By building a reputation through talent, enthusiasm, and hard work, country music singer Chely Wright earned has a recording contract with Polydor Records, a string of critically acclaimed albums—including Woman in the Moon, Let Me In, Single White Female, and Never Love You Enough— and the Academy of Country Music’s award for Top New Female Vocalist in 1995. Wright’s work ethic and down-to-earth attitude toward fame have also earned her a legion of loyal fans.
While Wright enjoys her success, she doesn’t seem surprised by it. Born on October 25, 1970, in rural Wellsville, Kansas, she had planned to be a country music singer since the age of four. Each morning when she woke up, Wright’s mother always had the radio tuned to a country music station. At the age of nine, her Christmas list included a doll and a request for her family to move to Nashville; at eleven, she formed her own band with her father as the bass player. “I always knew that this is how I’d make my living,” she told Diane Rush of Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “When I listened to songs by Loretta Lynn and Connie Smith, I didn’t think about them being rich…. It was just their job, and it was the job I wanted to have.” By the time she was 14, she traveled on weekends, performing at a variety of nightspots with the County Line Band. A year before she finished high school, she appeared in the Ozark Jubilee at Branson, Missouri; after graduation, she moved to Nashville. Soon after arrival, she landed a job at Opryland impersonating country stars like Minnie Pearl.
Living and working in Nashville, however, did not guarantee immediate success. Since singing at Opryland was seasonal work, she had to find a number of less-than-exciting jobs to make a living. “I lived in a trailer in La Vergne and I had gotten down to $13 in my checking account…,” Wright told Carrie Ferguson of The Tennes-sean Women. “I remember telling my friends, it is going to be great when they write the movie of my life. I refuse to recognize adversity.” She befriended songwriters and performers like Harlan Howard and Porter Wagoner, “borrowed” magazines from Broadcast Music Incorporated’s (BMI) offices, and attended writers’ nights to learn more about song craft. She also met a number of up-and-coming singers, including Jo Dee Messina, Deana Carter, and Terri Clark. It took three and a half years of paying her dues before she convinced Harold Shedd of Polydor to sign her to a record deal.
While Wright’s first album received a warm critical reception, it sold poorly. She received recognition nonetheless when she won the Top New Female Vocalist Award from the Academy of Country Music in 1995. She toured for a year and a half with Tim McGraw, Alabama, Confederate Railroad, and Alan Jackson, and she condensed this experience into her second album, Right in the Middle of It, in 1996.
Born on October 25, 1970, in Wellsville, KS; daughter of Stan Wright (owner of a construction business) and Cheri Smith.
Formed first band, age eleven; appeared on the Ozark Jubilee at Branson, MO, following junior year in high school; moved to Nashville, TN, after graduation and worked at Opryland; recorded debut album, Woman in the Moon, for Polydor, 1994; followed with Right in the Middle of It, 1996, Let Me In, 1997, Single White Female, 1999, and Never Love You Enough, 2001.
Awards: Academy of Country Music Award, Top New Female Vocalist, 1995.
Addresses: Record company —MCA Records Nashville, 60 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203, phone: (615) 880-7440, website: http://www.mca.com. Website —Chely Wright Official Website: http://www.chely.com.
Success, however, continued to elude her. “My interest isn’t to make a million bucks and to be a video babe and have my face on the cover of People magazine,” she told Deborah Evans Price of Billboard. “However, I do need to have some degree of commercial success.” A positive critical response and a good reaction from radio stations, though, encouraged her to continue. “What they were telling me…,” she recalled to Lisa Young of Country Music Today, “was that we think you can be a star; you just need the right song. And that’s what I held onto.”
Her career stalled once again when her record company began to have financial problems in the mid-1990s. “In retrospect,” she told Young, “I think if I had looked at anyone else in my situation, I would have thought, ‘Aw, poor them, they’re never going to make it.’” The same drive that had brought Wright to Nashville held fast, though, leading her to make a bold move. She invited MCA Nashville’s president Tony Brown to lunch and in a short ten minutes, convinced him to sign her to the label’s roster. “I could see the fire in her eyes, so I took a gamble,” Brown recalled to Tom Perrin of the Kansas City Star. “She sings good; she looks good; she works hard. That’s the type of artist you want.” This intuition paid off when 1997’s Let Me In produced the top 20 single, “Shut Up and Drive.”
“Wright benefits from the spare arrangements,” wrote Thorn Owens of All Music Guide, “which … emphasize her lovely voice and charisma.” Greater success followed with her second MCA release in 1999, Single White Female. The album also unleashed her first number one hit. “I get chill bumps when I think about it,” she told Young. “[W]hen you’ve had nine singles out, and you’ve been touring since ‘93 on a national level and you’ve watched your songs peak at 44 or 37 or 50 and some never even chart, it’s sweeter.”
Wright recorded Never Love You Enough in 2001 and toured to support the album. “With Never Love You Enough,” wrote Tom Roland at CDNow, “she takes another step forward with her best album to date….” She runs a tight ship on tour, keeping the bus free of alcohol and cigarettes and insisting that the band be courteous to everyone. “Reputation is everything in this business,” she told Perrin. Wright herself has gained a reputation as one of the hardest working persons in the music business and someone who hasn’t let fame go to her head. She still rides coach on airplanes and remains in close contact with her family by phone. “A lot of people that attractive put up all these walls and come off snotty, as a defense mechanism more than anything else,” music critic Roland told the Kansas City Star. “She [Wright], for some reason, has been able to avoid that, and it’s quite charming.”
Woman in the Moon, Mercury, 1994.
Right in the Middle of It, Polydor, 1996.
Let Me In, MCA, 1997.
Single White Female, MCA, 1999.
Never Love You Enough, MCA, 2001.
Billboard, November 25, 1995, p. 59.
Country Music Today, August-September 2000, pp. 59-61.
Kansas City Star (Missouri), October 4, 2000, p. A1.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 4, 1997.
The Tennessean Women, September 26, 1999, pp. 4-5.
“Review: Let Me In,” All Music Guide, http://www.aHmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=A6ar67ue0o0jj (December 11, 2001).
“Review: Never Love You Enough,” CDNow, http://www.cdnow.com (December 11, 2001).
—Ronnie D. Lankford Jr.
"Wright, Chely." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wright-chely
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