The Dixie Chicks - Biography
Dixie Chicks are an American all-female country music
trio, comprising Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, and Natalie
Chicks formed in 1989 in
After years of struggle and changes in personnel, the group
achieved large-scale country and pop commercial success
starting in the late 1990s, with hit songs such as "Wide
Open Spaces", "Cowboy Take Me Away", and "Long Time Gone".
They became known for their lively group personae,
instrumental virtuosity, fashion sense, and outspoken views.
In particular, Natalie Maines' public criticism of President
George W. Bush on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq led
to considerable controversy for the group, causing them to
lose a large part of their core country audience, but gain a
new if somewhat smaller audience in the process.
original members of the Dixie Chicks when they formed in
1989 were the sisters Martie Erwin and Emily Erwin, Laura
Lynch, and Robin Lynn Macy. (Martie and Emily have since
married and their names are now Martie Maguire and Emily
Robison.) The sisters provided the instrumental firepower
while the other two were the lead singers. The original
members graduated from Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, a
suburb of Dallas.
Dixie Chicks began with a largely bluegrass sound, and
released their first album Thank Heavens for Dale Evans
(named after the pioneering, multi-talented female performer
Dale Evans) on independent label
Crystal Clear Sound in 1990. The album included two
instrumentals, an indicator from the beginning of the
group's strength; Martie had taken third place at the
National Fiddle Championships the year before. The Chicks
gained some positive notices, winning the best band prize at
the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and earning opening act
spots in support of
Brooks, Reba McEntire, George Strait, and others, but found
no airplay outside of public radio.
1991 the group released the Christmas single "Home on the
Radar Range", and followed it in 1992 with their second
album, Little Ol' Cowgirl. Steel guitar legend Lloyd
Maines played on both of these, foreshadowing a personnel
change to come. Some of the album contained a more
contemporary country sound. The Chicks made appearances at
various events in the Texas and Nashville areas, gaining
good critical but sparing commercial success outside of some
Dallas area radio airplay.
Lynn Macy left in late 1992, preferring a "purer" bluegrass
approach, and remained active in the
trio, in 1993 the Chicks released their third album,
Shouldn't a Told You That, with Lynch acting as the sole
lead singer and bluegrass pushed to the background. Despite
constant touring, and appearances at higher-profile events
such as President Bill Clinton's Inauguration and the
national television show CBS This Morning, no hit
emerged and a commercial breakthrough eluded them.
A new singer and commercial success
Lynch was replaced in 1995 by Natalie Maines, who is the
daughter of producer, steel guitar player, and former Chicks
session player Lloyd Maines. Around the same time, Sony
scouted the Chicks and signed them to their newly revived
Monument Records label.
new lineup consisted of group leader Martie (fiddle,
mandolin and vocals), Emily (guitar, dobro, banjo and
vocals), and Natalie (lead vocals and in concert, guitar).
Natalie had added a strong and distinctive voice to the
sisters' musicianship and harmony vocals, and the
combination suddenly clicked.
single "I Can Love You Better" was released in October 1997,
this time with major label promotion. It climbed into the
Top 10 of the country chart. The album Wide Open Spaces
was released in January 1998, and over the space of a year
the next three singles from it all hit No. 1 on the country
charts: the bouncy "There's Your Trouble", the
statement-of-purpose "Wide Open Spaces", and the
radio-pleasing ballad "You Were Mine". Wide Open Spaces
went on to sell more than 12 million copies, becoming one of
the 50 best-selling albums in American history. In the
summer of 1999 they served as the opening act for Tim McGraw
on a popular concert tour.
Dixie Chicks proved their hitmaking was no fluke by
following it with another smash hit album, Fly, in
2000. Nine singles emerged from it, including country No.
1's "Cowboy Take Me Away" and "Without You". Fly went
on to sell 10 million copies, a rare repeat visit to the
diamond level of sales. The Chicks also staged the Fly Tour,
their first as the headlining act and already now in arenas.
source of the Dixie Chicks' popularity came from various
factors. They wrote or co-wrote about half the songs on
these two records, while using outside songwriters for the
rest. The group's mixture of bluegrass and mainstream
country music appealed to a wide spectrum of record buyers.
The group's visual image ranged from pretty to jokey to
fiery, which further enhanced their general appeal.
