by Miryam Gordon -
SGN A&E Writer
Chely Wright with the Seattle Women's Chorus
Chely Wright has been a major name on the country music circuit since her debut album in 1994, after which she was named top new female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music. Raised in Kansas and coming from a family of generations of musicians, she wanted to be a country singer well before she knew how to multiply or divide. Her 1997 cut, 'Shut Up and Drive,' propelled her to the top of the country charts, followed in 1999 by 'Single White Female.'
She's had a solid career and sold over a million albums, but she had a secret that almost took her life: she was a Lesbian.
Living in Nashville, one of the most conservative areas in the United States, making a living in country music (where no major star had ever come out), Wright felt like she had to live a lie to keep her career going. But as she details in her book, Like Me, there was a point where she was alone with a gun and ready to end her life.
Instead, in May 2010, she took the bold step of publicly coming out, come what may of that decision. While she's gained all sorts of national attention, there have certainly been consequences. She's not yet been invited back to the Grand Ol' Opry to perform, and while she'd gone seven or eight times overseas to perform for the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, she has not been invited since.
However, she's become a huge presence on LGBT event stages, taking the opportunity to support LGBT causes and in particular efforts to make the world a safer place for Gay youth. She founded a new nonprofit effort to prevent bullying and suicides, the Like Me Organization (likeme.org). She has a brand-new documentary coming out in 2012 (in June it won a Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at both the Los Angeles Film Festival and Frameline 35 Festival in San Francisco) called Wish Me Away, and she's coming to Seattle to perform with the Seattle Women's Chorus on October 1-2 at Benaroya Hall (at 2 p.m. each day).
SGN got the opportunity to talk with Wright about the upcoming performance and how life has changed over the last year and a half.
Responding to a question about all that has happened in recent months, Wright said, 'Aside from many people telling me that my book, my story, my public coming-out helped them feel less alone or how it helped them begin to have a dialogue with their loved ones, many poignant things have occurred. The most amazing thing, in my opinion, about coming out is that I am now able to really use my voice in support of the issues that are facing and challenging the LGBT community.
'It took the past 17 months for me to fully understand just how silenced I had been. I continue to marvel at the realization. Freedom continues to unfold and manifest itself in my psyche. I guess the old saying is true: 'It's hard to miss what you never had.'
'Well, now that I've had real freedom, I understand what the silence was really doing to my spirit. Anyone who has hidden anything, for any reason, and then released themselves of the secret, would likely understand what I mean.'
Wright had been writing songs for years (her last album was almost completely her own writing), so her song composition has not changed much. However, she explained, 'I did [recently] write a new love song and I'm able to tell people who I really wrote it about, rather than being evasive when asked 'Who'd you write that about?' That's certainly changed.'
There have been consequences to coming out. At first, it was very little like the outrage that erupted when Natalie Maines of The Dixie Chicks criticized President Bush and their records were stomped on and radio stations refused to play their songs.
'I was told by many fans that they disposed of my records and that they'd never again buy another of my albums,' Wright said. 'I also receive negative comments and emails on a pretty regular basis. So, it did happen, to some degree. It is true that - to date - I've not been invited to any organized industry events in Nashville.
'I will add, though, that I have also felt a tremendous amount of support from people in my industry, but it's been mostly via private communication. Do I wish that some of them would simply acknowledge and support me publicly? Yes, I do. That said, support means a lot to me whether anyone knows about it or not.'
Coming out also created the opportunity to meet Lauren Blitzer, who worked for GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), and whom she married just a few weeks ago.
'I have always loved GLSEN for the great work that GLSEN does for students in public schools,' Wright said, 'but I love it even more because, had it not been for them & I wouldn't have met my wife. I knew almost immediately that she was 'the one.'
Coming out also allowed her to gain closer relationships with out celebrities like Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Melissa Etheridge. 'I was so lucky to have the support of all three of them,' she said. 'They each gave me public support and private gestures of support and friendship. It really means a lot to me, as I hold them all in high regard for their courage, their artistry, and their concern for others. I am lucky to have made friends with Rosie, especially. I love her, just love her.'
The Women's Chorus is so very excited to have this beautiful singing star come and perform with them. Their entire concert is an homage to country, written and sung by country icons like Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and a big chunk of songs written by and performed with Wright, who said she's 'really, really, really excited to come perform with SWC! Collaborative performance of any kind is sort of like a dance, and to dance well together, you must be in sync. I think that performing with the SWC will be such a joy as we will all certainly have an understanding of one another on many levels that will be perhaps more connected and more profound.'
For more information on the concerts and for tickets, go to www.flyinghouse.org.
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