'Nice' Reward: Five Grammies for Dixie Chicks

As the political climate shifts, Natalie Maines and The Dixie Chicks go five-for-five at the Grammys, including best song for "Not Ready to Make Nice." Mary J. Blige and Ludacris are among other popular winners.

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RENÉE MONTAGNE, host:

The Dixie Chicks swept top honors at last night's Grammy Awards ceremony. The group took home five Grammys in all, including Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Album of the Year. The recognition from the mainstream pop music industry was vindication of sorts for the group. The Dixie Chicks were ostracized by Nashville and banned by mainstream country radio following Natalie Maines' 2003 criticism of President Bush.

NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: It's been nearly four years since Dixie Chicks' singer Natalie Maines told the London audience she was ashamed that President Bush was from her home state of Texas. It was the eve of the Iraq war, and virtually overnight the multi-million selling act disappeared from the airwaves. (Unintelligible) records burned and received death threats.

The song of the year, "Not Ready to Make Nice," was the Texas trio's unapologetic response.

(Soundbite of song, "Not Ready to Make Nice")

Ms. NATALIE MAINES (Musician, Dixie Chicks): (Singing) With no regrets and I don't mind sayin'. It's a sad, sad story when a mother will teach her daughter that she ought to hate a perfect stranger. And how in the world can the words that I said send somebody so over the edge. That they'd write me a letter sayin' that I better shut up and sing or my life will be over.

DEL BARCO: Last night, Natalie Maines, at first being taken aback by the recognition.

Ms. MAINES: For the first time in my life I'm speechless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: As the Grammy's started to pile up, she couldn't help but gloat a little.

Ms. MAINES: Well, to quote the great "Simpsons," ha-ha.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Finally, Maines got serious.

Ms. MAINES: I think people are using their freedom of speech here tonight with all of these words. So we get the message. There's a lot of.

DEL BARCO: Backstage, singer and fiddle player Martie Maguire stopped short of calling this sweet, sweet revenge.

Ms. MARTIE MAGUIRE (Musician, Dixie Chicks): What happened to us really drove us to make an album that said a lot, and I think people kind of linked into that because it was a story and it was something beyond the music. It wasn't just songs. It was something that said something. It's made up like - political, if you read it that way, but a political stance.

DEL BARCO: The Dixie Chicks took home all five Grammys for which they were nominated. But after spending a record-breaking 15 weeks at the top of the R&B charts, singer Mary J. Blige won only three. She was nominated for eight.

(Soundbite of song "Be Without You")

Ms. MARY J. BLIGE (Singer): (Singing) Yes baby, we've been too strong for too long. And I can't be without you baby. And I'll be waiting up until you get home. Cause I can't sleep without you baby.

DEL BARCO: Blige's album, "The Breakthrough," was seen as a comeback for the Bronx native, a former high school dropout whose earlier songs chronicled her drug use, abusive relationships, and depression. But she too saw her Grammy win as a kind of vindication.

Ms. BLIGE: I have grown, and I'm growing into a better human being. Tonight we celebrate the better the human being because for so many years I have been talked about negatively. But this time I've been talked about positively by so many people.

DEL BARCO: During the ceremony, Blige took the stage with rapper Ludacris to perform "Runaway Love," a rhyme he said was inspired by her rough childhood. It's included on "Release Therapy," which won him a Grammy last night.

LUDACRIS (Rapper): So you're telling me all I had to do was cut my hair to win the Best Rap Album, that's what they're telling me, huh?

DEL BARCO: Ludacris was a little more gleeful in savoring his win in light of the criticism his earlier work had received some certain high-profile media figures.

LUDACRIS: Special shout out to Oprah, and special shout out to Bill O' Reilly. I love you. I love you.

DEL BARCO: Oprah Winfrey had reportedly edited his appearance on her show and O'Reilly criticized the rapper on his "Fox News" show, leading Pepsi to drop Ludacris from an ad campaign.

Backstage last night, the rap star said he wasn't feeling vengeful.

LUDACRIS: I was thanking them because, you know, I was faced with adversity with the both of them. And they had a lot to do with this album, "Release Therapy," if you listen to it, and why I wrote certain songs that I did and some of the things that I said. So I was honestly thanking them for that.

DEL BARCO: He also said it was the best night of his life.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

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