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Chely Wright Comes Out

Our Country

Chely Wright has done lots of important things in her career: Released seven albums, charted numerous hits (including 1999's No. 1 "Single White Female"), started a charitable foundation for music education, and written songs for other artists such as Brad Paisley and Clay Walker

However, her latest personal accomplishment just may be her most momentous to date. The 39-year-old singer revealed this morning that she is gay, making her the first major country star to come out publicly.

In an exclusive interview with PEOPLE, Wright explains why she was reluctant to discuss her sexual orientation for so long. "There had never, ever been a country music artist who had acknowledged his or her homosexuality," she said. "I wasn't going to be the first."

However, "Nothing in my life has been more magical than the moment I decided to come out," she says.

Wright, a small-town girl who grew up in a musical family and released her debut album in 1994, says she's directed her whole life around the dream of making music. Given the conservative bent of the country music world, she decided to put her career ahead of her personal life. "I hid everything for my music," she explained.

Wright will appear on NBC's Today Show Wednesday (May 5). She is also releasing her memoir, Like Me, as well as her first album in five years, Lifted Off The Ground, this week.

So far, Nashville at large has been quiet regarding Wright's announcement (to be fair--the city is in an emergency situation, experiencing record flooding), but my guess is they will be largely supportive. Despite not releasing new music for several years, Wright's been active in the community with her charitable Reading, Writing & Rhythm Foundation, which benefits music education in public schools.

It's another guess how country fans themselves will respond to Wright's announcement. Inevitable speculation is that a largely conservative group will be disapproving--which, in country music, can spell crippling disaster to a artist's career.

However, I'm not so sure criticism will come solely from her sexual orientation. Coming out after an absence from the music scene, right before the release of a new album, will undoubtedly smack of opportunism to some fans. We'll see this week what Wright has to say, and I'm very interested in reading her autobiography as well as hearing new music after so long. 

Inevitably, though--I leave all of this up to you. Does Chely Wright's coming out affect your opinion of her as a musician? Let me know what you think.

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