Jenee Fleenor - longtime fiddle player for Blake Shelton and "The Voice" house band - can add an unprecedented line to her resume: first-ever woman to win a CMA Award for Musician of the Year.
She competed in the category with Mac McAnally, Paul Franklin, Ilya Toshinsky and Derek Wells.
Fleenor was the first female nominated for the category, which the Country Music Association created in 1988.
"I just broke down in tears," she told The Tennessean on CMA nomination day. "It's been a dream of mine since I knew what the CMAs were, to be named with all of my peers and heroes."
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Fleenor came to Nashville in 2001, immediately after graduating from high school. Within a month, she'd joined respected bluegrassers Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time. Gigs with Terri Clark, Martina McBride and others followed.
"The first time I stepped in the studio was when I was about 11 years old," she says. "I'll never forget that sound. Those headphones, and the way my fiddle sounded. I was like, 'I want to do this.'
"It takes longer maybe than I thought to become an established session musician. You can't teach experience. But I feel like, just in the past four, five years, everything's kind of clicked.
"I feel a little bit more yearning to hear a fiddle again, which makes me damn happy," she adds with a laugh.
Earlier this year, Fleenor made similar waves at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas, when she became the first-ever female nominee for Specialty Instrument(s) Player of the Year.
Though it's taken Music Row 31 years to nominate a female musician in this category, Fleenor says she's long felt like an equal, and counts her fellow nominees as "my buddies that I work in the studio with on a daily basis. They're my heroes and friends."
And in the early days - when she faced some skeptical looks upon walking into a session - she had a response.
"The proof is in the picking."
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: CMA Awards 2019: Jenee Fleenor first woman to win Musician of the Year