Chely Wright Knows That God Loves Her

“Dear God, please don’t let me be gay.  I promise to be a good person.  I promise… I promise… I promise… I promise… Please take it away.  In your name I pray.  Amen. ”

Variations of that prayer were a daily part of country singer Chely Wright’s life from the time she was a third grader until she privately accepted that she was gay.

Fast forward to January 26, 2006 — a cold winter’s morning when Chely stood defeated in her Nashville home with a loaded 9 millimeter gun in her mouth.  After all of the years of living in denial and fighting to be happy, but not out, she was ready to end it all.

However, the tears started falling and Chely just couldn’t pull the trigger.  She put the gun on the mantle and went back upstairs and stayed in bed for a couple of more days.

chely wright

The former Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist and one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” couldn’t handle the stress of being gay and not being able to be open and honest about it.

That month of depression in January 2006 and the suicide attempt was a turning point for Chely.

Today, she’s happily married to LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer (they met and married in 2011) and she’s the mother of twin boys, George Samuel and Everett Joseph, who turn one-year-old last weekend.

chely-wright-weddingChely's Twins Turn One

Although the book came out in 2010, I just got around to reading her autobiography, “Like Me”, which not only talked about her love of God, her family, country music and singing, but also her struggles with being a lesbian and having to hide her personal life to be a successful country music star.

Chely Wright Like Me

Richelle Rene Wright was born in the fall of 1970 in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in a small Kansas town of 1,600 people.  She was the youngest of three children.

Even as a child, Chely knew that she was different.  She even had feelings for a teacher when she was just a little girl.

While Chely dated boys growing up in Kansas, she knew that it wasn’t going to change the feelings she felt toward women.  She moved to Nashville as a teenager to work at Opryland, where she had her first lesbian affair.

After landing a recording contract, Chely’s first album, “Woman in the Moon” and her first singles arrived at country radio in 1994 and 1995.

Chely Wright - Woman In The Moon

While the three singles got some radio airplay, none of them cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard Country chart.  However, at the gay country bar, Charlie’s, in Chicago, that I worked at during that time, “Sea of Cowboy Hats”, was a hit with the two-steppers.

Chely released a second album in 1996, but it, too, failed to catch on at country radio.  Meanwhile, she continued to tour extensively across the U.S. and visit and perform for troops around the world.

She always lived a double life.  When she wasn’t the “country singer” touring and promoting her songs, she was in an on-again and off-again relationship for about ten years with a music industry woman named Julia.

In 1997, she scored her first hit on the Billboard Country chart.  “Shut Up and Drive” reached #14.  It was followed by two more modest hits that reached #39 and #36, respectively.

While working to make it big as a country singer, she kept a low profile with Julia.  Julia even got married to a man, but that marriage ended in divorce and she and Chely got back together.  During this time, Chely also dated men, including her dear friend, Vince Gill.

Vince Gill

Even as she lived in the closet with country music fans, Chely hit the big time in 1999 when her album, “Single White Female”, went gold (selling more than 500,000 copies) and the title track topped the country charts in September.

In the book, Chely held nothing back about how hard it was to love God so much, yet struggle with being gay.  And, being in a genre of music that, for the most part, lacked compassion for gay people, she felt she was living a lie with her fans.

In late 2000, she met and started dating rising star, Brad Paisley.

Brad Chely

She had deep feelings for Paisley and he fell in love with her.  However, because she was a lesbian, her love for him wasn’t the same and he just couldn’t handle her getting close and pushing away.

brad-paisley-chely-wright

Throughout “Like Me” and since its publication, Chely regrets the way that relationship ended because she did care for Brad.

While Chely scored five more hits after the chart topper, “Single White Female”, through 2005, “It Was” was the biggest.  It made it up to #11 in 2000.

Chely knew that people on Music Row and in Nashville gossiped about her personal life and she had heard rumors that some thought she was gay.  Those dated back to 1994, just as she was starting her career.

However, Chely confirmed this with John Rich, a former member of the band, Lonestar, and one-half of the duo, Big & Rich.  The two had worked together back in 1990 at Opryland.

One night, in March 2005, the two of them were hanging out when Rich confronted her.

John Rich Chely Wright

Chely writes that Rich told her that people were talking about her and wondered if she was gay and that it wasn’t cool if she had “chosen to live that lifestyle” and that fans and the industry wouldn’t allow it.  He also told her, “People don’t approve of that kind of deviant behavior.  It’s a sin.”

She goes on to talk about how uneasy she started feeling because, at that point, he hadn’t asked her about her sexuality.  Rich was just telling her what he thought and what he felt that country music fans would think.  Finally, he asked, “You’re not gay, are you?”

Taking a deep breath, Chely exclaimed, “No, John, I’m not gay” to which Rich replied, “Good”.

JohnRich2

John Rich would go on the defensive again in late 2007 when he commented on a radio talk show that marriage equality would lead to incestuous marriages.

Days later, he offered this lame apology that was nothing more than damage control, “However, I also believe that intolerance, bigotry and hatred are wrong. People should be judged based on their merits, not on their sexual orientation. We are all children of God and should be valued and respected.”

Back in 2007, I interviewed Lonestar in Lubbock, Texas.  Luckily, for me, it was lead singer Richie McDonald and keyboardist/vocalist Dean Sams.  Rich was fired from Lonestar the following year and I’m so happy that I never met that homophobe!

Chely Wright Like Me

When Chely’s book came out in 2010, she also released her seventh studio album, “Lifted Off The Ground”, which focused around her personal struggles.  It reached #32 on Billboard Country album chart.

In June 2011, Chely released a documentary about the three years leading up to her coming out called “Wish Me Away”.

It won “Best Documentary” at the Los Angeles Film Festival and the “Documentary Channel Audience Award” for “Best Documentary” at the Nashville Film Festival.

Chely has also founded two organizations:  Reading, Writing and Rhythm (RW&R), which helps supply musical instruments and equipment to promote music in America’s schools, and about ten years later, in 2010, she started “The Like Me Organization”, which provides assistance, resources, and education to LGBT individuals and their family and friends.  It also works to prevent LGBT bullying and teen suicide.

Chely NOH8

So, while country radio and the Grand Ole Opry are missing out on a first-class talent, it’s great that real fans and LGBT people still have Chely around to offer support and give people courage to be themselves and not be afraid.

Chely, thank you for sharing your story and touching the lives of those that may be afraid to make that step to “come out”.

“Like Me:  Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer” is a must read!

CMT Flameworthy Video Music Awards

Chely, best wishes to you, Lauren, and the boys.

Anthony

While this blog was ready to be posted last week, I held off on it once Chely tweeted this about the loss of her mother, Cheri.

Chely -- Loss of Mother

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