The Dixie Chicks rose from outcasts to icons Sunday after winning five awards at the 49th annual Grammy Awards.
Since 2003, the country singing group has been shunned by Nashville and vilified by the political right for a stinging remark made about President Bush: "We're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas."
The band's wry single "Not Ready to Make Nice" won the award for best song. It seems that the cloud of political reproach that has hovered over the Texan-born trio has lifted.
Four years ago the girls were the darlings of country music, even crossing over to get mainstream radio play. But when lead singer Natalie Maines spoke out at a London concert, some American radio stations stopped playing their songs, and album and tickets sales suffered.
Their validation comes at a time of increasing anger about the war in Iraq and follows some of the lowest approval ratings of any president ever. The unpopularity of President Bush rivals that of Jimmy Carter in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis and Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal (Carter, incidentally, won a Grammy Sunday night for best spoken word recording).
Sunday's Grammy Awards were set against the backdrop of the early campaign trail with Hillary Clinton fighting off criticism in New Hampshire that she voted for the war. Suddenly -- in a new political climate -- the reputation of the self-described "loudmouth" Dixie Chicks is improving.
"They deserve a lot of credit," said Nathan Brackett, senior editor for Rolling Stone magazine. "There have been a lot of songs coming from indie rockers about the war in Iraq, but the Dixie Chicks made a stand in a hostile environment among country stars that value loyalty and patriotism.
"It's a lot different to be a country artist and make a political stand than if you are a Steven Tyler or a Don Henley," he said.
The Dixie Chicks also won record of the year, song of the year and album of the year, in addition to best country album and country performance by a duo or group with vocal. The last time an act swept the album, record and song categories was in 1993 when Eric Clapton led the field.
"I think people are using their freedom of speech tonight with all of these awards,'' Maines told Reuters.
Their career now boasts 13 Grammy awards. "Taking the Long Way'' was the ninth-biggest album in the United States last year, according to tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan, but sales of 1.9 million copies to date were relatively disappointing compared with previous releases. The award-winning album was shut out of the Country Music Awards last November.
Bracket says the musical rebirth of the Dixie Chicks was only possible because the Grammy organization is far more liberal than the Country Music Association that has ostracized the Dixie Chicks following their political commentary.
"I think the Grammy voters thought it would be an especially nice story to see them winning this time," he said. "It gives the whole ordeal a happy ending."
"Of course, I haven't checked out the right-wing commentators. The Grammy voters are more left of center and are rewarding them for their political stand," he said. "No doubt 2007 is a different year from 2003, although there is probably no shortage of people who don't support Natalie Maines for that."