Earning universal recognition as the biggest-selling U.S. female band of all time, The Chicks have sold more than 30.5 million albums and are among an elite group of artists and the only female group to achieve multiple “diamond” selling (ten million copies) releases.
The Chicks, formerly known as the Dixie Chicks, are an American country music band that has been making waves since 1989. They are currently composed of lead singer Natalie Maines and sisters Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer, who play various instruments such as the fiddle, the mandolin, the banjo, and the guitar. They are known for their distinctive blend of country, bluegrass, and pop, as well as their outspoken views on social and political issues.
Formation and Early Years
The Chicks started as a bluegrass quartet in Dallas, Texas, with Robin Lynn Macy and Laura Lynch joining Maguire and Strayer, who were then using their maiden name Erwin. They performed on street corners and at festivals, drawing inspiration from traditional country artists like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Emmylou Harris. They released their first independent album, Thank Heavens for Dale Evans, in 1990, followed by Little Ol’ Cowgirl in 1992. However, Macy left the group that year due to creative differences, and Lynch became the lead vocalist.
The group caught the attention of Sony Nashville in 1995, who offered them a record deal on the condition that they replace Lynch with a new singer. They auditioned several candidates before choosing Maines, who was the daughter of a prominent producer and steel guitarist in Texas. Maines brought a more contemporary and rock-oriented edge to the group’s sound, which helped them appeal to a wider audience.
The Chicks released their major label debut album, Wide Open Spaces, in 1998. The album was a huge success, selling more than 12 million copies in the US and spawning several hit singles such as “There’s Your Trouble”, “Wide Open Spaces”, and “You Were Mine”. The album won four Grammy Awards and made the Chicks the best-selling female group in country music history.
Their follow-up album, Fly, was released in 1999 and was equally successful, selling more than 10 million copies in the US and producing hits like “Ready to Run”, “Cowboy Take Me Away”, “Goodbye Earl”, and “Without You”. The album also showcased the Chicks’ versatility and musical growth, incorporating elements of rock, folk, blues, and Celtic music. The album won four more Grammy Awards and earned the Chicks numerous accolades from critics and fans.
In 2002, the Chicks released their third major label album, Home, which marked a return to their rootsy sound. The album featured mostly acoustic instruments and traditional songs, as well as some original compositions by the Chicks themselves. The album was well received by critics and fans alike, selling more than six million copies in the US and generating hits like “Long Time Gone”, “Landslide”, and “Travelin’ Soldier”. The album won five Grammy Awards and cemented the Chicks’ status as one of the most acclaimed and influential acts in country music.
Controversy and Overcoming the Backlash
In March 2003, just days before the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Chicks performed at a concert in London as part of their Top of the World Tour. During the introduction of their song “Travelin’ Soldier”, Maines made a remark that would spark a huge controversy: “Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all. We do not want this war, this violence. And we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
The comment was reported by a British newspaper and soon spread across the US media. Many country fans and radio stations were outraged by Maines’ statement, which they perceived as unpatriotic and disrespectful to President George W. Bush and the troops. The Chicks faced boycotts, bans, protests, death threats, and criticism from other country artists. Their albums and concert tickets sales plummeted, and they lost many endorsements and sponsorships.
The Chicks responded to the backlash by issuing an apology for offending anyone but standing by their right to express their opinions.
They also appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine wearing nothing but slogans written on their bodies that reflected some of the insults they had received. They also participated in a documentary film called Shut Up & Sing (2006), which chronicled their ordeal and its aftermath.
Taking the Long Way
In 2006, after a three-year hiatus from recording, the Chicks released their fourth major label album, Taking the Long Way. The album was a defiant statement of artistic independence and personal resilience, featuring songs that addressed their controversy and its impact on their lives. The album also collaborated with rock producer Rick Rubin and co-wrote songs with artists like Sheryl Crow, Neil Finn, and Gary Louris. The album was a critical and commercial success, selling more than three million copies in the US and producing hits like “Not Ready to Make Nice”, “The Long Way Around”, and “Everybody Knows”. The album won five Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year.
Hiatus and Side Projects
After the success of Taking the Long Way, the Chicks took a break from recording and touring as a group, focusing on their personal lives and other projects. Maines released a solo album, Mother, in 2013, which featured covers of songs by artists like Pink Floyd, Eddie Vedder, and Jeff Buckley. Maguire and Strayer formed a duo called the Court Yard Hounds and released two albums, Court Yard Hounds (2010) and Amelita (2013), which explored more pop and folk influences.
Reunion and Name Change
The Chicks reunited for a few live performances in the 2010s, including a tour with the Eagles in 2010, a benefit concert for victims of wildfires in Texas in 2011, and a world tour in 2016-2017. They also recorded a song with Beyoncé, “Daddy Lessons”, for her album Lemonade (2016), and appeared with her at the Country Music Association Awards that year.
In 2020, the Chicks announced their return to recording with a new album, Gaslighter, their first in 14 years. The album was produced by Jack Antonoff and featured songs that dealt with Maines’ divorce from actor Adrian Pasdar, as well as other topics such as social media, environmentalism, and feminism. The album was well received by critics and fans, who praised its honesty, maturity, and musical diversity.
