The 49th annual Grammy Award ceremony saw the U.S. recording industry embrace one of its more controversial acts - while at the same time acknowledging the drawing power of a major competitor. VOA's Ray McDonald has more.
March 2003: While performing in London, Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines sharply criticizes President George W. Bush and his Iraq policy. She draws immediate condemnation from the U.S. country music community. February 11, 2007: The Dixie Chicks are the toast of the 49th annual Grammy Awards, making good on all five of their nominations. Among their victories were Record and Song Of The Year - both for "Not Ready To Make Nice" - and Album Of The Year, for Taking The Long Way.
Accepting the trophy for Album Of The Year, band member Emily Robison said the group's trials were hardest on her family.
"I want to thank my family as well; my husband Charlie and my kids, Gus, Julianna and Henry," she said. "And, I think they're the ones that probably had it the hardest over the last three years. And, I just wanted to recognize that we know what you went through. So, thank you very much."
If any performer was expected to grab the spotlight, it was Mary J. Blige. The New York singer - known as the "Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul" - garnered eight nominations, more than any other act this year. Mary J. won three awards, including Best R&B Album for The Breakthrough. After struggling against drugs and personal demons early in her career, Mary says she's using her success as a springboard to renewal.
"This is the first time I've ever been up here to receive anything. And, I thank you so much! It's not only shown that I'm an artist and a musician and a writer, but it's also shown that I'm growing into a better human being," she said. "Tonight, we celebrate the better 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.
While Grammys were awarded in 108 categories, only 11 were presented during the three-and-a-half-hour telecast. Performances took center stage; standouts included Christina Aguilera's tribute to the late James Brown; an R&B lineup featuring Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie and newcomer Chris Brown; Best New Artist winner Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts' tribute to The Eagles; and a show-opening performance by the reunited Police, who broke up in 1984.
Also earning a place in the spotlight was Robyn Troup. The previously-unknown teenager from Houston, Texas won a contest in which the prize was a duet with Justin Timberlake. Audience members could vote among three finalists via the Internet and text messaging - a nod to American Idol, which last year crushed the Grammy ceremony in head-to-head viewership on a Wednesday night. This year, the Grammies retreated to Sunday - when Idol wasn't on.
The Dixie Chicks weren't the only winners to court controversy. Atlanta, Georgia rapper Ludacris, who's drawn fire for his lyrical content, made sure to mention two of his best-known critics - talk show host Oprah Winfrey and political commentator Bill O'Reilly - in his acceptance speech for Best Rap Album.
"So, y'all telling me all I had to do was cut my hair to win the Best Rap Album? That what y'all telling me? Huh? Special shout-out to Oprah," he said. "And, special shout-out to Bill O'Reilly. I love ya!"
The Red Hot Chili Peppers kept their comments short and safe - lead singer Anthony Keidis even made sure to thank his mother. The California alternative rockers took home four awards, including Best Rock Song for "Dani California."
Now approaching their first half-century, the Grammy Awards and the recording industry face turbulent times. U.S. album sales have dropped about 25 percent in just seven years - a figure not yet offset by burgeoning digital downloads. Still, they carry extra weight with artists, as it is their peers in the music industry - and not consumers - who determine winners