No artist did more to lift the spirits of our men and women in uniform than Toby Keith.
Toby, who passed away on February 5 from a 2-year battle with stomach cancer, participated in nearly 20 USO tours throughout his career, performing for over a quarter of a million service members in 17 different countries as they fought overseas.
After his passing, the USO reflected on the legacy that Toby Keith left behind:
“Toby’s commitment to supporting the people serving in our nation’s military and their families around the world made him a beloved figure within the military community.
Toby served as an incredible example of the USO mission of always being by their side. His legacy will endure through his music and the lasting impact he made on the lives of those he touched.”
Of course one of Toby’s signature songs was “Courtesy Of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” a patriotic battle cry released in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that seemingly united a country in mourning (and pissed off the Dixie Chicks).
But we were never supposed to hear it.
Toby wrote the song to perform for troops on his USO tours. And when he did, they went wild.
He had never intended to actually record the song. But then-Commandant of the Marine Corps James L. Jones told Toby that he didn’t have a choice, calling it “the most amazing battle song I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“It’s your job as an entertainer to lift the morale of the troops. If you want to serve, that is what you can do.”
Well with a charge like that from your military, Toby didn’t have a choice. He took “The Angry American” into the studio, and released it as the lead single from his album Unleashed.
The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, and has since been certified 4x platinum.
Of course it wasn’t without its controversy. Toby was scheduled to perform the song on an ABC patriotic special in 2002, but Canadian-born host Peter Jennings requested that he tone down the lyrics. Toby refused, and was removed from the show, later speaking on the controversy:
“I thought it was hilarious. My statement was, ‘Isn’t he Canadian?’ to a bunch of press. They laughed and then I said, ‘Well, I bet Dan Rather wouldn’t kick me off his show.'”
Then of course there was his highly-publicized feud with the Dixie Chicks (now just known as The Chicks) after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized the song in an interview with the Los Angeles Times:
“I hate it. It’s ignorant, and it makes country music sound ignorant. It targets an entire culture – and not just the bad people who did bad things. 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. The kinds of songs I prefer on the subject are like Bruce Springsteen’s new songs.”
Keith responded by attacking Maines as a songwriter:
“She’s not a songwriter, so we can’t discuss the mechanics of the song.
Why don’t you just go down on Second Avenue and pick one of those homeless guys and ask him what he thinks about it? To me it’s the same.”
But that wasn’t the end of the beef: After her comments, Keith began displaying a doctored image of Maines and Saddam Hussein on the screen behind him at his shows.
And the feud came to a head at the ACM Awards in 2003, when both Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks were nominated for Entertainer of the Year.
During their performance that night, Maines took another shot at Keith by wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with “F U T K.” You can use your imagination to figure out what that one stands for…
But the Chicks weren’t even at the ACM Awards that night – instead, they performed in front of a more friendly crowd, live from one of their concerts in Austin, Texas.
And it’s probably a good thing they weren’t in Vegas for the awards. On a night that featured tributes to our soldiers, bold proclamations from Wayne Newton celebrating the then-recent death of Saddam Hussein, and patriotic performances like Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten,” the Dixie Chicks didn’t exactly receive a warm reception at the ACM Awards.
In fact, it was downright hostile.
Every time the Dixie Chicks’ name was announced, the crowd in Vegas rained down boos. So when it came time to give out the Entertainer of the Year Award, presenter Vince Gill jokingly mumbled their name as he announced them as a nominee – because he knew what was coming.
Sure enough, the audience erupted in boos, while nice-guy Vince made a futile plea for forgiveness. But when the camera quickly cut to the next nominee, Alan Jackson, he seemed to be enjoying the moment as he wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes.
So who won the night’s top prize? Well, none other than Toby Keith – thanks, no doubt, in large part to “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and his support for the troops.
And it’s thanks to the troops that we ever got to hear that now-classic song from Toby in the first place.