Today, as I was driving in the car with my best friend, we listened to The Chicks. We drive together to a lake in north east Alabama multiple times each year, and every time we go we listen to “Goodbye Earl,” “Wide Open Spaces,” “Cowboy Take Me Away,” and “Travelin’ Soldier.” Together, we sang along to the music while winding our way through cow pastures and up into the mountains of lower Appalachia. I rolled down the window to let Natalie Maines’ voice travel down the drop off, and down into the towns which dotted the valley below.
On this day in 2006, The Chicks released their seventh studio album, Taking the Long Way, the last album to be released under their old moniker, the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks announced their name change in 2020 in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Though they claimed the original name was inspired directly by Little Feat’s 1973 album Dixie Chicken, the band’s name obviously carries with it connotations of the Confederacy and slavery in the American South. Since 2020, they have exclusively referred to themselves as The Chicks, and have released all new music under that title.
The Chicks, whose signature sound combines bluegrass, country, and rock, were founded originally in 1989 by Laura Lynch, Robin Lynn Macy, and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer. Between 1990 and 1993, they released the albums Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, Little Ol’ Cowgirl, and Shouldn’t a Told You That. The style of these albums stick close to the women’s bluegrass roots, but as the bandmates began to disagree on sound, original members eventually decided to leave. Between 1992 and 1995, Laura and Robin left the band, and Natalie Maines joined to become the now-trio’s lead vocalist.
The Chicks spread bluegrass’s signature storytelling and twang to an audience quickly growing across the United States.
The band’s new sound combined deep southern honky-tonk with contemporary country-rock. Though beginning to market themselves to a wider audience, The Chicks didn’t let go of their roots, and spread bluegrass’s signature storytelling and twang to an audience quickly growing across the United States.
In 1998, the trio set the record for the best-selling group album in country music history with their release of Wide Open Spaces. This record stands today. The Chick’s 1999 album Fly debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts; it won two Grammy Awards, including Best Country Album. It includes such hits as “Cowboy Take Me Away,” and, my favorite “Goodbye Earl.” “Goodbye Earl” – which tells the story of two best friends who work together to murder one of their abusive husbands – represents The Chick’s first (but not last) controversy. I must admit, I always hum the chorus to myself when I eat my New Year’s black-eyed peas.
In 2002, The Chicks released their sixth album Home, which includes vocals by country-music legend Emmylou Harris. With Home, The Chicks won four awards at the 2003 Grammys (including, once again, Best Country Album). In 2006, The Chicks released their seventh studio album, Taking the Long Way, which went on to win five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year for “Not Ready to Make Nice.”
“Not Ready to Make Nice” acts as a response to the public backlash after Natalie Maines’ infamous comments during one of the band’s performances in London in 2003. While on stage, Natalie denounced the United States’ invasion of Iraq, and expressed shame at sharing a home state with President George W Bush. (Sounds like something I’ve said about Kay Ivey, Tommy Tuberville, and a plethora of other Alabamians). Overnight, The Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations, resulting in not just a staggering loss in sales, but terrifying death threats.
The backlash The Chicks received for their public anti-war stance was not only heinous and indefensible, but very obviously misogynistic. The American public ripped these women apart because they had dared to speak their own minds. For years, The Chicks were harassed, targeted, and cast either into or out of the public eye depending on which would do the most damage at each moment.
In 2006, Barbara Kopple and Cecelia Peck released their documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing. The film follows the band’s navigation through the years immediately following the backlash. It takes its title from commentator Laura Ingraham’s comment that their job as entertainers was to “shut up and sing,” and keep their opinions to themselves. In her review of the documentary, FF2’s Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner wrote, “Ultimately the great accomplishment of Shut Up and Sing is to expand our notion of courage, and define new ways in which women can be genuinely courageous.”
If all terrible events come with a lesson, then the one to be learned from The Chicks is this: do not sacrifice your beliefs to become more palatable to others.
The film not only explores the psychological effects of world-wide hate on the group of women, but the very real and constant threats of physical violence to them as well—none of which The Chicks backed down from. If all terrible events come with a lesson, then the one to be learned from The Chicks is this: do not sacrifice your beliefs to become more palatable to others.
Unfortunately, the bravery of a self-assured woman will often be met with hate, outrage, and threats of violence. But, The Chicks survived all of that, and emerged unvanquished on the other side. In 2020, after a fourteen year hiatus, The Chicks released their newest album, Gaslighter, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 charts. Though the sound they take on is a changed one, the elements of storytelling and heart are exactly the same.
The Chicks’ website includes resources to connect visitors to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, Proclaim Justice, and the Human Rights Campaign. Me? I’m not just delighted that they are back to making music, I’m glad The Chicks are back in the public eye as figures with strong beliefs and stronger voices. They represent all of us feisty country chicks well.
© Reese Alexander (5/23/23) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Roza Melkumyan’s post on The Chicks here.
Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s Review of Shut Up & Sing here.
Visit The Chicks Wikipedia page here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Singer Natalie Maines of The Chicks performs at a live concert at Forum Horsens in Horsens, Denmark on April 22, 2016.
Middle Photo: Still from the EPK for the film Shut Up & Sing used with permission of The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved.
Bottom Photo: Natalie with Emily Robison (L) and Martie Maguire (R). Photo credit: Gonzales Photo – Lasse Lagoni used with permission of Alamy (2D7AWNG). All Rights Reserved!