Defiant Dixie Chicks fly high at Grammys

The Dixie Chicks, who stirred up a hornet’s nest with a jibe at United States President George Bush, won all five Grammys for which they were nominated on Sunday, including the coveted album of the year.

The victory marked a stunning validation for the female country music trio from Texas, almost four years after their dream run as the darlings of Nashville came to an abrupt end.

Singer Natalie Maines told fans during a 2003 concert she was ashamed to come from the same state as Bush, and the group was transformed overnight into pariahs. Radio stations stopped playing their songs, while album and ticket sales suffered.

The Dixie Chicks also won record and song of the year for the appropriately wry single Not Ready To Make Nice. The last time an act won the album, record and song categories was in 1993 when Eric Clapton led the field.

The last country act to win album of the year was Glen Campbell in 1969 with By the Time I Get to Phoenix.

”I think people are using their freedom of speech tonight with all of these awards,” Maines said.

The Dixie Chicks also won the Grammys for best country album and country performance by a duo or group with vocal. Their career Grammy haul now stands at 13 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.

Meanwhile, former American Idol champion Carrie Underwood took the closely watched honour for best new artist, further enhancing the star-making power of the hit TV talent contest.

Underwood, the winner of the fourth season of American Idol in 2005, earlier took the Grammy for best female country vocal performance.

”This is absolutely unbelievable! I love country music,” the 23-year-old Nashville star said.

Bill O’Reilly, I love you!

Double winners included soul-pop duo Gnarls Barkley, rock crooner John Mayer, veteran balladeer Tony Bennett, R&B singer John Legend, rock superstar Bruce Springsteen, gospel star Kirk Franklin, late jazz soloist Michael Brecker, jazz pianist Chick Corea, film composer John Williams, classical conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and rapper Ludacris.

As he accepted the best rap album Grammy for Release Therapy, the Atlanta hip-hop star offered a ”special shout-out to Bill O’Reilly. I love you!”

O’Reilly, a conservative talk show host on Fox News, helped cost Ludacris a lucrative sponsorship deal with Pepsi in 2002 after he pointed to the rapper’s explicit lyrics.

First-time winners included Rick Rubin for producer of the year, while New Jersey rock band Bon Jovi won a country Grammy for their collaboration with Jennifer Nettles on the tune Who Says You Can’t Go Home.

Two artists with five nominations each going into the telecast, James Blunt and Prince, went home empty-handed.

Other losers included Neil Young, vying in three categories this year. Beyonce won a single Grammy from four nominations.

Three winners received their Grammys posthumously — American mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, actor Ossie Davis and tenor saxophonist Brecker.

Lieberson, winner for best classical vocal performance, died from breast cancer last June, aged 52.

Davis, along with his wife of more than 50 years, actress Ruby Dee, won the spoken-word album category for With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together.

The prominent actor and civil rights activist died in 2005, aged 87. Brecker, who won two awards, died last month of leukemia at age 57. – Reuters

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