Casting Crowns, Brandon Heath Snag 3 Dove Awards

Worship band Casting Crowns and CCM singer and songwriter Brandon Heath came out of the 40th Annual GMA Dove Awards Thursday night with the most number of awards.

Casting Crowns' three Doves included "Group of the Year," "Christmas Album," and "Short Form Music Video," while Heath's three included "Song of the Year," "Male Vocalist of the Year," and "Pop/Contemporary Recorded Song."

Other big winners that emerged from the biggest night in Christian music were Christian rock band Third Day and renowned worship leaders Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, and Steven Curtis Chapman, whose two Doves added to his record number of awards to date. Chapman, who has received more Dove Awards than any other artist in the awards show's 40 years, was named "Artist of the Year" for the seventh time and "Songwriter of the Year" for the tenth time.

While a number of artists had received multiple nominations this year, with one – Tomlin – who received as many as seven, the awards were for the most part evenly distributed.

"Many different artists have obviously connected with people in powerful ways this year as evidenced by last night's impressive number of singular honorees," commented John W. Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association (GMA) and executive producer of the Dove Awards, on Friday.

"The list of Dove Award recipients is very culturally and musically diverse, yet together they reveal the unique ability for gospel and Christian music to reach across cultural, religious and generational divides to encourage and inspire with the good news of the Gospel," he added.

More than 75 artists, songwriters and producers received Dove trophies this year, with 38 of the 43 award categories featuring different recipients from a wide variety of musical styles, including metal, pop, rock, rap & hip hop, country, gospel, and praise & worship.

Winners ranged from newcomers such as Tenth Avenue North ("New Artist of the Year") to veterans such as Natalie Grant, who was named "Female Vocalist of the Year" for the fourth consecutive year.

This year marked the first time that fans became stakeholders in the Dove Awards, which traditionally determines winners based on voting by GMA's 4,000 members. For the 40th annual show, 1/3 of the total votes from fans counted for the total vote for two categories – Artist of the Year and New Artist of the Year – while GMA member voting counted for 2/3.

According to GMA, 250,000 votes were cast on and via text messaging, including through the first part of the live broadcast.

This year also marked the second straight time that the Dove Awards was televised live by Gospel Music Channel after years syndicating the event and having it shown later on tape.

Aside from the awards presentations, this year's show featured multiple musical performances from dozens of artists as well as appearances from a number of well-known celebrities, including Miss California Carrie Prejean, who drew the attention of the media this week after expressing her support for traditional marriage during Sunday's Miss USA pageant.

Performers this year included established Christian favorites Mary Mary, Chris Tomlin, Natalie Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, as well as newcomers Francesca Battistelli, Chris Sligh, and Tenth Avenue North, among many others.

Also included in the lineup was a special tribute to Southern Gospel legend Dottie Rambo, who died in a tragic bus accident last year.

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