Lyrically, the Chicks' ethos struck a resonance with the
She needs wide open spaces
Room to make her big mistakes
romantic, adventurous sense of independence was a major
theme of the first two albums featuring Maines as the lead
singer; it is strongly evident as well in "Cowboy Take Me
Away", another of their signature songs. But the Chicks also
delivered gleeful revenge epics such as "Goodbye Earl" (a
tale of a woman who murders her abusive husband and gets
away with it) or raucous, ribald numbers such as "Sin Wagon"
(a concert staple rave-up). Both of these tracks contained
thematic elements that caused some radio stations to remove
them from their playlists, but the group was consistently
unapologetic ó foreshadowing the larger controversy yet to
successful with a "non-commercial" sound
Dixie Chicks debuted their quiet, unadorned song "I Believe
in Love" on the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon
following the September 11, 2001 attacks. It was a harbinger
of a change in musical direction.
group was involved in a dispute with their record label for
two years, and their next album Home was an
independent production, produced by Lloyd Maines and
released in 2002 after the Chicks and Sony reconciled their
differences. For the tracks that came from outside
songwriters, the group solicited personal songs that the
writers might think "uncommercial". Unlike the two previous
records, Home was recorded without drums and is
dominated by very-up-tempo bluegrass and pensive ballads. In
addition to this "non-commercial" sound, the lyrics of the
opening track and first single, "Long Time Gone", explicitly
attacked contemporary country music radio, accusing it of
ignoring the soul of the genre as exemplified by Merle
Haggard, Johnny Cash, and Hank Williams.
all this, the single rose to #2 on the country chart and
started the album off to become a major success; it ended up
selling over 6 million copies in the U.S., which might have
been still more but for the political controversy to come.
"Long Time Gone" also became the Chicks' first top ten hit
on the U.S. pop singles chart.
group's sense of independent spirit was still alive and well
in their cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide", which
duplicated the top ten country and pop achievements, but in
one example of the album's contrast with the past, a key
track from Home was a rendering of Patty Griffin's
"Top of the World" (for which the subsequent tour was
named), which featured a startlingly unusual point of view
and sought to portray an almost unbearable sense of regret.
dominated the 2003 Grammy Awards held on February 23,
winning four of them, including Best Country Album. Tickets
for the associated Top of the World Tour often sold out
couple of weeks later, on
March 10, 2003, during the run-up to the invasion of
(which would take place on March 20), Natalie Maines (a
native of Lubbock, Texas) said between songs during a
concert at the Shepherd's Bush Empire theatre in London:
"Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the
is from Texas."
The Guardian's review of this concert was picked up by
U.S. media, controversy erupted. The remark sparked intense
criticism from many Americans, on three grounds: that Maines
shouldn't be criticizing the nation's head of state while on
foreign soil; that Maines shouldn't be criticizing the
military's commander-in-chief while the country was on the
verge of war; and (from a business standpoint) that Maines
shouldn't be making political statements that would offend
the Dixie Chicks' culturally conservative audience base.
Maines said "I said it there 'cause that's where I was."
Following the uproar and the start of a boycott of their
music, the singer attempted to clarify matters on March 12
with, "I feel the President is ignoring the opinions of many
and alienating the rest of the world."
statement failed to quiet her critics, and on March 14 she
issued an apology: "As a concerned American citizen, I
apologize to President Bush because my remark was
disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should
be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in
Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a
result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a
viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every
possible alternative exhausted before children and American
soldiers' lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud
fans remained angry and encouraged a boycott of Dixie Chicks
products and their sponsor Lipton. Other fans were
disappointed she apologized to the President. In one famous
display of anti-Dixie-Chick feeling, former fans were
encouraged to bring their CDs so they could be crushed by a
bulldozer. The degree of hatred directed toward the Chicks
provoked concern among the band about their safety and that
of their families.
Bruce Springsteen and Madonna even felt compelled to
come out in support of the right of the band to express
their opinions freely, though Madonna herself was pressured
to postpone and then alter the April 1 release of her
"American Life" video, in which she threw a Bush look-alike
a hand grenade, after witnessing the backlash on the Chicks.
