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 she won a BMI Award for. 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.
Early yearsWright was born October 25, 1970 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. (In Like Me, Wright variously terms herself a "homosexual", a "lesbian", and a "gay woman".)
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.
As a commercial artistAfter releasing two unsuccessful albums through Mercury/Polygram, Wright asked to be released from her contract and later signed with MCA Nashville. Here, she had her first top twenty country hit in 1997 with the song "Shut Up and Drive," off her third album, Let Me In, which was released by MCA Nashville. In 1999, her fourth album, Single White Female, brought her several hit songs and her first gold album certification. In 2000, during a period of months when she was touring with fellow country artist Brad Paisley, Wright and Paisley cowrote a duet entitled, "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife", which they performed in their joint shows. Later that year—on her 30th birthday—the two of them performed the song at a televised celebration of Grand Ole Opry's 75th anniversary (televised by CBS). The recording of that song's performance at the Opry was later nominated for Vocal Event Of The Year as part of the 35th Annual CMA Awards. Additionally, Wright joined with Diamond Rio for a song on their One More Day album, as well as Paisley's Part II album, both of which were released in 2001.
Later in 2001, Wright released the first single from her fifth studio album, Never Love You Enough. The album was originally scheduled to be released on September 11, 2001 but due to the World Trade Center attack, the release date was postponed to September 25. Although Never Love You Enough debuted at #4 on the Billboard Country Albums chart, it did not match the success of Single White Female.
In these peak years of her popularity, Wright was promoted as a sex symbol by People magazine and FHM magazine. In 2001, People chose her for inclusion in its annual article, "50 Most Beautiful People". In 2002, she was ranked #93 among FHM's "100 Sexiest Women of 2002". and later that year was ranked #18 of "The 20 Hottest Women in Music 2002"
She also cowrote Clay Walker's 2003 top 10 single "I Can't Sleep".
As an independent artist
In 2003, Wright parted ways with MCA Nashville after "Never Love You Enough" failed to meet sales expectations. In January 2004, she signed with a new independent label, Vivaton, and began preparation for a new album. Although a music video was released for a song entitled "The Back of the Bottom Drawer," the album never materialized. Wright announced she was splitting with Vivaton in June 2004. Again without a label, she nevertheless released a single in late 2004, mostly through the Internet and various radio stations. The song, entitled "Bumper of My S.U.V.," was written by Wright in response to an altercation with an irate woman who noticed the United States Marine Corps bumper sticker on the back of Wright's car.
The success of "Bumper of My SUV", released on Wright's own Painted Red Music Group, was followed by the release of an EP, Everything. The record contained "Back of the Bottom Drawer" and "Bumper of My SUV" along with four demos. The album was made exclusively available through Wright's website (where she states she put out the album for her fans) and was later made available in many retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy. The success of the EP led Wright to be signed with Dualtone Records.
Wright's sixth album, The Metropolitan Hotel, was released in February 2005 on Dualtone Records. The CD included both "The Bumper of My S.U.V." and "Back of the Bottom Drawer," along with ten additional songs, most of which were written or cowritten by Wright. The album itself was produced in conjunction with her own company. Although not a "breakout" commercial hit, it debuted at #18 on Billboard's Top Country chart and it reached #7 on the Top Independent Albums chart). The fourth single released from The Metropolitan Hotel was "C'est La Vie (You Never Can Tell)", a retitled cover of Chuck Berry's song "You Never Can Tell".
Lifted Off the GroundWright signed to Vanguard Records in 2008. She released her seventh studio album, Lifted Off the Ground, on May 4, 2010. The album is produced by Grammy Award winner Rodney Crowell. All tracks on the album were written by Wright except for "Heavenly Days", cowritten with Crowell. The first single off the album is "Broken", which was released to radio in April 2010.
The first single "Broken" went to #1 on the Country Music Indie Charts the week of Aug. 6, 2010. The album also marks the debut for Wright on the Americana Music Charts where the album peaked at #32.
The second single will be a dance remix of the track Damn Liar. It was produced by Jared Kuemper aka youngjared. It was leaked on the internet on 3/24/11 and picked up by many of the top LGBT bloggers and web sites. The single will officially be released on 3/29/11.
