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In March 2003 the best-selling female band in American history touched the third rail of country music. A decade later, the Dixie Chicks belong mostly to history, and the recent recording of two separate albums by the former bandmates underscores the fact that the Chicks, as Chicks, are more or less done, wiped out by a controversial comment about President George W. Bush. Yet for fans and foes alike (not to mention the band and its management), this incredible rise—the best-selling female band in American history!—and catastrophic fall remains an unclosed chapter that even ten years later can still whip up fierce emotions.
This month senior editor John Spong tries to answer the question of why. Why has the wound not healed? And why did the Dixie Chicks fall so hard? In his engrossing story (“Chicks in the Wilderness,” he finds explanations not just in what happened during and after that fateful 2003 concert. He also delves into the Chicks’ early clashes with Nashville as they struggled within the narrow confines of country music. As a group, Natalie, Emily, and Martie were, among other things, trailblazers who made country music the way they wanted to. They played instruments, wrote songs, and crafted a singular sound. The image they created—of defiant, empowered, fun-loving, feisty, outspoken women, intent on succeeding on their own terms—was unprecedented in their genre.
So it’s a fortunate coincidence that this same issue contains another remarkable story about another group of groundbreaking women. In “Hoop Queens,” executive editor Skip Hollandsworth tells the story of the Flying Queens, a women’s college basketball team from the fifties that holds the record for the single longest winning streak for any sport in history. Playing for Wayland Baptist College, a small religious school in Plainview, the Queens knocked down 131 opponents in a row. I have no doubt that the lyrics and antics of the Dixie Chicks would have scandalized a few of the original Flying Queens (among the prohibited activities for women at Wayland Baptist back then was leaving the dorm with exposed curlers in your hair). But I also suspect that the basketballers would have seen some of themselves in the band. Regardless of the era, talented women pushing boundaries usually have something in common, whether they’re queens or chicks.