Catching up with Chely Wright at “Uprising of Love”

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On Monday night, the glorious Gershwin Theatre in New York City took the night off from its regularly scheduled programming (the Broadway musical Wicked plays there) to host the “Uprising of Love” concert. “Uprising of Love” was founded by writer Dustin Lance Black, Melissa Etheridge and producer Bruce Cohen in order to bring attention to Russia’s anti-gay laws enacted prior to the Sochi Olympics. This concert benefitted the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice’s Fueling the Frontlines Campaign. The Astraea Foundation works tirelessly to raise money and fund programs that help the LGBTQI community around the globe. Hosted by Jane Lynch, the event featured the absolute best and brightest of Broadway and beyond.

Uprising Of Love: A Benefit Concert For Global Equality

Broadway leading lady and legend Patti Lupone and Sting headlined the event, which also included phenomenal performances by out singer/songwriter Chely Wright, Kinky Boots star Billy Porter, Tony winner Lena Hall, the casts of Wicked, Once, Witness Uganda, I Am Harvey Milk and more. Acclaimed composer Stephen Schwartz and Bruce Cohen produced the event, while Schele Williams and Alex Lacamoire directed and musically directed respectfully.

(L-R front) Ryan Shaw, Billy Porter, Patti LuPone, Sting, Vladislav Slavskiy, Lena Hall, and Thomas Roberts

Uprising Of Love: A Benefit Concert For Global Equality

Before the curtain rose, I also had a chance to speak with J. Bob Alotta, the Executive Director of the Astraea Foundation, and I asked her to tell us about the foundations work and what AfterEllen readers could do if they wanted to help support the Funding the Frontlines campaign.

“I think of us as the little shop that could. For a long time it was very purposeful that people didn’t know who we were because we really wanted to work to shine ahead of us. We’re in a different era now. The more people know about us, who get involved, who stay in touch with us, who sign up for our communications, become monthly donors. That works. Support goes directly to folks on the ground. We have funded eighty-four countries and forty-three states. It’s significant reach, and we prioritize the work of the folks who are the least often funded. We prioritize lesbian leadership, trans leadership, and the leadership of people of color. 96% of our funding in the United States goes to people of color led efforts.”

Bruce Cohen and J. Bob Alotta
Uprising Of Love: A Benefit Concert For Global Equality

AfterEllen also got a chance to catch up with Chely Wright, who was as lovely and kind as you could imagine. When I introduced myself as being with AfterEllen, she exclaimed, “I love AfterEllen!” We were off to a good start.

Uprising Of Love: A Benefit Concert For Global Equality

AfterEllen: You are currently in the middle of a crowd funding campaign to produce your next album. Many artists are going this route rather than working with a label. Do you feel more of a sense of freedom, taking on this project yourself?
Chely Wright: You know, I don’t. I really don’t. I have to say that my answer is probably different from a lot of people who crowd source. My last two records, were records that I made and I licensed to a company for distribution. Lifted Off the Ground, my last album, I made that album and the good folks at Vanguard Records put that out. It was EMI at the time and now it’s partnered with Universal. So I get all the benefit of working with a major label. I’ve gotta say, my years making records for major labels, I never didn’t have the freedoms that I wanted. I was never told to cut a song I didn’t want to cut. I was never told to be something that I wasn’t.

AE: You were pretty blessed in that respect?
CW: I was lucky and I know other artists haven’t found that autonomy in major labels at time. The only reason I’m doing crowdsourcing this time is I’ve been watching for a couple of years, people doing it. Like I said in my Kickstarter video, when I saw people doing it a couple years ago, I thought “that’s cool, but not for me.” I thought it was a cool, innovative thing to do. But now there’s no reason not to do it. Social media is really important for me, and I feel like it’s a great way to get people in on the journey of “this is happening.” There is so much original content that we can share with them. So, my fans have been everything to me and my career and I think it’s the most fun way to do it. Of course if they don’t want donate to it, then they can just buy the record when it comes out, and that’s a fan just the same.

AE: I know you are big into social media. I follow your Facebook music page and I see your little boys all the time….
CW: I know. Tell me how cute they are.

AE: They are the cutest.
CW: I mean I know everyone thinks their baby is cute, but we look at them on the street and people stop us and say, “they are the most…”

AE: They’re so smiley!
CW: Oh, they aren’t always smiling. We only post pictures of them smiling. Yeah they can have a full on meltdown, don’t worry about that.

AE: As the mother to two little boys, has motherhood changed you as a songwriter?
CW: (pauses and smiles) You know, I wrote a lullaby. I never would have written a lullaby.

AE: Are you going to include that on your album?
CW: Maybe I will. It may be involved in a film project I’m doing. Though if it doesn’t end up on that project, maybe I’ll record it. I think it has made me a different writer in that being out of the closet has made me a different writer. Whereas before, when I wrote a song about someone that I loved, I could never say that. I was detached. I guess I would step away from being vulnerable enough to share that with my audience. Now if I write a song, I can say, here’s a song I wrote about my wife. Here’s a song I wrote about when we took our boys on vacation. Really I felt that in many ways, my songwriting and performing was probably the most honest part of my life. You don’t have to have lived everything you sing about, right? I’m pretty sure Johnny Cash never shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

AE: We can hope!
CW: (laughs) I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But I’m still writing for the record so who knows, something might emerge. If I feel changed, I’ll call you.

AE: (laughs) You are a New Yorker now. Has that influenced you in a way?
CW: It has. I moved here in 2008, I spent twenty years in Tennessee.

AE: You are officially a New Yorker now, because I think it’s a five year rule…some say eight but I’m going with five.
CW: Well I’m definitely a New Yorker now. You know, there is something about the music scene in New York and the art in New York. It fires a different synapse in my brain, and I think I have less of a commercial country sensibility and maybe more on an Americana sensibility. I’m still kind of a country singer. I still kind of yodel. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl.

To learn more about these organizations, check out UprisingofLove.org and AstraeaFoundation.org

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