How Beyoncé and the Chicks’ CMAs Performance Inspired ‘Cowboy Carter’


About six weeks back, Beyoncé announced plans to release a country album titled Act II: Cowboy Carter. “This album has been over five years in the making,” she wrote on Instagram. “It was born out of an experience that I had years ago where I did not feel welcomed…and it was very clear that I wasn’t. But, because of that experience, I did a deeper dive into the history of Country music and studied our rich musical archive.”

She didn’t delve into the specifics of the negative experience that spurred the new album, but there’s almost no doubt she was referencing her 2016 performance of the Lemonade track “Daddy Lessons” with the then-Dixie Chicks at the 50th CMA Awards in Nashville. Beyoncé was an unannounced guest at the CMAs, and the Chicks hadn’t been there since their criticism of George W. Bush at the start of the Iraq War in 2003, which essentially excised them from the country music community.

The performance was breathtaking, with Beyoncé and Chicks singer Natalie Maines, both Lone Star State natives, shouting “Texas!” to kick off the song. When Beyonce sang the line, “Daddy made a soldier out of me,” she saluted.

Watching on TV, the reaction in the arena looked positive (despite rumors of Country Music Hall of Fame member Alan Jackson storming out). But the response in online comments was overwhelmingly negative, and hateful comments flooded every social media account controlled by the Country Music Association. “Apparently the disgusting progressives at the CMA are considering allowing the police hating, racist Beyoncé [to] perform her brand of filth in an effort to destroy the image of country music,” wrote a typical Facebook commenter.

The controversy grew when Beyoncé fans noticed that the CMAs had removed promotional clips of Beyoncé and the Chicks that they had posted on the evening of the broadcast. TMZ reported the org had bowed to pressure from fans who objected to the performers’ support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Country Music Association pushed back hard against TMZ’s reporting. “CMA has not erased any mentions of Beyoncé’s performance on the CMA Awards,” they wrote in a statement. “In advance of the broadcast, CMA removed a five-second promotional clip from ABC.com and CMA’s Facebook page. The promo was unapproved and CMA removed it prior to the broadcast. Beyoncé’s performance with Dixie Chicks was a highlight of the evening and we are continuing to share the amazing full-length performance clip via our official social channels.”

When Howard Stern brought up the incident to Maines in 2020, she still wasn’t buying their explanation. “They can rate those shows now by the 15 minutes,” she said. “And it was the highest rated 15 minutes in CMA history. And then they start getting racist assholes bombarding their website with comments and e-mails, so they took our performance down, and caved to that bullshit. Then they got so much bad press for doing that, they put it back up in 24 hours… It was fuckin’ ridiculous.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, the performance took place just six days before the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump upset Hillary Clinton. It was an extremely tense time, and the start of a very difficult chapter in American history. But minorities had felt unwelcome in country music for decades — only a handful of Black artists, like Charley Pride and Darius Rucker, have reached the highest levels of success in the genre, and women have historically been denied the opportunities of their white male counterparts. With so much swirling the cultural waters, from the election to the still-fresh aftermath of the Chicks’ 2003 Iraq War opposition, it’s not shocking that the performance became a lightning rod.

“[T]he Chicks and Beyoncé, onstage with a band full of women and Black and queer players, two months before Donald Trump took office, were signaling something deeper,” author (and RS contributor) Marissa R. Moss wrote in her 2022 book Her Country: How the Women of Country Music Became the Success They Were Never Supposed to Be. “The performance of ‘Daddy Lessons’ interpolated the Chicks’ ‘Long Time Gone,’ using a band inspired by New Orleans second line music to further highlight how country was in constant dialogue with the Black experience.”

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The Chicks hadn’t performed at the CMAs since being blackballed by the industry, and they never planned on returning — until Beyoncé asked.

“When Beyoncé calls, you’re like, ‘Maybe just this one time,’” Maines told Stern. “You don’t want to let B down. Working with her was the single greatest working week of my professional life. To watch her world, to see how she does stuff, it was perfection. And to see the power she has as a female, and a Black female…it was incredible.”



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