April 24, the Dixie Chicks launched a publicity campaign to
explain their position. During a prime-time interview with
TV personality Diane Sawyer, Maines said she remained proud
of her original statement. The band also appeared naked
(with private parts strategically covered) on the May 2
cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine with slogans
such as "Traitors," "Saddam's Angels," "Dixie Sluts", "Proud
Americans," "Hero," "Free Speech", and "Brave" printed on
President Bush responded to the controversy surrounding the
Dixie Chicks in an interview with Tom Brokaw on April 24:
"The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can
say what they want to say ... They shouldn't have their
feelings hurt just because some people don't want to buy
their records when they speak out ... Freedom is a two-way
street ... I ... don't really care what the Dixie Chicks
said. I want to do what I think is right for the American
people, and if some singers or
stars feel like speaking out, that's fine. That's the great
thing about America. It stands in stark contrast to Iraq
first concert of their nationwide Top of the World Tour the
Dixie Chicks received a positive reception. The concert was
held in Greenville, South Carolina on May 1, and was
attended by a sell-out crowd of 15,000. The women arrived
prepared to face opposition ó and Maines invited those who
had come to boo to do so ó but the crowd erupted in cheers.
(Tickets for their concert tour had gone on sale well before
the controversy erupted, meaning a cross-section of their
fans was at the concert.)
Nevertheless, the band remained controversial. On May 6 a
Colorado radio station suspended two of its disc jockeys for
playing music by the Dixie Chicks in violation of a ban on
their music. On May 22, at the Academy of Country Music (ACM)
awards ceremony in Las Vegas, there were boos when the group's nomination for entertainer of the
year awards was announced. However, the broadcast's host,
Vince Gill, reminded the audience that everyone is entitled
to freedom of speech. The Academy made the award to Toby
Keith, an outspoken critic of the group. By the time of
their August 3 Atlanta show, Natalie remarked they had not
heard any boos for a couple of shows but heard some that
night, but that it was OK, as the Dixie Chicks were all
about freedom of speech.
fall of 2003 the Dixie Chicks starred in a broadcast TV
commercial for Lipton Original Iced Tea, which made a
tongue-in-cheek reference to the corporate blacklisting and
the grassroots backlash: in the tea spot, the Chicks are
about to give a stadium concert when the electricity
suddenly goes out - but they manage to electrify the stadium
all by themselves, belting out a rousing a capella
version of "Cowboy Take Me Away" to the raving cheers of the
September 2003 interview, Maguire told Der Spiegel
magazine: "We don't feel a part of the country scene any
longer, it can't be our home anymore." She noted a lack of
support from country stars, and being shunned at the 2003
ACM awards. "Instead, we won three Grammys against much
stronger competition. So we now consider ourselves part of
the big rock 'n' roll family." However, in an open letter to
fans on the Chicks' Web site, Maines said Maguire had been
2003, the American Red Cross refused a 1 million dollar
donation from the Dixie Chicks. The organization did not
publicize the refusal, though; it was revealed by the Chicks
themselves in a May 2006 interview on the Howard Stern Show
on SIRIUS Satellite Radio. A Red Cross spokesperson later
said the decision was made because "the controversy made it
impossible to associate with the Dixie Chicks."
October 2004, the Dixie Chicks joined the Vote for Change
tour, playing a series of concerts in American swing states.
These concerts were organized with the general goal of
mobilizing people to vote for John Kerry and against Bush in
that year's Presidential campaign. The Dixie Chicks'
appearances were joint performances with James Taylor. This
effort was unsuccessful in getting Kerry elected, and while
the artistic collaboration with Taylor went very well
(sharing the stage on many numbers), during the concerts
Maines' stage remarks revealed a certain amount of
nervousness over what the Dixie Chicks' future career path
2006 Emily Robison commented to the Telegraph in the UK on
the exploitation of the war in Iraq found in many country
music videos, "A lot of pandering started going on, and
you'd see soldiers and the American flag in every video,"
Robison said. "It became a sickening display of
ultra-patriotism." Maines continued, "The entire country may
disagree with me, but I don't understand the necessity for
patriotism. Why do you have to be a patriot? About what?
This land is our land? Why? You can like where you live and
like your life, but as for loving the whole country ... I
don't see why people care about patriotism."
September 2006, Cabin Creek Films,
the production company of award-winning documentarian
Barbara Koppel, will
premiere Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing at the
Toronto Film Festival. The film will be distributed by the
Weinstein Company. The documentary follows the Chicks over
the three years since the Bush remarks.
