Part of VOA's 2003 Year End Review Series
Billboard's yearend Country charts are a clear sign that male artists dominated the Country field during the past year. There were no female performers among the Top 10 Country Singles of 2003. The genre was also highlighted by several major events, including the war in Iraq. Some artists expressed their feelings through their songs, while others stirred controversy with much-publicized feuds. VOA's Mary Morningstar has more on the artists and events that shaped Country music in 2003.
Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett's duet, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, was the longest-running Number One single of 2003. It logged eight weeks at the top of the chart, which marked the longest reign by a Country duet since 1962. The song also earned Buffett and Jackson the Country Music Association Award for Vocal Event of the Year. Jimmy Buffett offered the acceptance speech.
"Thank you Alan Jackson. I'm glad I could help your struggling career," he joked. "It was about 31 years ago that I came to this town to pursue my musical madness and I've never won anything for anything and it's great to do it here. Thank you."
Alan Jackson was a favorite among award voters in 2003. In addition to his win with Jimmy Buffett, Jackson was named the CMA's Male Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year. The late Johnny Cash was also honored with many awards throughout the year, most for his touching performance of "Hurt." The 71-year-old legend died in September, just four months after the death of his wife, June Carter Cash. In 2003, the Country community also lost singer, actor and comedian Sheb Wooley, Country Music Hall of Fame members Floyd Tillman and Don Gibson, and 1970s hitmaker Gary Stewart.
Bluegrass and traditional-sounding Country music made a comeback in the field. And, after a decade of image control in Country music, drinking songs also gained in popularity. One example is Tracy Byrd's 2003 Top 10 single, Drinkin' Bone.
Unfortunately, drinking led to trouble in the personal lives of Country stars Glen Campbell and Wynonna Judd, who were both arrested on drunk driving charges this past year.
The war in Iraq had a big influence on Country music during 2003. Newcomer Darryl Worley visited the Voice of America to talk about his support for our troops.
"They go over there and they lay their life on the line for us everyday. And when I say 'us,' I mean they're fighting for the people who protest against war and they're fighting for the people who speak out in support of the war. They're fighting for all of us," he said.
Darryl Worley earned his breakthrough in 2003 with the pro-war song, Have You Forgotten, which spent seven weeks in the top spot of Billboard's Country Singles chart.
Early in the year, the Dixie Chicks topped the Country chart with their emotional cover of Travelin' Soldier, but they failed to score another Country hit after taking their anti-war stand. The trio's opposition to the war led to backlash from conservative Country fans, their peers and Country radio. Many stations banned their music and they were overlooked at Country awards shows. Tickets to their "Top of the World Tour" went on sale before the controversy began. According to the group's Martie Maguire, the trio wasn't sure how fans would receive them.
"You didn't know if you were going to walk out on stage and get booed or whether they were just gonna love you or if you were going to have some people sitting up in the balcony shouting obscenities at you. You just didn't know," he said. "Every night you were just wondering what the atmosphere was going to be like."
The Dixie Chicks' tour turned out to be one of the most successful outings of 2003. They sold out 52 of their 73 shows and pulled in more than $62 million to rank as the Number One Country tour of the year. Rounding out the top five were Toby Keith, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain. The Dixie Chicks ranked at Number 5 on the overall list of top-grossing tours of 2003.
Country superstar Toby Keith spent many months embroiled in a publicized feud with the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines. Although he was shut out at the 2003 Country Music Association Awards, Toby had the most successful year of his career. He won the Academy of Country Music's Entertainer of the Year honor and dominated the Country chart with two long-running Number One singles. His duet with Country legend Willie Nelson, Beer For My Horses, topped the Country chart for six weeks. Later in the year, Toby's solo hit, I Love This Bar, spent five weeks at Number One. In the coming year, there's a lot to look forward to in Country music. Concert promoters predict that superstar package tours will make 2004 a landmark year at the box office. And, new albums by Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, and other top names should help keep the Country industry commercially sound.