For the Second Time in a Week, Chely Wright Speaks Out, This Time Against Mike Huckabee

by VVN Music

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee may have had the shortest tenure in history on the CMA Foundation Board of Directors, just one day.

Huckabee was appointed to the position on Wednesday but faced a mountain of criticism from the country music community and the public over his views on guns and LGBTQ subjects. He resigned on Thursday, writing:

It appears that I will make history as having the shortest tenure in the history of the CMA Foundation Board. I genuinely regret that some in the industry were so outraged by my appointment that they bullied the CMA and the Foundation with economic threats and vowed to withhold support for the programs for students if I remained. I had NO idea I was that influential! I’m somewhat flattered to be of such consequence when all I thought I was doing was voluntarily serving on a non-profit board without pay in order to continue my decades of advocacy for the arts and especially music.

The message here is “Hate Wins.” Bullies succeeded in making it untenable to have “someone like me” involved. I would imagine however that many of the people who buy tickets and music are not that “unlike me.”

Singer Chely Wright, who spoke out against Billy Graham after his death earlier in the week, took serious issue with Huckabee's letter, writing her own open piece that was published on Friday (March 2).

Wright's statement:

I’ve received several calls to come do TV today or to make a comment on the record for someone else’s story, so I decided to just share my thoughts in an open letter to Mike Huckabee.

Mr. Huckabee,

I read your letter in which you address the tendering of your resignation from the CMA Foundation Board.

Well-written piece, Sir.

While I appreciate your cunning and the pure political prowess of the letter, I’m hopeful and somewhat optimistic that the masses won’t fall for your sleight of hand.

Not so fast, Mr. Governor. Your letter is a predictable attempt to convince folks that this is a binary choice; the battle between (your side) people of faith who care about providing schoolchildren with musical instruments and (the lefty liberals’ side) affirming LGBTQ people. You’re sneaky, Mike, but we’ve seen your colors before.

Here’s the thing. We all agree that every child in America benefits exponentially when music education is available to them. Not only does music provide a sometimes desperately needed best friend or outlet for a kid, studying and playing music also stimulates their brain in a substantive way… resulting in higher reading, math and comprehension scores. It’s science; of which I am a big fan…and it’s a beautiful thing.

How do I know this?

After the events of Columbine in 1999, I founded a 501(c)3 non-profit called Reading, Writing & Rhythm and with a lot of help from my fellow artists and lots of people in the country music industry, we raised hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars which were used to provide musical instruments to public schools nationwide. You mentioned that you’ve traveled to D.C. to do work with organizations that further music education in the schools and I think that’s fantastic. I have too. Maybe that’s why the MENC (Music Educators National Conference) honored me with their “Stand Up For Music” award in D.C. a few years ago. I met John Glenn that night, as he was honored too. What a thrill.

Mike, everyone cares about music in schools. We all do. Stop trying to pretend that it’s not important to all of us or that you’re the only one who can bring this idea to the table. The CMA Foundation will continue this important part of their mission without you, I assure you. And stop using students and country music fans as pawns to validate your bigotry toward LGBTQ people and our incredible straight allies. Pitting people of faith against the equality movement is a fool’s errand.

*Remember how you broke your neck to go hold the hand of Kentucky’s Kim Davis on stage when you were running for president? ‘Nuff said.

I do appreciate your telling such a personal story about how much it changed your life when your folks— who couldn’t afford it— found a way to put a guitar in your hands. I identify with you on this. My parents did the same for me. I grew up dirt poor in a rural farming community in Kansas. My mom, a polio survivor who stayed at home with three kids and my construction-worker dad, without a high school diploma, found a way to make sure I had a piano and piano lessons. When I decided to play the trumpet in junior high, they didn’t make me choose between instruments, but rather, they found a way to ensure I had every musical opportunity I sought. Music not only changed my life… it became my life.

You mention in your letter that you “were never good enough to make a full-time living at it” (your words, not mine), but it seems I was. By the grace of God and a lot of hard work and luck, I ended up being one of the very fortunate few who moved to Nashville (1989) and got signed to a record contract. My dream of writing songs and making records came true and I’m hard-pressed to explain how incredible the journey has been so far; as I approach the 25-year mark of doing this job for a living.

There were some dark times though, Mr. Governor. As I celebrated career milestones— hit records, big tours and yes, a couple of CMA nominations, I couldn’t enjoy it as much as I should have been able to. I am gay and I was closeted during the very zenith of my career. I felt I had to hide because people with big platforms and a lot of power in society made me feel like I should be ashamed of who I am. People like you, Mike. The work you did to convince people (many of them country music fans) that gays and lesbians are lesser human beings and deserve less was brilliantly executed… and it scared me to death.

You know those schoolchildren that you say you care so much about? Many of them are LGBTQ students and even more of them are the friends and classmates of those students. If you care about them the way you say you do— about their education, their spiritual well-being, their hopes and dreams, you’ll understand that what they need from you— and others with big platforms and a lot of power— is for you to stop maligning your fellow Americans due to their sexual orientation or their gender identity expression.

Do you have any idea how many young people will read your letter? Do you know how many of those young people will be shattered, yet again, to hear someone with so much power saying the things you’re saying about who God made them to be? Some of these young people will consider ending their lives, like I considered doing in 2006.

This is your brand, Mr. Huckabee. And your brand is precisely why there was such an explosion of outrage that you’d become the newest member of the CMA Foundation Board.

I have a lifetime membership with the CMA and I’m proud of it. I have worked with them during the course of my career in many ways; with the Foundation, on award shows, special events, philanthropic endeavors and I’ve even have the pleasure of chairing and co-chairing a couple of really prestigious CMA affiliated committees and I can tell you this… the CMA is the gold standard in our industry. I am grateful that you’re no longer affiliated with this long-standing institution.

In closing, I’d like to say this. When I came out of the closet— very publicly— in 2010, I did it for me… so I could live my life authentically. Another sincere objective I had in coming out was to facilitate change for young people like me.

Mr. Huckabee, you were the governor of Arkansas during what would be the years I enjoyed the most commercial success in country music (1996-2007) and your voice and condemnation were booming. You affected my life in some pretty negative ways.

I cannot let you do that to today’s generation of young people and sit by, saying nothing; so I’m saying it here and now.

Thank you for your time.

Chely Wright
CMA Member (1992)

I’m heartened by the changes that are happening in Nashville and in our country music community at large when it comes to people speaking out in support of the LGBTQ community.

I’m proud of my old pal Jason Owen—an openly gay man— who has the industry clout and wherewithal to bridle the collective star-power of his artist roster in support of his call for Mr. Huckabee to step down from his board position. That’s not nothin’, y’all.

As much as I’d love for that to be the end of my letter, in the name of true progress, I have to ask the following question:

Who, on the CMA Foundation Board, voted to put Mike Huckabee in that board position in the first place? If Nashville and the CMA truly want to be recognized for their growth in the area of LGBTQ equality… this question must be answered and addressed.


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