and in tribute played Jones' 1980 song "He Stopped Loving Her Today," which many consider one of the greatest country songs.
Swift was given the Pinnacle Award for spreading country music to a wider audience.
She received a video tribute that included congratulations from singers Mick Jagger and Justin Timberlake and actress Julia Roberts.
"Thank you, thank you, I love you, you make me feel so special right now," Swift said, fighting back tears while addressing her family, fans and music colleagues.
Hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley gave the awards ceremony a tongue-in-cheek tenor with an introduction that poked fun at feuding artists. The two singers also played comedic renditions of the 1975 pop hit "Why Can't We Be Friends?" by War and pop singer Robin Thicke's 2013 hit "Blurred Lines."
Swift performed an acoustic version of her song "Red" with Alison Krauss and other musicians. Eric Church also played his hit "The Outsiders" while pyrotechnics blazed in the background.
The show also saw performances by trio Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, group Rascal Flatts and Darius Rucker, among others.
Newcomer Kacey Musgraves won new artist of the year.
"This first year has been just indescribable," Musgraves said. "I can't even begin to put into words how much I appreciate the love from not only country music but every other genre."
(Reporting by Vernell Hackett; Writing by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)