October 10, 1969 was when the first-ever Dove Awards ceremony took place. The event was held at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The Dove Awards were originally conceptualized by Gospel singer and songwriter Bill Gaither, at a Gospel Music Association board meeting in 1968. In 1971, the awards moved to Nashville.
Industry veteran Bob McConnell, Art Director and Designer for Benson Records from the 1960s to the 1980s, was one of the original planners of the very first Dove Awards show in 1969.
"We had lunch at a meat-and-three in downtown Nashville," McConnell says. "It was me and Bob Benson, Bill Gaither, Les Beesley from the Florida Boys and some other guys. Les came up with the name Dove Awards and we talked about the idea of a descending dove. The idea was to create an award with a descending dove to represent the dove from when Jesus was baptized."
After that lunch, McConnell got to work sketching some ideas incorporating the descending dove imagery. He showed his designs to Bob Benson and Bill Gaither, who loved what he'd designed. McConnell's sketches were turned into the award handed out at the very first Dove Awards, the same iconic dove statue still used today.
Performers who won awards at the inaugural ceremony included James Blackwood, the Imperials, the popular country band the Oak Ridge Boys, J.G. Whitfield and the Speers.
Here were the winners of the first Dove Awards:
- Song of the Year
- "Jesus Is Coming Soon"; R. E. Winsett; R. E. Winsett Music (SESAC)
- Songwriter of the Year
- Bill Gaither
- Male Vocalist of the Year
- James Blackwood
- Female Vocalist of the Year
- Vestal Goodman
- Male Group of the Year
- The Imperials
- Mixed Group of the Year
- The Speer Family
- Album of the Year
- "It's Happening"; Oak Ridge Boys; Bob MacKenzie; Heart Warming
- Dwayne Friend
- Album Jacket
- "It's Happening"; Oak Ridge Boys; Heart Warming
- Television Program
- Gospel Jubilee, Florida Boys
- D.J. of the Year
- J. G. Whitfield