How Toby Keith Buried the Hatchet with The Chicks' Natalie Maines After a Politically Charged Feud

The country singers had a highly publicized rift in 2002 and 2003

<p>Jason Kempin/Getty, Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty</p> Toby Keith, The Chicks

Jason Kempin/Getty, Christie Goodwin/Redferns via Getty

Toby Keith, The Chicks

The early 2000s were a fraught political time in the wake of Sept. 11 — and few knew that better than Toby Keith and Natalie Maines of The Chicks.

The country stars famously feuded over their political views in 2002 and 2003, though Keith, who died on Monday night at age 62, eventually said that a personal tragedy inspired him to bury the hatchet.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Keith leaned heavily into his patriotism, releasing songs like “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which glorified war and violence in the name of American freedom.

The song struck a nerve with Maines, now 49, who in August 2002 told the Los Angeles Daily News she found the song “ignorant.”

“I hate it… It makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture — and not just the bad people who did bad things,” she told the outlet. “You’ve got to have some tact. Anybody can write, ‘We’ll put a boot in your ass.’ But a lot of people agree with it.”

Related: Toby Keith Dead at 62 Following Stomach Cancer Diagnosis: 'Passed Peacefully'

Rick Kern/WireImage The Chicks performing in October 2022
Rick Kern/WireImage The Chicks performing in October 2022

Keith responded to Maines’s diss a few months later in an interview with, during which he dismissed her opinion, as she was “not a songwriter,” and said he felt as though the opinion of a person experiencing homelessness would be comparable to what she thought of his music. For a time, he also displayed a doctored photo of Maines and Saddam Hussein at his concerts.

As the year went on, Maines drew further negative attention following a concert in London in March 2003, during which the Texas native famously told the crowd, “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”

The backlash for the Chicks was swift, and before long, their music was boycotted, record sales dropped and they received death threats (Maines later apologized for her comments, calling them “disrespectful,” but walked back the apology years later. The band eventually staged a successful, Grammy-winning comeback in 2006 with the response album Taking the Long Way).

In the thick of the backlash, Maines and Keith’s spat was put on public display at the Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony in May 2003. During the show, both the Chicks and Keith were up for Entertainer of the Year — and though Keith took home the prize, Maines made headlines of her own when she wore a T-shirt with the acronym FUTK on it (She said at the time it stood for “Friends United in Truth and Kindness,” though many took it as a jab at Keith).

<p>Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic</p> Toby Keith

Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic

Toby Keith

In spite of the bad blood, Keith had a change of heart in August 2003, when he told Contact Music that a recent tragedy in his personal life had inspired him not to dwell on the little things in life.

“A best friend of mine, the guy that started the first band I was ever in, he lost a 2-year-old daughter to cancer,” he said. “A few days after I found she didn’t have long to live, I saw a picture on the cover of Country Weekly with a picture of me and Natalie and it said ‘Fight to the Death’ or something. It seemed so insignificant. I said, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Though Keith was ready to move on, he continued on to say that he felt as though the rift was not his fault, as Maines had come after his work first.

“People try to make everything black and white. I didn’t start this battle. They started it with me; they came out and just tore me up,” he said. “One thing I’ve never, ever done, out of jealousy or anything else, is to bash another artist and their artistic license.”

Two months later, Keith told reporters that he’d reflected on the situation further, and that he felt bad about the way it all went down between him and Maines.

Related: Toby Keith 'Was Misunderstood' and Painted as an 'Incorrect Portrait,' Says Longtime Rep (Exclusive)

“I’m embarrassed about the way I let myself get sucked into all of that. I disappointed myself,” he said, according to “I didn’t disappoint anybody else. Everybody else loved it. They wanted me to attack that. But I probably disappointed myself more than anything, because I’m better than that. It got pretty vicious sometimes, putting her and Saddam Hussein up on the screen. That was funny for a night or two, and then it was a little over the top for me. I’m not that mean.”

He continued: “I just said, ‘You know what? She’s getting kicked enough without me piling on.’ She would have the same thing she got without me even saying a word. I’ll know better. I’ll learn something next time… Maybe.”

Keith’s family announced early Tuesday that the “Red Solo Cup” singer died on Monday night, more than two years after he was first diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“He fought his fight with grace and courage,” a statement shared to his Instagram read. “Please respect the privacy of his family at this time.”

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