October 16, 2018 at 05:05 PM EDT

Since 2010, music network CMT has selected a group of musicians to honor at its annual Artists of the Year ceremony. Wednesday night’s show (8 p.m. ET/PT) will be the first in the telecast’s history to exclusively celebrate female artists.

This year’s honorees — Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, and Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town — shared with EW which women inspired them as they were finding their own voices as both fans and young artists. It’s an eclectic list that includes everyone from Emmylou Harris to Dolly Parton to Shania Twain.

No doubt, many of the women would also point to the ceremony’s Artist of a Lifetime honoree Loretta Lynn as a seminal figure as well. Lynn will be presented her award by Sissy Spacek, the actress who won an Oscar for her portrayal of the country star in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter. 

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According to Leslie Fram, senior vice president of music strategy for CMT, given the obstacles female country artists continue to face from radio programmers and concert promoters, it felt like the appropriate moment for the first ever distaff Artists of the Year ceremony (especially given that last year’s show featured only male honorees). This year’s crop of winners definitely responded favorably to the concept.

“I think they all collectively gasped, because they felt like the timing was right,” says Fram, who has helped spearhead several female-centric initiatives at the network including its Next Women of Country series and tour which spotlights up and coming artists. Plus, she adds, the women are frequently on the road with their own careers and are looking forward to the opportunity to work and play together.  “Most of these artists love and respect each other,” she says. “They all support each other, but when do they get to see each other?”

In addition to the honorees themselves, an equally impressive list of women — and at least one man — will be performing during Wednesday’s 90-minute telecast from the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville.

“This show is really about the artists having a great time,” says Fram. “They can perform, or not perform. And of course, they’ve all decided they want to perform, and they’ve all curated their own performances.”

Among the expected collaborations are Underwood and her upcoming opening acts Maddie and Tae and Runaway June, Ballerini and Alison Krauss, Scott and Tori Kelly, and Fairchild and Schlapman with Gladys Knight. Also expect to see Sheryl Crow, Dierks Bentley, and Martina McBride band together to salute the legendary Lynn.

Tomorrow we’ll share which up and coming female artists the honorees believe fans should keep an eye on.

The CMT Artists of the Year ceremony airs Wednesday Oct. 17 at 8 p.m. ET/PT

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