Faith Hill Wears Grammy Triple Crown

Country Favorite Scores Big, Performs Well

LOS ANGELES — By the time she
walked down a lighted platform to sing
“Breathe” Wednesday night (Feb. 21) at
the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards, Faith
was breathing easy herself.

The country favorite already had her
first-ever Grammys — two — for Best
Female Country Vocal (“Breathe”) and
for Best Country Collaboration With
Vocals (“Let’s Make Love” with husband
Tim McGraw).

In the final hour of the show at the Staples Center, Hill added her third honor,
Best Country Album, for Breathe. After a prolonged embrace with McGraw, she
came to the stage and thanked a long list of people, beginning with her mother
and father “for allowing me to go to my first concert when I was 8 years old to
see Elvis Presley.”

At the end of the show’s first hour, Hill gave a performance that would have made
the King proud. Dressed in a black pantsuit, she stood in striking contrast to the
ever-changing colors behind her. Host Jon Stewart joked that she seemed to be
looking at him during her steamy performance of “Breathe” — a romantic ballad —
until he looked over his shoulder and saw McGraw seated behind him in the

Backstage, Hill told the press that of the three honors her award for Best Country
Vocal Collaboration meant the most to her. “The first award I received tonight
happened to be the one with Tim for vocal collaboration, so the fact that we
shared our first Grammy at the same time, is pretty amazing,” she said.

Overcome with emotion, McGraw did not join his wife to speak to the print press.
Asked what she planned to do about her husband’s state, Hill said with a laugh,
“I can’t tell you.”

In an awards show dominated by controversy over
rapper Eminem’s nomination for Album of the Year,
country did not fare well in all-genre categories.
Brad Paisley, who performed with Dolly Parton
during the show, lost the Best New Artist title to
former country artist Shelby Lynne. “It took me 13
years and six albums to get here,” said Lynne,
who once lived in Nashville and recorded for the
Nashville division of Epic Records. She went on to
thank her late parents for encouraging her to be an
individual. “I stand here tonight,” she said,
“representing nothing but music.”

U2’s “Beautiful Day” was named Song of the Year,
triumphing over country hits “I Hope You Dance”
and “Breathe.”

Before the televised show, “I Hope You Dance”
captured Best Country Song. Backstage, co-writer
Mark D. Sanders recalled taking his kids to a church bowling party recently. “The
song came on the jukebox at the bowling alley,” he said, “and all these kids and
their mothers and fathers, they all turned and they were singing to me. That’s
when I was pumped.”

His co-writer, Tia Sillers, noted that the song has been used as part of a
memorial to the Columbine school slayings and at a Nobel Prize ceremony. A
number of people have told Sillers they bought the record to give to their children,
she said, and a teacher who works with autistic children said that her students
have responded to the song by dancing.

In the TV pressroom, Sillers said her Grammy award was “for people who love
country music and not pop-country music.” Speaking to the print media, she
made it clear she feels the two styles can coexist. “Pop is fun, and that’s all fine,
but I want us to stay country,” Sillers said. “I want them each to be embraced.
There’s a place for everyone.”

Austin, Texas-based Asleep at the Wheel picked up their ninth Grammy, Best
Country Peformance by a Duo or Group With Vocal, for their recording of
“Cherokee Maiden.” Though regulars in the winners’ circle, the group has never
won for a track that featured frontman Ray Benson’s vocal. “We’ve won six
Grammys for our instrumental talent. As lead singer, I’m real proud of that,”
Benson quipped backstage.

Benson dedicated the award to the memory of western swing pioneer Bob Wills,
and he thanked the song’s writer, Country Music Hall of Fame member Cindy
Walker. Backstage, he called her “one of the great treasures of American

Johnny Cash’s Grammy award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance was his
10th overall. Released from a Nashville-area hospital earlier in the day, Cash was
recuperating from pneumonia at home by the time his name was announced.