Personal lifeDespite her resolution against having sex with women, by her early 30s 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 dated a man (not the same man). During their final five years they lived together. The relationship suffered numerous breakups followed by reconciliations, being as it was under 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. Naturally, being closeted put immense strain on the relationship.
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 brand 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, as to all men, she recounts that because of the conflictual relationship with her lover, "well, I decided that if I was going to be unhappy and unfulfilled anyway, why not just try to be with a man". Her actions were further fueled by the fact that 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:
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 are 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).
On April 6, 2011, Wright's publicist announced that the singer is engaged to LGBT rights advocate Lauren Blitzer. The couple plan to marry in Connecticut on August 20.
PhilanthropyWright is the founder of the charity, Reading, Writing, and Rhythm (RW&R), which is devoted to musical education in America's schools and helps supply musical instruments and equipment. It holds a fundraiser each June in Nashville, just before CMA Music Festival. In 2002 Wright received the MENC's "FAME Award" in honor of the accomplishments of RW&R.
In 2010 Wright founded her second charity, The Like Me Organization. Wright brought together friends, family, fans, and supporters of the LGBT community to build an organization to provide assistance, resources, and education to LGBT individuals and their family and friends. Wright will serve as spokesperson for the Like Me Organization, which will work to prevent LGBT bullying and teen suicide.
In 2001, Wright was given the "Stand Up For Music Award" MENC: The National Association for Music Education.
In 2003, she was named "Woman of the Year" by the American Legion Auxiliary and "Kansan of the Year" for her career achievements, her charity work and her support of the U.S. armed forces.
In 2010, Wright was named the National Spokesperson for the organization GLSEN. Wright was named one of Out magazine's annual 100 People of the Year. Metro Source New York Magazine named her as one of the 20 people We Love in 2010.
As subject of a film documentaryA documentary film about Wright's extended preparation for coming out is scheduled to be released in 2011. It is titled Wish Me Away (sharing its title with one of the tracks on her 2010 album, Lifted of the Ground). It was filmed over three years.
- Studio albums
- 1994: Woman in the Moon
- 1996: Right in the Middle of It
- 1997: Let Me In
- 1999: Single White Female
- 2001: Never Love You Enough
- 2005: The Metropolitan Hotel
- 2010: Lifted Off the Ground
- Compilation albums
- 2003: 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Chely Wright
- 2007: The Definitive Collection
- Extended plays
- 2004: Everything (EP)
- 2005: Live EP (Digital EP)
- 2011: Damn Liar-The Dance Remix (EP)
FilmographyWright made her acting debut in the Disney film, Max Keeble's Big Move. She plays Mrs. Styles, Max's homeroom teacher.
|1995||Academy of Country Music||Top New Female Vocalist||Won|
|1996||TNN/Music City News Awards||Star of Tomorrow||Nominated|
|Jukebox Awards||Best New Artist||Nominated|
|1999||Academy of Country Music||Top Female Vocalist||Nominated|
|Best Music Video — "Single White Female"||Nominated|
|Country Music Television||Female Video of the Year — "Single White Female"||Nominated|
|Country Weekly Awards||Fast Track Artist||Nominated|
|Country Music Association Awards||Horizon Award||Nominated|
|2001||Country Weekly Awards||Vocal Collaboration (with Brad Paisley) — "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife"||Nominated|
|MENC||Stand Up for Music Award||Won|
|Country Music Association Awards||Vocal Event of the Year (with Brad Paisley) — "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife"||Nominated|
|2002||CMT Flameworthy Awards||Video Fashion Plate — "Jezebel"||Won|
|People Magazine||50 Most Beautiful People||Won|
|International Bluegrass Music Association||Recorded Event of the Year (with Ralph Stanley and various artists) — Clinch Mountain Sweethearts||Won|
|2005||Country Weekly Awards||Star with Biggest Heart||Nominated|
|Best Patriotic Song — "The Bumper of My SUV"||Nominated|
|2006||Star with Biggest Heart||Nominated|
|2010||Black Tie Dinner||Media Award||Won|
|OUTmusic Awards||Vanguard Award||Won|
|2011||Kansas Music Hall of Fame||Inducted||Won|
|GLAAD Media Awards||Outstanding Musical Artist||Nominated|
|Lambda Literary Awards||Best Biography-Like Me||Nominated|
|The National Center for Lesbian Rights||Voice and Visibility Award||Won|