Also in 2020, the Chicks decided to drop “Dixie” from their name, citing its association with the Confederate States of America and slavery. They explained that they wanted to be more inclusive and respectful of the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of racial oppression in the US. They also said that they had been considering changing their name for a long time, but were finally motivated by the current social climate. They chose to keep “Chicks” as a tribute to their original inspiration, Little Feat’s song “Dixie Chicken”.
Achievements, Inspirations, and Challenges
The Chicks are one of the most successful and influential acts in country music history. They have sold more than 33 million albums worldwide and won 13 Grammy Awards, making them the best-selling female band and the best-selling country group of all time. They have also been recognized by various organizations and publications for their achievements and contributions to music and culture.
The Chicks have been inspired by many artists from different genres and eras, such as Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Robison, Patty Griffin, Sheryl Crow, Neil Finn, Pink Floyd, Eddie Vedder, Jeff Buckley, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, and many others. They have also inspired many artists who followed them, especially female country singers who admired their musical skills, vocal harmonies, songwriting abilities, independence, courage, and activism.
The Chicks have also faced many challenges throughout their career, such as sexism, misunderstanding, criticism, controversy, backlash, boycotts, bans, death threats, lawsuits, divorces, and hiatuses. However, they have always overcome these obstacles with grace, dignity, humor, and strength. They have never compromised their artistic vision or their personal values. They have always spoken their truth and stood up for what they believe in. They have always supported each other as friends and sisters. They have always gone beyond anything that stood between them and their brightest future.
The Chicks have been involved in various charitable causes and organizations over the years. Some of the charities they have supported include:
- ACT Today!: A nonprofit organization that provides support and resources for children with autism and their families.
- Center for Autism and Related Disorders: A global organization that provides evidence-based treatment and services for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
- Conservation International: A nonprofit organization that works to protect nature and biodiversity for the benefit of humanity.
- Every Mother Counts: A nonprofit organization that works to make pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother around the world.
- Habitat for Humanity: A nonprofit organization that builds affordable housing for low-income families in need.
- MusiCares: A nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance and support services for music professionals in times of crisis.
- Rock the Vote: A nonprofit organization that works to increase voter registration and civic engagement among young people.
TV and Film Appearances
The Chicks have also appeared in various TV shows and films over the years, either as themselves or as actors. Some of their notable TV and film appearances include:
- The Simpsons (2000): The Chicks voiced themselves in an episode titled “Saddlesore Galactica”, where they performed at a rodeo and met Homer Simpson.
- Home on the Range (2004): The Chicks sang the song “Wherever the Trail May Lead” for the soundtrack of this animated film about a group of cows who try to save their farm from a greedy cattle rustler.
- Shut Up & Sing (2006): This documentary film followed the Chicks during their Top of the World Tour and the aftermath of their controversy in 2003. The film received positive reviews from critics and audiences, and won several awards, including the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Best Documentary Feature at the Critics’ Choice Awards.
- Running Wild with Bear Grylls (2014): Maines joined adventurer Bear Grylls for a survival challenge in the Utah desert, where they faced extreme heat, dehydration, and rattlesnakes.
- Nashville (2016): The Chicks performed at a benefit concert for a fictional character in an episode titled “Baby Come Home”, which was part of the fourth season of this musical drama series about the lives of country singers in Nashville, Tennessee.
- CMT Crossroads (2016): The Chicks collaborated with pop singer-songwriter James Taylor for a special episode of this musical series that pairs country artists with musicians from other genres. They sang some of their hits as well as some of Taylor’s classics, such as “Fire and Rain” and “Carolina in My Mind”.
- Gaslighter: The Long Time Coming (2020): This documentary film chronicled the making of the Chicks’ latest album, Gaslighter, and featured interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and live performances. The film was released exclusively on Apple Music.
More Than Just a Country Music Band
The Chicks are more than just a country music band. They are a cultural phenomenon that has transcended genres, boundaries, and expectations. They have created some of the most memorable and influential songs of the past three decades, blending country, bluegrass, pop, rock, folk, and more. They have also used their platform to speak out on issues that matter to them, such as war, violence, women’s rights, and racial justice. They have faced many challenges and controversies along the way, but they have never backed down or given up. They have always stayed true to themselves and their fans. They have always supported each other as friends and sisters. They have always taken the long way around.
As they sing in their song “Not Ready to Make Nice”, which is widely regarded as their response to their 2003 backlash:
“I’m not ready to make nice / I’m not ready to back down / I’m still mad as hell and / I don’t have time to go round and round and round / It’s too late to make it right / I probably wouldn’t if I could / ‘Cause I’m mad as hell / Can’t bring myself to do what it is you think I should”
The Chicks are not just a band. They are a legacy. A legacy of courage, creativity, and conviction. A legacy that will continue to inspire generations of music lovers and social activists. A legacy that will always take the long way around.