Country music's ongoing duel between traditional and pop enjoyed another tumultuous outing as traditionalists Johnny Cash, Lee Ann Womack, Dolly Parton, Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Brown and Riders in the Sky enjoyed a big run at the 43rd Grammy Awards show, while country-to-pop success Faith Hill took Album of the Year and Female Vocalist kudos.
Johnny Cash was released from a Nashville hospital on Wednesday in time to go home, turn on his TV and learn he had won the prestigious Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance for "Solitary Man" (RealAudio excerpt). The 68-year-old Country Music Hall of Fame member had been hospitalized for treatment of pneumonia since February 11.
In a duel of two country divas and their signature songs representing the two wings of modern country music, Faith Hill took the Best Female Country Vocal Performance for her crossover-to-pop song "Breathe" (RealAudio excerpt), winning over Lee Ann Womack's more traditional "I Hope You Dance" (RealAudio excerpt).
"Dance," though, was named Best Country Song over "Breathe," snaring a Grammy for songwriters Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers. In accepting the award, Sillers made a point of emphasizing the traditional. "We love country music," she said in pre-telecast awards presentations, "and not pop country music — country music."
Both songs had been nominated in the general Best Song of the Year category and lost to U2's "Beautiful Day."
Hill, as country's leading crossover artist, performed "Breathe" at a crucial spot in the program — ending the telecast's first hour and shading into the beginning of the second, to hold viewers.
Hill's Breathe and Womack's I Hope You Dance were frontrunners for the Best Country Album award, leading a field that also included Alan Jackson's Under the Influence, Vince Gill's Let's Make Sure We Kiss Goodbye, and Trisha Yearwood's Real Live Woman. The victory for Hill cemented her hold as country's leading commercial light. She also won Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for "Let's Make Love" with husband Tim McGraw.
Brad Paisley, who was nominated for Best New Artist, saw former Nashville country artist Shelby Lynne take the honor. In accepting the award, Lynne, who toiled in Nashville for years, mentioned the 13 years and seven albums it took for her to become — ironically — Best New Artist.
Asleep at the Wheel won Best Country Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal for "Cherokee Maiden." Versatile Nashville banjoist Béla Fleck enjoyed wins in both the country and jazz categories, sharing honors for Best Country Instrumental Performance with Alison Brown for "Leaving Cottondale" and winning the Best Contemporary Jazz Album award for Outbound with his group the Flecktones.
Dolly Parton claimed the Best Bluegrass Album title for The Grass Is Blue, which was both her first bluegrass album and her return as a major country artist. In their first year as Grammy nominees after 24 years together, the western music group Riders in the Sky won Best Musical Album for Children for Woody's Roundup. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder's Soldier of the Cross was named Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album.
Emmylou Harris, whose Red Dirt Girl beat a strong field for Best Contemporary Folk Album — her opponents were Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, John Hiatt and Billy Bragg & Wilco — said, "It's a tough category every year, and I think a lot of it had to do with my record company ... they really believed there's an audience out there in my field. And I think that's something other people in this business can learn — that you don't just have to depend on radio."
Former Nashville session fiddle player Mark O'Connor shared honors for Classical Crossover Album for Appalachian Journey with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer.
(Click here for a complete list of winners.)