The 49th annual Grammys took a stand by championing a band that took a stand.
The Dixie Chicks won five Grammy Awards Sunday night, including three of the top prizes for their first work after ruffling the feathers of politicians, right-wing pundits and some country fans with an off-the-cuff comment about President Bush.
The Dixie Chicks’ “Not Ready to Make Nice” snared the song and record of the year trophies, a bit of redemption bestowed on the country trio that had been shunned by country radio for their politics.
Their “Taking the Long Way,” which has sold 1.9 million copies, was named album of the year and top country album. The Chicks are the first act to sweep the top three trophies since Eric Clapton did it 14 years ago.
“Not Ready” was the band’s first single from “Taking the Long Way,” which their first album after Natalie Maines’ famous anti-Bush comment made at a London concert venue in 2003. Country radio mostly rejected the track — it never cracked the top 20 — as the band opted to attempt to nurture a new audience in the adult contemporary marketplace. Recording also won the country duo or group performance nod.
In many ways it’s a landmark collection of wins: The Dixie Chicks are the first all-female band to win the record prize, which has never gone to a country title. It is the first song of the year winner to have a country connection since Willie Nelson’s “Always on My Mind” won for 1982 recordings. The three Chicks — Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Robison — wrote the song with Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare.
After “Taking the Long Way” was named best country album, Robison thanked the core fans, noting the band is “without a genre” and “no regrets” for anything that has occurred in the last several years.
Maines, as is her wont, went for the jugular: “To quote the great Simpsons — ‘heh, heh.’ A lot of people have turned off their TV sets now.”
Academy president Neil Portnow simply summed up the sweep by noting “The Dixie Chicks made a great album that resonated with our membership”
The Red Hot Chili Peppers took home four trophies including rock album while Mary J. Blige nabbed three. Her wins — R&B album, R&B song and female R&B vocal perf — nearly mirrored the results of Mariah Carey last year; Blige, like Carey in 2006, had led the field in noms with eight.
Rick Rubin, who produced the Dixie Chicks and Red Hot Chili Peppers albums, was named non-classical producer of the year.
The Peppers, formed 24 years ago, won rock song, rock performance by a duo or group and limited edition package. “Stadium Arcadium” was the quartet’s first No. 1 album in its career and has sold 1.8 million copies since its May 9 release.
“American Idol 4” champ Carrie Underwood became only fourth country act to win the new artist gramophone. She also nabbed the female country vocal perf nod.
Besides Underwood, winners of two trophies each were Tony Bennett, George Benson, the late Michael Brecker, Chick Corea, Bob Dylan, Kirk Franklin, Gnarls Barkley, John Legend, Ludacris, John Mayer, T.I., Justin Timberlake and John Williams.
Mayer, who won pop vocal album and male pop vocal perf and contributed a guitar solo to the Dixie Chicks album, had considerable praise for the trio backstage. “Everyone is running from the ghosts of their first album but they were running from a lot of ghosts,” he said. “A lot of artists would have been four times as brash and four times as in your face. (It’s a tribute to them they were able) to stay that subtle.”
It was a rather strong showing for Sony BMG labels. Its artists took the top four awards plus album nods in the categories of pop vocal, traditional pop, contempo R&B, country, contempo jazz, Latin pop, Mexican, tropical Latin, traditional and contemporary folk, soundtrack, liner notes and longform video.
For what appears to be the first time in its history, the Grammys had two ties: Latin pop album prize went to Arjona and Julieta Venegas and the spoken word category was shared by Jimmy Carter and Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis. Grammy officials were not able to confirm but the ties were likely the first ones since 1984.
Ceremony opened with Sting yelling “We are the Police and we’re back” before heading into a performance of “Roxanne.” Academy’s attempt to present unique pairings included a trio perf of Corinne Bailey Rae, John Legend and John Meyer and tributes to the Eagles (with Rascal Flatts and Underwood) and vintage soul (with Smokey Robinson, Lionel Ritchie, Chris Brown and Christina Aguilera). Gnarls Barkley turned their bouncy “Crazy” into a funeral dirge set to a militaristic beat. Blige segued from her “Be Without You” into the Lorraine Ellison hit from 1966, “Stay With Me.”
In the category of “as expected,” winners were Tony Bennett’s “Duets” album, Rubin for producer of the year, OK Go’s video for “Here It Goes Again” and Bob Dylan’s “Modern Times,” which was named album of the year in the nation’s top critics poll (Village Voice’s Pazz & Jop), receiving the contemporary folk/Americana album award.
Double winners in the classical categories were the San Francisco Symphony’s recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 (classical album and orchestral perf) and Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar” (contempo composition and opera recording).
Veteran performers were, as usual, in the winners circle. Irma Thomas, who turns 66 on Sunday and has been recording for 46 years, won her first Grammy, taking home the contemporary blues album. Ike Turner, who had not won in 35 years, took home the traditional blues album trophy. And Peter Frampton won his first; his only other nomination came 30 years ago when he was the biggest pop star on the planet
Adding to their extensive Grammy collection were Stevie Wonder getting his 22nd, John Williams, who won his 19th and 20th, Vince Gill won his 18th, polka king Jimmy Sturr won his 16th and Bennett secured Nos. 13 and 14.
Williams took home the score soundtrack album for “Memoirs of a Geisha” and instrumental composition for “A Prayer for Peace,” which is heard in the pic “Munich.” Randy Newman’s Oscar-nommed tune “Our Town” won the song written for visual medium trophy.
For the third year in a row — since its inception — the Hawaiian music album category went to a compilation of slack key guitar performances.
Eleven trophies were presented on the CBS telecast after 97 awards were given out during a pre-telecast ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center.