Emmylou Harris trumped Cash for Best Contemporary Folk Album. At the end of
her pre-telecast thank-you’s she said, “I also want to say thank God for Johnny

Backstage, Harris fielded a question about the fact that her records seldom get
much radio airplay. “There is an audience out there,” she said. “It doesn’t
necessarily have to come from radio.” She went on to point out that the O
Brother, Where Art Thou?
soundtrack, the No. 1 country album in Billboard this
week, achieved that status without airplay. “There are all kinds of ways for music
to get to people. It doesn’t necessarily have to be radio. It just means we have to
work a little harder, and I love my job, so I’m not complaining about it.”

Harris also said she was glad to win an award for an album on which she wrote
her own songs, something she has not done as much in the past. “For whatever
reason, the songs came,” she said, “and it’s really great to have this Grammy for

Vince Gill’s 10-year streak as a Grammy winner came to an end, leaving him tied
with Chet Atkins as the country artist with the most career Grammys at 14

Alison Krauss won her 11th Grammy, Best Classical Crossover Album, for
Appalachian Journey. Krauss, who did not attend the Grammys, was a guest on
the album, which featured cellist Yo Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer and former
Nashville session regular Mark O’Connor. The victory ties Krauss with Roger
Miller for total Grammy wins by a country artist. Only Gill and Atkins have more.

O’Connor, nominated during his career in four different categories, accepted the
award. He said backstage that his next album, a live set titled Hot Swing, is
finished. The jazz and swing collection pays tribute to O’Connor’s late mentor
Stephane Grappelli.

Alison Brown, former banjo player for Krauss’ Union Station band before Krauss
started winning Grammys, won her first, Best Country Instrumental Performance,
for “Leaving Cottondale.” Brown wrote the song 10 years ago and recorded it for
her first album. A collaboration with a Japanese banjo player inspired Brown to
re-record the song as a twin banjo outing (with Bela Fleck) on her recent
bluegrass collection, Fair Weather, she said backstage. Fleck took special
pleasure in his victory in the country instrumental category since country
recordings rarely include banjo, he said.

Dolly Parton’s The Grass Is Blue outpolled Brown and perennial winner Ricky
Skaggs, among others, for Best Bluegrass Album. In her performance, she
sampled the album with a track titled “Travelin’ Prayer.”

Skaggs did come away with a Grammy however, for Best Southern, Country or
Bluegrass Gospel Album, for Soldier of the Cross. Accepting, he said, “When I
was on other labels, they told me a gospel album would hurt my career.”
Backstage, he recalled that in the ’50s and ’60s, it was commonplace for country
artists to record gospel albums and to do gospel songs in their shows.

“The Christian message is not quite as popular as it used to be,” Skaggs said. “I
think labels are more worried about how you look and how you come off. They try
to always play it safe.”

Having his own label, Skaggs Family Records, freed him to make his gospel
album. “We’re not selling the kinds of numbers like we used to sell,” Skaggs
admitted, “but when you own it, it makes a difference.”

Riders in the Sky captured their first Grammy as a group. The victory came for
Best Musical Album for Children, for Woody’s Roundup Featuring Riders in the
, a set inspired by the movie Toy Story 2. The Grand Ole Opry stars have
been performing for more than 23 years. Their love of the music of the West —
along with Old Spice deodorant and separate hotel rooms — have helped them
sustain their career, they joked backstage. “We just love this music,” Ranger
Doug Green said. “We believe in it whether people give it awards or not.”

There is no Grammy category for western music. Fred “Too Slim” LaBour offered
to explain the difference between western and country music to the press:
“Country music’s about getting drunk, falling off bar stools and hitting on your
neighbor’s wife,” he said backstage. “Western music’s about free life, fresh air,
riding under the big, wide-open blue sky and hitting on your neighbor’s sheep, so
it’s a whole ’nother deal. I guess that’s not for a kids’ album.”