6th Annual Reading, Writing, and Rhythm
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
By: Estella Pan
|Ty Herndon surprised
|fans at Chely's event.
|Chely chats w/ Bryan White
|after the press conference
What inspired you to start Reading, Writing, and
Rhythm? Do you know how many schools have been affected by your efforts in the last six years? Those were among the various
questions Chely Wright addressed in a press conference prior to hosting her 6th Annual Reading, Writing,
and Rhythm Benefit Concert, an charity event and fan club party rolled into one fabulous evening of sharing great music.
This year's bill boasted the musical talents of Jason Aldean ("Why"), Keith Anderson ("Everytime I Hear Your
Name"), Little Big Town ("Bring It On Home"), Julie Roberts ("Men and Mascara"), Bryan White ("You Can’t
Go Back"), and Wynonna Judd ("Attitude"). Chely's good friend, Ty Herndon ("Steam"), also made a surprise visit
during the successful evening.
|Chely among troops in Iraq.
Before jumpstarting Reading, Writing, and Rhythm,
Chely had long put her humanitarian spirit to good use, making numerous trips overseas to share her music with our service
men and women, for more than ten years. She says each journey has impressed upon her as being "a perfect hybrid of appreciation,
humility and humanity," and that's the reason she continues to go back. "It makes my life seem valuable in ways that I couldn't
otherwise achieve." Her grandfather served in the Army during World War II and her brother, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Christopher
Wright, has been serving in the Marines for over fifteen years.] Both men are mentioned in her self-penned and deeply personal
single, "Bumper of My S.U.V.," in which she also mentions some of her journeys overseas and expresses the importance of supporting
|Chely in the cockpit of a C-130
|flyer en route into Baghdad.
"I've been to Hiroshma/And I've been to the DMZ
walked on the sand in Baghdad/Still don't have all of the answers I need."
"So I hope that lady in her mini-van turns
on her radio and hears this from me.
As she picks up her kids from their private school,
drives home safely on our city streets.
Or to the building where her church group meets:
Yeah, that's why I've got a
sticker for the US Marines
On the bumper of my S.U.V."
|Chely answers questions
|at the press conference
Having held her benefit concert the Tuesday of CMA
Music Fest/Fan Fair for the last six years, Chely's events have become the popular "unofficial kickoff" party to the rest
of the week, drawing sold out crowds every year. At 6:45 PM sharp on the evening of Tuesday, June 6, 2006, various press venues
gathered in the VIP room at the Wildhorse Saloon to ask their questions and for photo opportunities. Throughout the conference,
it was clear that it's Chely's own musical passions and personal experiences are what fuel her to continue affecting other
people's lives in a positive way. Though Chely doesnvt have a single climbing the charts currently, she knows that you don't
have to have superstar status to make some very big waves. Compiled below are her answers to insightful questions:
What inspired you to start Reading, Writing, and Rhythm?
Chely: It was born from a conversation
that I had with my best friend Chuck, a finance guy on Wall Street. The day the Columbine school shootings happened, I was
as riveted as anyone else was. It had always been my dream as a country artist to do a charity of my own. But, you get caught
up in your life and career that you never really get around to it. That event, that day [NOTE: The Columbine shootings
took place April 20, 1999], is what prompted me to get off my fanny and do something. I started thinking about why
I am who I am. I am a product of a public school. I studied music. Music was an everyday part of my life; it gave me confidence.
So that night, I went to bed, got up at 3 in the morning, and on an index card, I drew that logo (pointing to the banner
hanging behind her) and wrote out a mission statement. Since, [both logo and mission statement] have never changed. The
things we've been able to do with this charity have been the direct result of great Board of Directors, great fans, and great
artists who become involved. But, it came up through a conversation with my best friend.
|Chely and Wy pose for cameras.
The artist lineup this year is stellar, and
really, it seems to be getting bigger and bigger. [NOTE: Past events have featured such heavyweights as Vince Gill, Amy
Grant, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, among many others!] How did you line these artists up and what is your
reaction to the success of your events?
Chely: People ask us why our events are so successful, and it's the lineup!
