In addition to thanking his wife and family, Aldean shouted out his fans and country music radio for helping give him "one of the proudest nights of my life"

By Karen Mizoguchi and Adam Carlson
April 07, 2019 10:45 PM
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Jason Aldean is the man of the night!

The country star, 42, received the Dick Clark artist of the decade honor at the 2019 Academy of Country Music Awards on Sunday, during which he performed a medley of some of his biggest hits through the years — including a duet with Kelly Clarkson of their song “Don’t You Wanna Stay.”

Aldean was presented the award by the previous winner, George Strait, who lauded his “ability to connect with his fans and light a fire with his music.” Aldean had a compliment for Strait, too, saying he was “the reason I wear the cowboy hat.”

In a brief but earnest acceptance speech, Aldean acknowledged the A-list talent watching him in the audience (“I look out and I see a lot of artists out here that have had a hell of a decade,” including Luke Bryan and Carrie Underwood) and he thanked the loved ones who have supported him.

“My wife, I love you, my family, my mom and dad [who] are here,” he said.

He also shouted out his fans and country music radio for helping give him “one of the proudest nights of my life.”

“You guys have changed my life forever,” he said.

Be sure to check out PEOPLE’s full ACM Awards coverage to get the latest news on music’s biggest night.

Jason Aldean receiving the Dick Clark artist of the decade award at the 2019 ACMs
Kevin Winter/Getty

Catching up with PEOPLE on the red carpet earlier in the night, Aldean admitted that it felt “a little weird” to be receiving the honor.

“I don’t feel like I’ve been around long enough to get something like that,” he said. “And on the other hand, I look back and I’ve been coming to these for about 15 years now. It’s exciting, it’s a really big night for me — not only me but my crew and everyone who’s been with me for 14, 15 years. It’s exciting.”

Only five artists have ever received the artist of the decade award, which was renamed for Clark, a longtime ACM Awards producer and occasional host, after he died in 2012.

In addition to Strait, the previous honorees have been Marty Robbins in 1969, Loretta Lynn in 1979, Alabama in 1988 and Garth Brooks in 1998.

Jason and Brittany Aldean
Ethan Miller/Getty

Aldean, who is also nominated for entertainer of the year, a title which he has won for the past three consecutive years, was joined at the show by wife Brittany Kerr Aldean, who gave birth in February to their second child, daughter Navy.

When he learned he would be receiving the honor last month, the “You Make It Easy” singer said in a news release: “This is probably one of the coolest awards I’ve ever been given. My heroes are on this list, something I can’t really even wrap my head around being a part of. But man, I’m proud to be getting it — it’s for everyone who stuck with us and supported us through the years.”

Navy makes six at Aldean and Brittany’s household alongside 16-month-old son Memphis and Aldean’s daughters Kendyl, 11, and Keeley, 16, from a previous marriage.

Jason and Brittany Aldean

The four-time Grammy nominee recently spoke to PEOPLE about his decade-plus in country music.

“It is a business but a fun business,” he said. In addition, the star shared some sage advice to aspiring singers.

“It can be great,” he said. “It can also rip you apart at times. So my biggest thing would be stay focused and keep your eye on what is important and stick to that, and hopefully you have a long career.”

The 54th Academy of Country Music Awards are broadcasting live from Las Vegas on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on CBS.