Beyoncé, Dixie Chicks Make News at CMA Awards

Was Trio's Nashville Visit More Surprising Than Beyoncé's?

Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks consummated a hot rumor Wednesday night (Nov. 2) by performing together at the CMA Awards, but which was really the bigger surprise?

Was it that one of the most successful superstars on the planet performed on a country awards show … or that the Dixie Chicks returned to Nashville to participate in mainstream country music’s biggest industry event of the year?

Either way, their performance of “Daddy Lessons” was a shrewd move by the Country Music Association to lure televisions viewers away from the final game of the World Series. It certainly qualified the CMA Awards as “must-see TV” for Beyoncé ‘s devoted fan base.

Die-hard traditionalists tend to decry these types of talent bookings as evidence that country music is an endangered species, but Justin Timberlake’s collaboration with Chris Stapleton at the 2015 CMA Awards certainly didn’t harm Stapleton’s career. Indeed, he’s one of country’s biggest success stories in recent years.

The Dixie Chicks equation is perhaps more intriguing. More than a decade ago, they distanced themselves from the country music industry. But that happened only after the country music industry — country radio primarily — distanced itself from the Dixie Chicks.

The Chicks — Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire and Emily Strayer — won 10 CMA Awards, beginning in 1998. But those wins ended in 2002.

At the risk of rehashing an incident that’s been reported and dissected far too many times already, it involved a statement Maines made in March 2003 during a concert at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire concert venue in London. In those days leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Maines made her feelings known about then-President George W. Bush.

“Just so you know, we’re on the good side with y’all,” she reportedly said. “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas.”

After the news spread, the Dixie Chicks were effectively banished from playlists at mainstream country radio stations. They lost much of their country fan base while gaining new followers, but they were no longer scoring No. 1 singles such as they’d done with “Wide Open Spaces,” “Ready to Run,” “Cowboy Take Me Away” and “Travelin’ Soldier.” Maines also got into a bit of a show business feud with Toby Keith over the controversy.

At this point, it’s extremely doubtful that the Chicks are going to go full-tilt toward pursuing the sort of mainstream country career they enjoyed in the late ’90s. But their very presence at the CMA Awards was a refreshing moment. If anyone on either side of the controversy harbored any serious resentments, maybe those feelings longer exists. In any case, their appearance on the CMA Awards proves that they’re welcome at the country table.

And fellow Texan Beyoncé is welcome, too, especially after the musical interplay on Wednesday’s awards show. “Daddy Lessons” isn’t the sort of thing that would have been written decades ago by Country Music Hall of Fame members such as Hank Williams, Fred Rose or Cindy Walker, but it’s a good song. And the Chicks, who performed Beyoncé’s song during their recent tour, helped underscore that it’s within the wide aperture that has defined country music for decades. We’re living in 2016, and country fans are not only listening to other musical genres, country artists are interjecting other influences into the music they create. While it’s important for country music to remember its roots, an open mind toward experimentation can be a positive endeavor.

And what’s so bad about Beyoncé intermingling a honkin’ baritone saxophone with Maguire’s fiddle and Strayer’s banjo? Or having the Dixie Chicks slip a signature riff from their “Long Time Gone” into Beyoncé’s song?

Jazz icon Duke Ellington once observed, “There are two kinds of music. Good music and the other kind.”

Wednesday’s collaboration between Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks was exciting and a lot of fun. But more importantly, it was good music.

Calvin Gilbert has served as CMT.com’s managing editor since 2002. His background includes stints at the Nashville Banner, Radio & Records and Westwood One.