We give [the fans] what they want, and they want to see the stars that are household names who are on the radio and on GAC
and CMT. Wynonna and I spoke before the event last year, and she said, "Chely, put me down for 2006." I said, "Wow, it would
be great if you could really think about [being a guest artist]." She said, "No. Put me down – I'm there!" When you
get a headliner like that, it's a lot easier to pull in the Little Big Towns, Keith Andersons, and Jason Aldeans – the
artists who are having hits right now. The further I get away from having a big hit on the radio, the more difficult it is
to get artists on board, so I start early. I will start my calling for next year's event tomorrow! All I need is one
BIG headliner every year to lock in early, and I can make it happen!
There are going to be many people here tonight
and so many more listening to XM Satellite Radio's broadcast of your event. Talk about how your fans listening at home can
help out Reading, Writing, and Rhythm?
Chely: If fans aren't with us tonight, they can go to our website –
it's http://www.rwandr.org – or they can go to my website http://www.chely.com for more information about helping Reading, Writing, and
|Chely with some of the kids in schools
|who benefited from efforts of RWR.
Have you had any graduates from the schools that
you benefited who are now studying music?
Chely: The first couple of years, we wondered whether we were making an impact.
We called the schools. They'd send us letters saying, "The kids are doing great! They're loving their instruments!" Now, we're
at a point in this charity where we're getting letters from kids, saying, "Dear Reading, Writing, and Rhythm: You guys
were able to get me a clarinet that my parents couldn't afford. Thanks for giving me that. I'm in a band now, and I have a
partial music scholarship to such-and-such university." I get letters and e-mails on a daily basis from kids and parents who
want to tell me how much of a difference we're making. They say, "You don't understand what you’ve done for my kid."
I really think I know, but sometimes, I wonder, because if it makes one little golden moment in a child's life – [whether
it's] one teacher, one concert, one book – to expand their mind and being confident about something, that's what it's
about. I hope I never realize how many good things we're doing, because it just might make me break down.
about the kids benefiting from Reading, Writing, and Rhythm. Are there any teachers that stand out in your mind who
have helped your develop and continue your program?
Chely: I do want to clarify that we're not implementing a music
program into schools. We’re trying to augment programs that are already in place, by funding and providing instruments
and equipment and/or we are starting back up programs that haven't existed for years. So, there’s not actually a musical
curriculum that we're taking to teachers and having them teach. We're just getting things like instruments into the children's
hands. From there, it's up to the schools' administration, teachers, and parents on how they use them to teach. The teachers
that we've come into contact with – they make me want to quit my job in entertainment and go get a degree to become
a schoolteacher. These people are the ones changing lives. I go back to Searcy, Arkansas, one of the first schools
we were able to help. A teacher by the name of Rhonda Ellis is, with the help of other teachers and parents, is making a difference
in that school. They went from not being able to play the fiddle to playing a whole piece together, and it's beautiful!
|Chely shares the story of
|getting her first trumpet
When did you first learn how to play an instrument?
My whole family plays instruments and sings, so in one room on the weekends, we'd have music, and the other room, we had a
poker game going. It seemed to all come together very naturally to me. Legend has it that, at four years old, I went missing
in my hometown of Wellsville, Kansas, population 1,000. They had the whole town scouring to find me, and I was found at the
nursing home. I had pushed all the elderly folks up in their wheelchairs, and was playing and singing on the piano for them.
That's when I first remember playing. I started piano lessons at age four. I was a trumpet player in junior high. The band
teacher called my mom and asked, "Why isn't she in my band class?" Well, I was afraid to ask for a horn, because we were poor;
I was afraid my parents would make me quit piano lessons. But, Mr. Hicks said, "I want her in my class." So, I went into band
class the next day and said, "I want to play the saxophone!" He said, "No, you're going to play trumpet!" And, my parents
went to an estate sale, bought me a trumpet that'd been in a barn for twenty years. It smelled like manure, and I was embarrassed
and mortified because it stunk every time I played it. But, they said they'd buy me a brand new horn after I made first chair.
I made first chair quickly, and I played [the new trumpet] all the way through school, at over a hundred military interments.
I played "Taps" at my grandfather's burial, and that's the last time I played that trumpet. But, I still have it at my house.
you give us any information about the new album you're working on?
Chely: I don't have any co-writes on this album,
which is both empowering and exciting. But, it's also scary, because if people think the songs are bad, I can't blame it on
a co-writer. It's all just me; [the songs are] all very autobiographical. It's exciting and eerie at the same time.