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(CBS NEWS) Husband and wife country stars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert got a little choked up when their "Over You" won the award for song of the year at the Country Music Association Awards Thursday night in Nashville.

The couple, who wrote the song about the car accident that killed Shelton's brother when he was teenager, gave an emotional acceptance speech. Lambert was seen getting teary-eyed, as Shelton spoke onstage.

"My dad always told me, 'Son, you should write a song about your brother,"' Shelton said. "I lost my dad in January, and it's so amazing to me that tonight even after he's gone, he's still right. I just needed the right person to write this song with and the right person to sing it."

The first CMA of the night went to Little Big Town. The group won single of the year for "Pontoon." Thompson Square walked away with the night's next award -- vocal duo of the year. Thompson Square ended Sugarland's five-year run in the vocal duo category, an award that's gone to either Sugarland or Brooks & Dunn 19 of the last 20 years.

Church, who won album of the year, said, "I spent a lot of my career wondering where I fit in, to country, to rock," Church says. "I want to thank you guys for giving me somewhere to hang my hat tonight."

This year's CMA ceremony, broadcast live on ABC, was chock full of performances. Church sang his hit song "Springsteen" and even channeled The Boss by singing a couple of verses of "Born to Run." The Band Perry debuted "Better Dig," a song from its upcoming album, and Swift sang "Begin Again," one of the tracks off her chart-topping album, "Red." Paisley recognized Hurricane Sandy when he sang "Southern Comfort Zone."

Tim McGraw debuted the single "One of Those Nights" from his new album "Two Lanes of Freedom. Lambert, dressed in a multi-colored bustier and leather pants, spun around on stage while playing her rockin' song "Fastest Girl in Town."

Country music's fastest rising stars Jason Aldean, Church and Luke Bryan kicked off the awards ceremony by joining forces.

Playing with a large American flag behind them, the trio of performers teamed up on Aldean's new single "The Only Way I Know" from his new album "Night Train."

Most of country's top stars were on hand Thursday night at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena for the celebration, with many slated to perform. Taylor Swift arrived in a detailed red lace dress to some of the night's loudest cheers and mingled with fans who had made signs to draw her attention.

And when they stepped out for the CMAs on Thursday, they also had something else on their minds: Superstorm Sandy relief.

Five-time co-hosts Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley sought Red Cross donations during the broadcast from The Bridgestone Arena, just three days after Sandy killed dozens and caused billions in damage in the northeastern U.S.

"We want you to know that we love you and our thoughts are with you," said Underwood before encouraging viewers to donate money to the American Red Cross. Underwood said the evening was dedicated to lifting the spirits of people on the East Coast.

Underwood and Paisley had a little fun with their opening, which included their own version of Maroon 5's "Moves Like Jagger." The changed it to "Moves Like [Merle] Haggard." The pair also did their own Psy dance and poked a little fun at the night's guest of honor, too.

"Tonight we are honoring the great Willie Nelson," Paisley said, "and also simultaneously we are going to strip you of all your CMA Awards. Sorry."

"Because Willie," Underwood said, "it appears there's been some doping charges."

Before the show began, two CMA winners were already announced. Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw's "Feel Like a Rock Star" scored musical event of the year, and Toby Keith's "Red Solo Cup" won video of the year.

Going into the ceremony, Church led this year's crop of nominees with five nods. The "Springsteen" singer was followed closely by Lambert and Shelton with four nominations each.

The broadcast capped a long day of celebration that started with a televised Reba McEntire performance in front of the arena and escalated as stars like Church, Aldean and Lady A arrived on the red carpet.

Fans held handmade signs aimed at getting Swift's attention. Rising star Brantley Gilbert rode up on a Harley Davidson motorcycle before greeting fans. Kellie Pickler showed up in a silver dress and ultra-short hairdo after donating her golden locks to cancer victims. Hunter Hayes and Luke Bryan received some of the loudest screams from teenage fans. And art imitated life as Hayden Panettiere and stars from the new show "Nashville" walked the carpet, drawing cheers just like the real-life performers they mimic on the hour-long drama.

Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland showed off her baby bump in a black Donna Karan dress - which she loved because "it fits a pregnant body." Not all of her wardrobe did, however.

"Walking in heels is a bit of a challenge at this point," she joked.

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