On the strength of her debut album in 1994, the Academy of Country Music (ACM) named her Top New Female Vocalist in 1995. Wright's first Top 40 country hit came in 1997 with "Shut Up and Drive". Two years later, her fourth album yielded her first number one single, the title track, "Single White Female". Overall, Wright has released seven studio albums on various labels, and has charted more than fifteen singles on the country charts. As of May 2010, Wright's previous eight albums had sold over 1,000,000 copies in the United States. In May 2010, Wright became the first major country music performer to publicly come out as gay. In television appearances and an autobiography, she cited among her reasons for publicizing her homosexuality a concern with bullying and hate crimes toward gays, particularly gay teenagers, and the damage to her life caused by "lying and hiding".
As a songwriter she has written songs that have been recorded by Brad Paisley, Richard Marx, Indigo Girls, Mindy Smith and Clay Walker, among them Walker's top ten hit, "I Can't Sleep" that won her a BMI award. On May 4, 2010, Wright released both her memoir of being a closeted lesbian, Like Me, and her first album of new songs since 2005, Lifted Off the Ground.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Wright grew up in a musical family in Wellsville, Kansas, a very small town with a population under 2,000. As presented in her autobiography, Like Me, two major factors driving her approach to life were her calling to be a country music performer, which she resolved upon as early as age four, and her realization, as early as age eight, that she was gay.
Chely Wright is an American country music artist and gay rights activist. On April 6, 2011, Wright's publicist announced that the singer was engaged to LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer. The couple married on August 20 in a private ceremony on a country estate in Connecticut. Wright and Blitzer were married by both a rabbi and a reverend. On January 23, 2013, the couple announced that Chely was expecting identical twins. Wright gave birth to George Samuel and Everett Joseph on May 18, 2013.
As a toddler, Wright would sit in a great-grandmother's lap and rest her own hands on the great-grandmother's hands as the woman played piano. Also in these years, she began to seek out adult audiences to sing for. Piano lessons followed. Starting at age 11, she was a professional pianist and singer, and from seventh to twelfth grades, the local branch of the American Legion appointed her the bugler to play taps at the funerals of veterans.
At the beginning of third grade, Wright realized she was in love with her schoolteacher. Although at that young age she lacked sexual awareness, this crush made her realize that she had an attraction to women that she knew to be culturally taboo. Not only did she harbor the belief that her sexual orientation was immoral, she also believed that it would kill her career hopes for her audiences to know about it. From early childhood, she therefore built up resolve to never confide the secret of her nature to anyone, let alone pursue romantic love with women.
The summer before her senior year of high school, she worked as a performing musician at the Ozark Jubilee, a long running country music show in Branson, Missouri. In 1989, taking the advice of her grandfather, she auditioned and landed a position in a musical production at Opryland USA, a now defunct theme park in Nashville, Tennessee, starting the job straight out of high school. She would call Nashville home until 2008. For the next several years, she interned and attended writers' nights, while honing her singing and songwriting. She attained her first recording contract in 1993, when Harold Shedd signed her to Mercury/Polygram, and her first album was released in 1994 on the corporation's Polydor label.
Despite her resolution against having sex with women, by her early thirties Wright had had sexual relationships with two women (as recounted in her autobiography). At age 19, for the first time a girl came on to her — "it was the first time I'd ever had a girl's body pressed against mine"—and this initiation into sex (by a girl of the same age) became an affair that lasted the better part of a year. From 1993 to about 2004, Wright maintained a committed relationship with a woman she describes as "the love of my life", a woman she met shortly after winning her first recording contract. The era of their relationship overlaps Wright's rise to chart-topping stardom. They maintained their union even though her partner subsequently got married to a man for many of those years and even though after the end of that marriage each woman briefly had heterosexual relationships. During their final five years they lived together, the relationship suffered numerous breakups followed by reconciliations, due to continuous strain from several factors: the fact that both women were closeted, the fact that, at least in the early part of their years together, "neither one of us thought it was acceptable to be in a gay relationship", and Wright's prolonged absences while performing on tour nationally and internationally.
In the last months of 2000, Wright embarked on an affair with fellow country music singer Brad Paisley. Even though Wright and her female lover had moved together into a new home earlier in the year, tension mounted between the two. Wright was touring together with Paisley, with whom she had co-written one song the previous year, and he had been enamored of her ever since. Although she felt no sexual attraction to Paisley (or any man) she recounts why Paisley was the man she decided to have a relationship with, "he's wickedly smart, which is one of the reasons why I made the decision to spend time with him. I loved Brad. I never had the capacity to fall in love with him, but I figured if I’m gonna live a less than satisfied life, this is the guy I could live my life with. If I’m gonna be with a boy, this is the boy." She held him in high esteem and great affection in every way other than sexual attraction. In her autobiography she expresses remorse for how she treated him. She also addressed this point in an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, stating, "I have a lot of regret for how that relationship began and had a middle and ended. I had no business being in a relationship with him".
