In response to the critical comments made about him by singer Natalie Maines in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush offered this response: “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind. They can say what they want to say.” Of the backlash the Chicks (then known as the Dixie Chicks) were then facing within the world of country music, President Bush added: “They shouldn’t have their feelings hurt just because some people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out.” This music-related sideshow to the biggest international news story of the year began on March 12, 2003, when the British newspaper The Guardian published its review of a Chicks concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London two nights earlier.
In that review, The Guardian‘sBetty Clarke included the following line: “‘Just so you know,’ says singer Natalie Maines, ‘We’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.’” (Clarke left out the middle of the full quotation, which was, “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 the President of the United States is from Texas.”) That line quickly became fodder for a grassroots anti-Chicks backlash. It began with thousands of phone calls flooding country-music radio stations from Denver to Nashville—calls demanding that the Chicks be removed from the stations’ playlists. Soon some of those same stations were calling for a boycott of the recent Chicks’ album and of their upcoming U.S. tour. Fellow country star Toby Keith famously joined the fray by performing in front of a backdrop that featured a gigantic image of Natalie Maines beside Saddam Hussein.
The economic and emotional impact of all this on the members of the Chicks is documented in the 2006 documentary Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing. In its opening sequence, one can see how popular and how far from controversial the Chicks were just prior to this controversy, when they sang the national anthem at the 2003 Super Bowl. The film also captures a scene in which the Chicks’ own media handler is counseling Maines not to speak her mind too openly about President Bush in an upcoming interview with Diane Sawyer.
In 2020, after a 15-year hiatus, the Chicks released a new album, “Gaslighter.” That same year they announced they were changing their name to the Chicks, dropping the word “Dixie”