Taylor Swift honoured at CMA Awards
The Country Music Association has handed Taylor Swift its Pinnacle Award – a prize only awarded once before to Country legend Garth Brooks in 2005.
It recognises artists who take the genre to a worldwide audience, and comes despite Swift's recent shift towards more mainstream pop.
George Strait, 61, won entertainer of the year at the ceremony in Nashville.
Blake Shelton and wife Miranda Lambert were named best male and best female vocalists, each for the fourth time.
Shelton, who has been a judge on the US version of The Voice since 2011, also won album of the year for Based on a True Story.
Swift, 23, who was nominated in six categories, was surprised on stage by six country stars that she had opened for as a teenager.
Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Keith Urban, George Strait, Brad Paisley and the members of Rascal Flatts all joined her, before a video featuring messages from stars including Justin Timberlake, Julia Roberts, Carly Simon and Mick Jagger.
"I didn't know there was going to be all this. You've made me feel so special right now," said Swift, who also performed an acoustic version of her hit Red, accompanied by Vince Gill, Alison Krauss and Sam Bush.
However, her Pinnacle Award attracted some criticism, including in the New York Times.
"The only way for country music to respond to [Swift] – and for her to engage with country music, a dance partner she only sometimes favours – is to fete her endlessly, to let her be both serious in addition to frilly, to weave her even more tightly into the fabric of Nashville," wrote Jon Caramanica.
He added: "She is country music's cash cow, its creative engine, its ambassador to the wider world."
Despite having won a total of 17 CMA awards over the years, Strait shared his surprise at taking the entertainer of the year prize for the third time in his career.
"This blows me away, I cannot believe it. This means the world to me," he said, after beating the likes of Swift and Shelton to the prize.
Strait is currently on his Cowboy Rides Away farewell tour after announcing his retirement from touring, but has said he intends to continue recording with occasional live appearances.
Florida Georgia Line won single of the year for their crossover hit Cruise, and best duo of the year.
New star Kacey Musgraves, who had six nominations following her debut Same Trailer Different Park, went home with best new artist.
"This first year has been just indescribable. It's amazing what 52 weeks can do to a person," said Musgraves.
"Last year I had really crappy seats. I was just sitting back with my roommate just as a fan. And here I am holding this thing.''
The three-hour ceremony – shown live on ABC in the US – was hosted by Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley for the sixth year running.
Kenny Rogers was given a lifetime achievement award, telling fans "It's been a hell of a month."
He continued: "The (Country Music) Hall of Fame last week, this this week. I can't wait to see what's coming next week.''