In the end, she abandoned the belief that being gay is immoral and deviant:
"I hear the word 'tolerance'—that some people are trying to teach people to be tolerant of gays. I'm not satisfied with that word. I am gay, and I am not seeking to be 'tolerated'. One tolerates a toothache, rush-hour traffic, an annoying neighbor with a cluttered yard. I am not a negative to be tolerated."Between 2004 and 2006, Wright came out to members of her immediate family and to a few of her close friends. It was not until 2007 (as she stated on Oprah) that she decided to come out publicly. She spent the next three years writing her autobiography and orchestrating the coming out. Among the reasons she has given for wanting to come out to the public were to free herself from the burdens of living a lie, to lend support to gay children and teenagers and to counter the belief that gays are wicked and defective. On May 3, 2010, People magazine reported that Wright had come out publicly. Wright is the first major country music artist to come out as gay (former country artist k.d. lang came out in 1992 but had abandoned the country music genre by then and Kristen Hall, formerly of Sugarland, was already known as being out in the folk music genre).
A documentary film about Wright's extended coming out was released in 2011. Titled Wish Me Away, the film shares its title with one of the tracks on her 2010 album, Lifted Off the Ground. The film premiered at the 35th annual Frameline Film Festival in San Francisco on June 22, 2011. It was filmed over three years.
Like Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer by Chely Wright
Paperback: 300 pages
Publisher: Hal Leonard Corporation; Reprint edition (May 1, 2011)
Amazon: Like Me: Confessions Of A Heartland Country Singer
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Chely Wright, singer, songwriter, country music star, writes in this moving, telling memoir about her life and her career; about growing up in America’s heartland, the youngest of three children; about barely remembering a time when she didn’t know she was different.
She writes about her parents, putting down roots in their twenties in the farming town of Wellsville, Kansas, Old Glory flying atop the poles on the town’s manicured lawns, and being raised to believe that hard work, honesty, and determination would take her far.
She writes of making up her mind at a young age to become a country music star, knowing then that her feelings and crushes on girls were “sinful” and hoping and praying that she would somehow be “fixed.” (“Dear God, please don’t let me be gay. I promise not to lie. I promise not to steal. I promise to always believe in you . . . Please take it away.”)
We see her, high school homecoming queen, heading out on her own at seventeen and landing a job as a featured vocalist on the Ozark Jubilee (the show that started Brenda Lee, Red Foley, and Porter Wagoner), being cast in Country Music U.S.A., doing four live shows a day, and—after only a few months in Nashville—her dream coming true, performing on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry . . .
She describes writing and singing her own songs for producers who’d discovered and recorded the likes of Reba McEntire, Shania Twain, and Toby Keith, who heard in her music something special and signed her to a record contract, releasing her first album and sending her out on the road on her first bus tour . . . She writes of sacrificing all for a shot at success that would come a couple of years later with her first hit single, “Shut Up And Drive” . . . her songs (from her fourth album, Single White Female) climbing the Billboard chart for twenty-nine weeks, hitting the #1 spot . . .
She writes about the friends she made along the way—Vince Gill, Brad Paisley, and others—writing songs, recording and touring together, some of the friendships developing into romantic attachments that did not end happily . . . Keeping the truth of who she was clutched deep inside, trying to ignore it in a world she longed to be a part of—and now was—a world in which country music stars had never been, could not be, openly gay . . .
She writes of the very real prospect of losing everything she’d worked so hard to create . . . doing her best to have a real life—her best not good enough . . .
And in the face of everything she did to keep herself afloat, she writes about how the vortex of success and hiding who she was took its toll: her life, a tangled mess she didn’t see coming, didn’t want to; and, finally, finding the guts to untangle herself from the image of the country music star she’d become, an image steeped in long-standing ideals and notions about who—and what—a country artist is, and what their fans expect them to be . . .
I am a songwriter,” she writes. “I am a singer of my songs—and I have a story to tell. As I’ve traveled this path that has delivered me to where I am today, my monument of thanks, paying honor to God, remains. I will do all I can with what I have been given . . .”
Like Me is fearless, inspiring, true.
More LGBT Couples at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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