Ready to Make Nice: The Chicks return
September 2005 the Dixie Chicks debuted their song "I Hope"
on the Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf
Coast telethon following Hurricane Katrina, and
subsequently made it available as a digital download single
with proceeds to benefit hurricane relief.
March 16, 2006, the Dixie Chicks released the single "Not
Ready to Make Nice" in advance of their upcoming album.
Written by all three Chicks alongside Dan Wilson, it
directly addressed the political controversy that had
surrounded the group for the past three years:
Iím not ready to make nice
Iím not ready to back down
Iím still mad as hell and I donít have time to go round and
round and round
Itís too late to make it right
I probably wouldnít if I could
ĎCause Iím mad as hell
Canít bring myself to do what it is you think I should
criticism of the death threats the women (particularly
Itís a sad sad story when a mother will teach her daughter
that she ought to hate a perfect stranger
And how in the world can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge that theyíd write me a
letter sayiní that I better shut up and sing or my life will
press release, Robison said, "The stakes were definitely
higher on that song. We knew it was special because it was
so autobiographical, and we had to get it right. And once we
had that song done, it freed us up to do the rest of the
album without that burden."
question of how the group's new record would fare
commercially attracted intense media interest. A March 27
Associated Press story indicated that country radio reaction
was so far mixed, with some major stations playing it, a few
avoiding it, and others adopting a wait-and-see attitude. By
April, although still not popular in the United States, the
song received heavy airplay on country and - by summer - on
adult oriented rock stations in Canada and on Canadian video
television network MuchMoreMusic. However, due to digital
sales, the single hit the Billboard Hot 100 at number 28,
the week's highest new entry for the week ending May 6,
2006. The following week it nudged up to #23. By May 22, UPI
reported that "The first two singles from the album are not
getting widespread airplay, Billboard.com reported Monday.
The first single, only peaked at No. 36 on the Billboard Hot
Country Songs chart and the second single, 'Everybody
Knows', is moving rapidly downward after its peak at No.
48." UPI also reported that program managers for
WKIS-FM in Miami and
in Salt Lake City had junked the singles due to listener
complaints or their own distaste. Also, few pop radio
stations opted to take a chance on "Not Ready To Make Nice,"
although Atlanta CHR radio station WSTR did add the song to
its playlist belatedly in June 2006. The song topped VH1's
fan voted top 20 video countdown for 11 straight weeks,
making it the longest running video at the #1 spot on the
Chicks' new album, entitled Taking the Long Way, was
released in stores and online May 22, 2006. The album was
produced by Rick Rubin (who had worked with Metallica, Red
Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, and the
Beastie Boys among others) and was publicized to be more
rock-intensive than country-oriented. All 14 tracks were
co-written by the three Chicks, alongside various other
songwriters. The album contained additional tracks that
seemed to indirectly reference what the group called "The
Incident", and the group remained outwardly defiant. For
instance, in the May 29 issue of Time, Maguire said,
"I'd rather have a smaller following of really cool people
who get it, who will grow with us as we grow and are fans
for life, than people that have us in their five-disc
changer with Reba McEntire and Toby Keith. We don't want
those kinds of fans. They limit what you can do." Maines
also retracted her earlier apology to Bush, stating, "I
apologized for disrespecting the office of the President,
but I don't feel that way anymore. I don't feel he is owed
any respect whatsoever."
minimal airplay, Taking the Long Way debuted at
number one on both the U.S. pop albums chart and the U.S.
country albums chart, selling 526,000 copies in the first
week (the year's second-best such total for any country act)
and making it a gold record within its first week. The
Chicks became the first female group in chart history to
have three albums debut at #1.
Accidents & Accusations Tour began in July 2006.
Ticket sales were strong in Canada, decent in some
Northeastern markets, but notably weak in other areas. A
number of shows were cancelled due to poor sales, and in
Houston, Texas, tickets never even went on sale when local
radio stations refused to accept advertising for the event.
In August, a re-routed tour schedule was announced with a
greater emphasis on Canadian dates, where Taking the Long
Way had gone five-times-platinum. The tour's shows
themselves generally refrained from any explicit verbal
political comments, letting the music, especially the
central performance of "Not Ready to Make Nice", speak for
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