LOS ANGELES (CP) _ The Dixie Chicks, virtually shunned by the country music industry after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized U.S. President George W. Bush in the lead-up to the Iraq war, emerged triumphant at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, picking up five trophies, including record, song and album of the year.
"I’m ready to make nice," said Maines, referring to the group’s defiant anthem, "Not Ready To Make Nice."
"I think people are using their freedom of speech here tonight with all of these awards."
Other trophies for the Chicks included best country performance by a group and best country album for their politically tinged, "Taking the Long Way."
"Well, to quote the great ‘Simpsons:’ heh-heh!" Maines said to laughter and applause, referring to a snide taunt oft-heard on the animated TV show.
Bandmate Emily Robison thanked the band’s core fans for staying with them through death threats, public CD burnings and a boycott by some country radio stations.
"We wouldn’t have done this album without everything we went through so we have no regrets," said Robison.
It was also a big night for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who picked up four Grammys, and R&B diva Mary J. Blige, who got three.
Blige, who had a leading eight nominations going into the night, snapped up prizes for best R&B album for "The Breakthrough" and best R&B vocal performance for the song "Be Without You."
The song had earlier won best R&B song in a pre-televised ceremony.
"The is the first time I’ve ever been up here to receive anything," an emotional Blige said as she fought back tears in one of the night’s first acceptance speeches.
Looking elegant in a champagne coloured gown with a plunging neckline, the R&B diva acknowledged her troubled past and said she considered the prizes an acknowledgment she had grown as a person as well as an artist.
"For so many years I’ve been talked about negatively and this time I am being talked about positively by so many people," said Blige, whose past includes well-publicized substance abuse problems.
"I’m going to use this success to build bridges, not to burn."
Awards for the Chili Peppers included best rock album, best rock song and best rock performance by a duo or group.
The Grammy show kicked off with a blast from the past, with the Police performing a jazzy version of their classic hit "Roxanne" some 23 years after they split up.
Sting, sporting black pants and a black vest baring muscular arms, clasped hands with bandmates Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers to take a bow at the end of the song for the cheering crowd at the Staples Center.
Justin Timberlake then offered a nod to music’s digital age with a performance that began on piano but ended with him filming himself onstage with a handheld camera, producing images familiar to any YouTube viewer. Aspiring singer Robyn Troup joined him for a duet later in the broadcast, her big break determined by Internet and text message voting.
Before the telecast began, Nova Scotia songwriter Gordie Sampson grabbed Grammy glory for Canada, picking up the country’s sole prize for best country song with the Carrie Underwood hit "Jesus Take the Wheel" at an afternoon ceremony.
"Thank you so much," Sampson said as he held the shiny gramophone statue while standing onstage with U.S. co-writers Brett James and Hillary Lindsey. "This is quite an honour."
Sampson had previously found modest success writing album tracks for various artists but the Underwood single was his first massive radio hit, spending six weeks at number one on the U.S. Billboard charts.
Other Canadians, meanwhile, came up empty-handed.
As he predicted, Vancouver crooner Michael Buble lost out to Tony Bennett, who won the Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album. Sarah McLachlan had also been nominated in that category.
Late last month, Buble said he wasn’t going to attend the Grammy ceremony and didn’t expect to win, adding "they might as well have already scratched (Bennett’s) name" onto the trophy.
He later changed his mind and said he’d show up, adding the remarks about Bennett were a lame attempt at humour.
Bennett said backstage that he had spent the afternoon hanging out with his young protege.
Asked if there were any hard feelings between the pair when the
veteran emerged victorious, Bennett quipped: "That’s up to him,
it’s not my decision."