The Dixie Chicks started out with sisters Martie (born Oct. 12, 1969) and Emily Erwin (born Aug. 16, 1972), who grew up attending bluegrass festivals and busking for spare change on Dallas street corners in 1989. With two additional women in the group, they were best known in Texas for drawing in country fans with their Western music and their colorful cowgirl outfits, and sold thousands of independently released albums. Ready for a stylistic change, they asked their lead singer to leave (the other member had already dropped out) and invited Natalie Maines (born Oct. 14, 1974) to front the band.
Their major label debut, 1997's Wide Open Spaces, went on to sell 12 million copies, without the benefit of a crossover hit. Traditionalists appreciated Martie's fiddling and Emily's skill on Dobro, banjo and guitar, and young women loved the women's feisty attitude. In 1998, they won the CMA's Horizon award (for new artists) and vocal group. In 1999, the title track was awarded single and video of the year after spending four weeks at No. 1, and they captured their second vocal group award. With Top 10 hits like "I Can Love You Better," "There's Your Trouble" and "You Were Mine," they toured with the all-female Lilith Fair, one of the few country acts to do so. That year, Maines and Martie divorced their husbands, and Emily married the popular Texas country singer Charlie Robison and took his name.
The Chicks' second album, Fly, sold 9 million copies and featured the hits "Ready to Run," "Cowboy Take Me Away" and "Without You." The video of "Goodbye Earl" won a CMA award in 2000, the same year the trio won vocal group, album and entertainer. A hugely successful stadium tour followed, and Fly ultimately spawned six Top 10 singles. Natalie remarried in 2000 but kept her maiden name. Martie followed in 2001 and took her husband's last name, Maguire.
The Grammys also noticed the Texas trio, awarding country album honors to Wide Open Spaces, Fly and 2002's acoustic Home. (They recorded it in Texas while fighting with Sony for a fairer recording contract -- a battle they ultimately won.) They have also earned three trophies for country duo/group, and one for country instrumental performance.
Home was an instant commercial success and critical favorite, offering the hits "Long Time Gone," "Landslide" and "Travelin' Soldier." They won their 10th CMA award in 2002, for vocal group. When tickets went on sale for the Top of the World tour in the spring of 2003, they sold almost every seat within a matter of hours.
However, during a London performance in April 2003, Maines casually remarked, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." With the war brewing in Iraq, many Americans questioned the Chicks' patriotism and numerous country radio stations banned their music. "Travelin' Soldier," a No. 1 song at the time, vanished from the charts within two weeks. Although she apologized for disrespecting the president, she refused to endorse the war.
Maines had previously been outspoken about Toby Keith's patriotic hit "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)," calling it "ignorant" and that "anybody could write 'boot in your ass.'" Keith -- and his fans -- scolded Maines' comments.
The tour kickoff, on May 1, 2003, was highly covered in the press, though it was greeted by very few protesters. The controversy had seemingly died down. But three weeks later, the Chicks were beamed into the Academy of Country Music awards during a performance in Austin, Texas. Maines wore a T-shirt with the letters "F.U.T.K." Many considered this an affront to Keith, and consequently, their single "Godspeed" died on the charts. They didn't win any awards that night, while Keith won the entertainer trophy.
Following the U.S. portion of their Top of the World tour, the Chicks returned to Europe. In September 2003, Maguire told Der Speigel magazine in Germany: "We don't feel a part of the country scene any longer, it can't be our home any more." She cited a lack of support from country stars and that the trio didn't win any ACM awards in 2003. She also added, "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 that Maguire was misquoted. The trio released a double album, Top of the World Live in late 2003.
The band made few public appearances until releasing the Rick Rubin-produced studio album, Taking the Long Way, in 2006. "Not Ready to Make Nice," the first single and video, turned heads for confronting their reputation head-on but did not the single did not well on the charts. However they mounted a North American tour of arenas, titled "The Accidents & Accusation Tour," but had to cancel and rearrange many of the dates due to slow tickets sales in conservative areas. As a result they added dates in Canada and visited Australia.
In addition, the Chicks starred in the 2006 documentary, Shut Up & Sing, which follows the band starting at the fallout from Maines' statement through the planning of their 2006 tour.