Cheley Tackett has earned more than a few accolades that mark her as a stand-out, emerging artist. A reviewer for *American Country Magazine wrote that her song, "Play the One I Like," just "might be the best song that I've heard this year so far." Maverick went so far as to call Tackett, "One of the most powerful, soulful singers in the business, she writes with the deep confidence and total abandon that only a true artist is capable of.”
Like many of Nashville’s most underappreciated musicians, Tackett is also part of the LGBT community. “I moved to Nashville almost 18 years ago from a small town in central Ohio called Springfield,” Tackett said. “My first year here was also the year I came out. It was a year for discovery in every facet of my life, personally and professionally. I have been an open and out singer-songwriter in Music City ever since.”
Her experiences along the way inspired her recently releases single, “Right Side of History,” which originated with a challenge: “A few years ago, I was invited to participate in a program called YouthSpeaks Nashville, I believe it is now called SouthernWord, sponsored by Metro Council for the Arts. As performers, we were asked to create and present a piece that embodied our vision for the future of Nashville, be it for tomorrow or 10,000 years from now.”
Tackett and her wife Tera just celebrated their second wedding anniversary. The pair was married in New York because, in 2013, same sex marriage wasn’t legal in Tennessee or Tackett’s home state of Ohio. Feelings of frustration over the battle for equality were part of the songs inspiration, but Tackett added, “it also developed from the heartbreak of constant media reports of suicides of kids that were getting bullied either for being gay or for being perceived gay. The ‘It Gets Better Project’ had videos all over the place, and while I respect what they are trying to accomplish, I just kept thinking, ‘We're telling these kids it gets better down the line, but it needs to get better now. They need to know it's ok to be who you are and to love who you love.’”
“This all weighed heavy on my mind at that time,” Tackett said, “and the song I wrote and presented [at YouthSpeaks] became my answer for what I wanted, not only for the future of Nashville, but for all of humanity. That song is ‘Right Side of History,’ which Answers.com has described as a ‘call to arms for all to join the fight for gay rights.’”
In the years since writing the song, Tackett has performed it live at various fundraisers and at Nashville Pride. But why release the song now as a single? “Since the SCOTUS decision, I've also had a number of people ask to use the song for their weddings. The trouble was, I only had a bare bones guitar/vocal recording. So, I crowdfunded the recording. Ordinarily, I don't rely on crowdfunding but this song felt personal for so many people and also had a very communal feel for me as an artist.”
Fans of the song were ready to get behind the project. “The recording,” Tackett said, “was paid for in 48 hours, and we raised double the goal. The extra raised is being put toward the song's video.”
The success of her fundraising is yet one more confirmation of what Tackett has long understood. “I played for years as part of a show called ‘Girls With Guitars,’ an all-female group of singer-songwriters presenting live, original music…. We found that the LGBT community had become a large part of our fan base. Playing in that show helped build a loyal base for my music over the years, and I have found there is no more loyal following than the LGBT community.”
Tackett believes that the times are changing in the world of country music, even in Nashville, and that labels would move more quickly if they understood the LGBT fan base. “The record labels pay attention to the bottom line, period,” Tackett said. “When some senior executive at one of the major labels realizes what I've learned, that the LGBT community is the most loyal fan base and will absolutely support an openly LGBT artist, then we'll see it happen.”
She doesn’t think it will be easy, but she does see it coming. “Historically, the labels are cautious and don't spoil for fights. It would likely be big news and controversial since country music is so tied to the Bible Belt and more conservative than the other genres. But, when it clicks with someone that an openly gay artist will bring in the dollars, then, we'll see a breakthrough.”
The biggest resistance, she believes, will come from country music radio. Within country, she said, “While there are allies that are charting, there are no openly gay artists. Brandy Clark is probably the most visible openly gay artist and while she's getting plenty of recognition, as well as a Grammy nomination, she's not getting much mainstream airplay as an artist….” When a label does finally launch an openly gay, mainstream artist, she added, “I think it will be a fight with country radio but it's a fight that needs to happen.”
Eventually, she says labels and audiences will also learn that LGBT musicians don’t produce “gay music.” Tackett’s own music is mainstream, for the most part, and she wouldn’t even classify “Right Side of History” as a “gay” because it speaks to a universal human experience, even if it is from an LGBT context.
“Like most singer-songwriters,” she said, “I draw on all of my experiences as well as the experiences of those around me. I am so many things and being gay is just one of the parts of who I am. Mostly, I just want my music to move people no matter who they are. I think my songs are ones that everyone can relate to.”
“Right Side of History” is available on iTunes, Amazon, various streaming sites (Spotify, etc.), and more. See cheleytackett.com for links.