Dixie Chicks Biography
The Dixie Chicks are an American all-female country music trio, comprising Emily Robison, Martie Maguire, and Natalie Maines.
The Dixie Chicks formed in 1989 in Dallas, Texas. 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 honestly expressed political opinions. 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.
The 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.
The 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 Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, George Strait, and others, but found no airplay outside of public radio.
In late 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 reviews but sparing commercial success outside of some Dallas area radio airplay.
Robin Lynn Macy left in late 1992, preferring a "purer" bluegrass approach, and remained active in the Dallas music scene.
Now a 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.
Laura 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.
This 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.
A 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.
The 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.
The 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 public:
The 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.
The 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.
Despite 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.
The 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.
Home 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 within hours.
A couple of weeks later, on March 10, 2003, during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq (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:
In 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.
On 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:
An ad for the documentary film, Shut up and Sing, documenting the furor, was turned down by NBC on 27 October 2006, citing a policy barring ads dealing with "public controversy". Ads for the documentary were rebuffed by the smaller CW network as well; local affiliate stations of all five major broadcasters, including NBC and CW, ran promotional spots for the film in New York and Los Angeles, the two cities where it opened that day. "It's a sad commentary about the level of fear in our society that a movie about a group of courageous entertainers who were blacklisted for exercising their right of free speech is now itself being blacklisted by corporate America," the film's producer Harvey Weinstein said in a statement. 
For full discography, see Dixie Chicks discography.