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Country Music Sales Increase in 2006

The Country music industry ended the year on a strong note. While overall album sales were down five percent in 2006, Country music sales increased five percent over last year's numbers. Evidence of Country's popularity was also seen in the year's concert box office tallies. VOA's Mary Morningstar has more highlights of Country music's success in 2006.

Kenny Chesney dominated the Country field in 2006. He spent five weeks at the top of the chart with Summertime, and was named Entertainer of the Year at both the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards. Kenny's 2006 tour was the second highest-grossing Country outing, behind only Faith Hill and Tim McGraw's co-headlining "Soul2Soul II Tour." For the fourth consecutive year, Kenny played to more than one million fans.

Newer artists also played a major role in the success of Country music in 2006. Nine made their first trip to the top of the Country chart. They included Trace Adkins, Rodney Atkins and Josh Turner, as well as Jason Aldean and Heartland, who are both signed to independent labels.

The most successful new artist was American Idol season four winner Carrie Underwood, whose debut album, Some Hearts, has sold four million copies worldwide. She also won many industry awards, including the Best New Artist and Female Vocalist of the Year honors at the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association Awards. Success came quickly for the Oklahoma native, but Carrie says she has the secret for staying grounded.

"I think it's really important to keep people around you, like mom and dad and sisters and friends that you've known you're whole life, just because, they don't have a problem telling you, 'OK, you're acting like a jerk. Come down a few notches,'" she said.

Carrie Underwood had the longest-running Number One single of the year with Jesus, Take The Wheel, which logged six weeks in the top spot.

More rock-flavored songs made the Country chart during the past year. Bon Jovi spent a total of 27 weeks on the list with Who Says You Can't Go Home, the group's duet with Sugarland's Jennifer Nettles.

Others included Keith Urban, Rodney Atkins and Texas singer-songwriter Jack Ingram, who earned his first Number One single in 2006 with Wherever You Are. Jack feels rock and Country have long been connected.

"The lines between rock and Country have always been blurred, and they just get blurrier as we go on," he said. "For me, it's always been about two kinds of music, good or bad."

The Dixie Chicks returned to the spotlight in 2006 with the album Taking the Long Way. Country radio, however, virtually ignored the trio's singles. Some concert dates on their "Accidents and Accusations" tour were cancelled due to poor ticket sales. But at the end of the year, The Dixie Chicks felt redeemed when they received five Grammy nominations. Three are for the trio's comeback single, Not Ready To Make Nice.

In other 2006 Country music news, superstar Keith Urban checked himself into a rehabilitation center for alcohol abuse less than four months after marrying actress Nicole Kidman. Sara Evans became the first Country star to compete on the ABC reality show Dancing With the Stars. She dropped out after four weeks, however, and announced plans to divorce her husband of 13 years. The singer had a Top 10 hit in 2006 with Cheatin'. Ironically, an unfaithful husband was one of the claims in her divorce papers.

The Country industry lost several legends during the year. They included songwriter Cindy Walker, Buck Owens and his ex-wife Bonnie Owens, Grand Ole Opry star Billy Walker, and singers Johnny Duncan and Freddy Fender.

And, in happier news, Tim McGraw was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Vince Gill surprised his fans with a four-CD box set of new songs; the late Johnny Cash earned his first Number One album since 1969 with American V: A Hundred Highways; and George Strait broke the late Conway Twitty's 20-year-old record of 40 Number One singles by earning his 41st chart-topper with Give It Away. In addition, Strait joined Sonny James and Harold Bradley as the 2006 Country Music Hall of Fame inductees.

Dominating the Country chart and news headlines throughout 2006 was Rascal Flatts. The group's latest album, Me and My Gang, was the only release in any genre to sell three million copies during the year. A Country act hasn't achieved that feat since Billy Ray Cyrus in 1992. Rascal Flatts ranked third on the list of Top Country tours by selling more than one million tickets and bringing in more than $46 million. The group's lead singer Gary LeVox and his bandmate Jay DeMarcus explain how they've all remained friends despite the demands of their career.

"We're just able to come to agreements really easy, and we know what works for Rascal Flatts, said LeVox. "And, we know all of our parts and of our roles we should play in the group."

"One of the greatest testaments to our success is we've been able to love each other through this crazy ride, and we honestly work through our differences in a mature way...," added Demarcus.